Graffiti in the streets of Fredericton
By Forrest M.
When one walks down the streets of Fredericton they will see many things; homes, business, maybe a pigeon or two, their fellow citizens, and an abundance of graffiti. In the last decade or so, the graffiti scene here in our city has grown by leaps and bounds. Home to such famous writers as “Deso”, “Jungle”, “Mesk”, “Zuce” and “TN” as well as the well-known graffiti crew “OSK”. But does this growing scene of bandit art make our city more beautiful or does it give it a reputation it doesn’t deserve?
Graffiti as we know it today first started to emerge from New York City in the 1970’s, heavily intertwined with hip-hop culture, mainly due to them coming from the same area of the city, and having many of the same people being involved in both. Ever since then graffiti has been growing up and figuring out what it wants to be in the decades that have followed. Graffiti became extremely prevalent and prevalent from cities such as Philadelphia to Sao Paolo.
Fredericton in many ways may as well be the ass-end of the world, but not so with Graf. Some of the biggest and best writers from Canada’s east coast have come from Fredericton, such as “Dibs” .Walking down any back alley here in town will yield extremely well thought out pieces of graffiti that writers would call a “throw-up” or a “hand-style”. But the question on people’s minds who don’t write is “why don’t they just write legal graffiti?” To shed light on these and other questions I sought out the graffiti writers “Deso” and “Jungle”, both members of the infamous Fredericton based graffiti crew “OSK”.
FM: How do you feel about legal graffiti?
Deso: Not what it’s about.
Jungle: It’s Bullsh*t, graffiti is a culture that was born in the streets and that’s where it belongs.
FM: How did both of you get into graffiti?
D: I just wanted to, so I found my way in.
J: I started tagging in washrooms at my school or around town. I would use this little fine tip molotow because I had no idea what I was doing. Then eventually I met some real writers who took me under their wing.
(At this point Deso had to leave, so the interview continues solely with Jungle)
FM: so how’d you and Deso hook up?
J: way back when we first started writing there was a group of us at our school who all got caught for tagging. Everyone else who got caught stopped tagging, but we were the only ones who wanted to keep doing it and get better
FM: how do you feel about the Fredericton graf scene?
J: well, some of my favorite writers in the whole world are from here, some guys that are like world class bombers. But at the same time this city has some of the worst graf I’ve ever seen in my whole life.
FM: Tell me a bit about OSK?
J: getting into OSK is kind of like getting into the sea-dogs, you’re not quite in the NHL, but you’re pretty damn good. I day I got put down in OSK was one of the best days of my life. OSK is probably one of the best crews in Atlantic Canada and I’m just really proud to be in it. On a side not, after Deso and I were both put down in OSK we started our own crew “UMQ”, which right now consists of me, Deso, and our friend “Zuce”. It’s probably the best crew in the city after OSK.
For those who don’t know about OSK, OSK Is a graffiti “crew”. A graffiti crew is a group of like-minded graffiti writers whose styles work well together and who enjoy painting together, OSK being the biggest and best crew in the city according to writers.
It’s extremely interesting to analyze the views of people who actually write graffiti as opposed to those who don’t write graffiti, they’re polar opposites, but in many ways they’re the same. The both see the artistic value in graffiti; the only difference is where it should/shouldn’t be done. Continuing on this note, I thought the next logical step would be the opposite of someone who writes graffiti; someone who enforces the laws around graffiti, give or take a badge. I talked to Mr. Barret, one of the vice principals here at FHS and the vp who takes on the responsibility of enforcing the school’s rules around graffiti, which are basically that it shouldn’t be done on anything other than paper of canvas.
“Graffiti has its own place and it’s not on someone else’s property or on someone’s business” stated Barret with a look on his face that shows that this is his opinion and it isn’t going anywhere. Barret reluctantly takes on the responsibility of dealing with students who have been caught for tagging on school property or during school hours, though he is not without respect for the talent it takes, “there’s some graffiti that just looks amazing, when you go over to Halifax and see all the stuff that’s done there on those legal walls, it’s just breathtaking and that’s where it belongs, in and on spaces that are agreed upon by city and town offices”. This is the belief held by many adults and people of position in our society today, it is not without merit thought. The walls or wherever graffiti artists put up pieces of graffiti, are someone’s property. “The problem with graffiti is that it attracts more graffiti” states Barret “it has to be dealt with immediately or else there will be a graffiti problem, which is what we want to avoid at FHS. If we catch a student for tagging there are serious consequences”.
Graffiti is illegal for basically all the reasons that Barret stated, it’s vandalizing someone’s else’s property and it just leads to more vandalism, at least that is the opinion held by those who enforce the laws surrounding graffiti, whether they be a law enforcement official or a vice principle.
But issues such as this are not black and white, the next logical step for me was to talk to someone who is not on either side of the issue really and for that I turned to Seger Dow. Dow is a renowned artist in the Fredericton area, whose work has been showcased at city hall, as well as the Roads enrichment program for the arts. Dow is a fan of all art forms, including graffiti. A few years ago Dow contributed to the Harvest Jazz and Blues festival by painting legal graffiti at the wall that is showcased at Harvest every year to promote legal graffiti. “My dad heard about it on the radio and told me about it. I looked it up online, emailed some people, got in contact with the right people, assembled my paint and got to work” said Dow. “Looking back it was a lot of fun, I met a lot of cool people and I learned a lot about doing art for a crowd”. Seeing as how Dow seemed to be a fan of the art form, I decided to ask him where he stood on the issue of graffiti being illegal; “I really like graffiti, it adds character to a city. I can really appreciate the skill that it requires, but I could never see myself getting out and doing it. I think legal graffiti has its place, it gives them a good way to channel their artistic ability”.
Comparing the opinion of Dow and the graffiti writer Jungle, the spirit of the issue that is graffiti really started to present itself to me. It was really illustrated in a quote from Jungle; “Graffiti is a culture that was born in the streets and that’s where it belongs”. Graffiti without a doubt is an art form, and perhaps the streets is it’s home, and is anyone really in the right saying that it doesn’t belong in its home. When you really break it down and think about it, graffiti is as system where artists scurry around a city doing illegal art for fun and fame, and really if a city has a real problem with that, than perhaps there is something wrong with the city.