Brighton’s street marking obsession

Brighton’s street marking obsession

The moronic markings by the little graffiti criminal taggers, give them what they lack – an identity.  Their scrawlings have agency via social media or when a film crew use their infantile tags as a backdrop to create an edgy, low-life corner of a city for some bleak drama. We have a bucketload of tags to satisfy most film makers, as most of the streets in the city are covered in these imbecilic markings.

Is street marking becoming more acceptable because it is the thing to do in this city? Is there a correlation between tags, throw-ups, blockbusters, Wildstyle and murals? They are all forms of expression, some more acceptable than others, but are they art? The question is impossible to answer, for some they are, for others they are not. One argument is that some street markings are art because they have been commissioned. This assumes that those commissioning are capable of recognizing good from bad art, and clearly in this city there are those who cannot see the difference. There are people skilled in various genres of art. They are curators, art historians; they understand what is good and what is mediocre, derivative and dull. However, this art argument, interesting that it is, gets us nowhere. The important question is, are these street markings legal and if they are, is it fair on the public realm to mark surfaces and impose your will on the general public without comeback; such as the inappropriate mural of Bart Simpson in Bonchurch Road.

Street marking is contagious, and the exponential growth of all sorts of street marking is alarming. The eye-catching mural outside Brighton railway station, by the local artist Dave Pop, is just another example of the contagious nature of this street marking culture. It was launched during English Tourism Week this year, with fun designs created to capture the colourful vibe of the area. The Argus reported that “those behind the project aim to make Trafalgar Street the most colourful street in the city” however, isn’t this area of the city a conservation area? Was the mural itself vetted by the council? Far too often murals are the go-to solution to rid the city of other forms of graffiti, yet the council has admitted in its graffiti strategy that this approach does not work.

Proactively involving the public in this fuels the marking contagion. For example, the Brighton Music Hall, Kings Road Arches are asking the public to select images to be painted on their new beach huts. The public can choose from eighteen music entertainers such as Elton John, Dolly Parton, Tina Turner and the ever favourite Freddie Mercury. Why can’t the Brighton Music Hall commission work that is innovative instead of producing derivative copies of these singing divas. If the beach huts must be painted invite artists with an imagination and not mere copyists. As for asking the public, perhaps this ancient proverb should be considered. It’s about a committee who get together to design a racehorse but they end up designing a camel instead. In the case of the Brighton Music Hall the camels have already been designed and all that’s left for the public to do is tick a box to choose some has-been singers.

The Argus, on the 28th March, reported councillor Alistair McNair (Con) saying, that we need to look after our cultural heritage. He specifically referred to the 90-year-old clock tower at the bottom of Mackie Avenue, Patcham after it had been the target of graffiti; (They don’t miss an opportunity these graffiti vandals to target cultural structures, remember the graffitied Grade 11 listed Pepper Pot in Tower Road). Councillor McNair stated that the clock tower is an important city monument we should be proud of. Pride in the city it would seem is in short supply at the moment.  The council did respond on this occasion and removed the graffiti (don’t worry the graffiti punks will be back; unless you catch them and fine them heavily and get them to clean up their own mess, nothing will change).

A council spokesman responding to the graffitied clock tower, pointed out:

Graffiti is a problem all over the world and we’re no exception, there are no easy answers in terms of tackling graffiti, but we take the issue very seriously”. The council have community protection notices to tackle the graffiti problems in the city. (Yes, and how is that working out?)

The spokesman added, “We would invite anyone with any information about who is causing graffiti around the city to contact the police.”  You can do this by going online and filling in a form. (Oh dear, another form filling exercise and by the time you’ve done that and the police record the details and investigate, the graffiti vandal will be long gone).

It’s time to leave the analogue world behind. Most people have a smart phone camera, which in effect is a personal CCTV camera. What we need – and we need it right now – is for someone to design an app to enable a quick police response to a graffiti crime in our city. The app would involve the public in catching the vandals, because other solutions have clearly failed and no amount of painting over the street markings is ever going to solve the problem, as it has been allowed to get completely out of hand for far to long.

Perhaps it’s time for the council to use their recent increase in funds to tackle graffiti by creating an advertising campaign, which clearly shows what the consequences of those involved in illegal street marking will face. Also, to use the money to find a quick response solution that involves the public, so that they can send information, at speed, to the police. Maybe it’s time to wean the city off murals, and find other forms of street art, other ways to make Brighton and Hove visually unique and not just another clone of other cities.

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