Helen Martin: Not all graffiti is act of vandalism

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IS the reclusive but now world-famous Banksy a great artist or a vandal? And what is the difference between graffiti “art” and tagging or just scrawling some mundane message in coloured spray paint?

A reader wrote in to our Letters page last week and included a photograph he had taken to illustrate the “blight” of graffiti in Edinburgh.

It perhaps wasn’t the best example to prove the point as it had been fairly artistically created and also appeared to be in memory of someone with the same name as a young graffiti artist who I happen to know died tragically a few years ago.

Like everyone else, I rage at the pointless despoilment of historic buildings and walls, or any property private or public, by moronic felt tip dawbs or random slogans.

But I also sigh despairingly at people who cannot, or won’t, distinguish that from the more artistic “street art” which usually exists on wooden plank fences around industrial or building sites or brightens up a crumbling gable end.

Go into any good art or book shop and there are shelves of books from glossy coffee table illustrations to reference-style tomes devoted to the subject. There are agencies which supply fully-insured and police-checked graffiti artists to run group workshops in schools, churches, youth charities and councils, not to mention those who are highly sought after to design and produce civic murals or commissioned to paint business-related “pieces” on metal roll shop or factory shutters by the owner.

In Edinburgh, New Street and Potterrow are tourist attractions, with some of the best work being remarkably accomplished and detailed and ranking highly on websites dedicated to international examples.

There are people reading this, spluttering with anger and disbelief, but it’s true. Google for a few minutes and you’ll discover it all.

There are also shops and businesses employing thousands in the economy supplying and selling paint cans, nozzles and masks.

Good graffiti makes a statement – be it political, funny, moral or challenging. Banksy’s pensioners bowling with bombs fetched £102,000 when it sold seven years ago and it is no longer surprising to valuers when they are called upon to assess bits of a demolished building that could bear a Banksy.

The Great Man of course used stencils which some aficionados call “cheating” even though he designed them in the first place.

If that baffles graffiti loathers, I suggest you buy a can of spray paint, a mask, find an old piece of plywood and a wide open space and try . . . just try . . . to paint any simple shape at all, or even write your name, without the result looking as if it was done by a left-handed chimp before the entire work runs and blurs together in a sticky slop. It’s not easy.

And nor is the confusing message we are sending out to kids who are sent to a workshop one minute and arrested the next. Let’s have lots more “legal” areas in Edinburgh, created especially for the purpose so that we can all enjoy it as a real art form.

Can’t see funny side? Then pull the udder one

WHAT we all need in hard times when our future is uncertain and council budgets are stretched, is a sense of humour – sadly lacking among city officials who are demanding The Huxley bar and the Kyloe Restaurant in Rutland Place remove the fibreglass cow from their first floor window.

The bonny bovine acted as a beacon to bewildered folk who couldn’t find the place from street level amid the chaos of the tram works, so you could say it’s the council’s fault it’s there in the first place.

More than that, cows are something of a modern tradition in the Capital, with the Cow Parade and then Norrie Rowan’s moo conveniently split between the front end sticking out from The Caves and the rear end (which used to blow off on the hour) poking out of the Rowantree Bar round the corner.

At Festival time, Edinburgh is as daft as a brush and anything goes. How come it has such capacity to be so po-faced and miserable in February? As long as the cow’s not going to drop off and kill someone, surely council staff have more important things to do?

Devastating impact of repairs system

THE hunt for a rental flat is still on and I am discovering more and more properties and issues that would once have been buyable, saleable and resolved because of the statutory repairs department. I predicted at the start of this quest that the obliteration of the department would have long-term impact on the city’s Victorian housing stock. I was wrong. It’s an immediate impact and appears to be having a devastating effect.

Why couldn’t the city sack those responsible for corrupt backhanders and fill the vacancies to keep the system going instead of closing down the service altogether? I’m sniffing a whiff of revenge here as city flats deteriorate with owners powerless to force others in the stair to cough up.

Not strictly about vote

INDEPENDENCE or not, it seems Scottish viewers will not be watching Top Gear or Strictly for long . . . because the BBC is going to axe them altogether. About time.