sinister-sane is a graffiti tag that I used in the early 80′s. It’s now used in this blog to tag its content.
“Sinister” related to everything from being left-handed to rebellious to innovative. ”Sane”, on the other side, was some type of ironic aspect to it all.
I never tagged, I made pieces and I was fortunate to be around some of the great artist’s of that period in the very early Amsterdam scene such as Shoe, Jaz, Delta and Cat22 (Pone). At that time the group (crew) was known as United Street Artists of Amsterdam.
Graffiti is an urban art form with a very controversial aspect. By almost all it was seen as straight-out vandalism of public and private property. I agree. But at the same time it was, and still is, a very special art form with an interesting message. A primal message that is fueled by the reflection of modern urban life.
Modern urban Graffiti was your way of stamping your territory, differentiating your artistic aptitude and dominance among your peers. It was also a way to demonstrate your ability to undermine authority. It was your legacy. Something that could be seen by many and not always be easily removed even after being painted over.
Within urban grounds you are typically bombarded with information coming in at you from many directions. In particular, advertisements such as billboards, signs and posters. Each cry and even scream out to be seen. You may get used to these screams, ignore them but they still affect your piece of mind. You retain them.
The seeds of modern Graffiti can be attributed to several social elements. But, to me, Graffiti was the means to say the same back, to respond to the urban information bombardment in a reflective way. Actions taken by an environment tend to result in equal but opposite reaction from that environment. The younger generation, in particular, will tend to react with great force.
Public and commercial information is conveying a message and asking, even demanding to be looked at. Graffiti makes the statement: ”NO… you look at me!” and will go to great length to make sure that you get the message.
These days Graffiti has been assimilated into many areas of art and culture and even computer icons (note: that Steve Jobs focused on colagraphy in his years before Apple) and what not. You see its inspiration and signature most everywhere. And, while there are several great artists still out there, the original and rebellious aspect of Graffiti seems lost.
Favorite artist: Futura 2000
Cultural Differences in Urban Information Bombardment
Graffiti is as old as human kind itself. And, while styles and tools may have changed over the many years the message is much the same; making your mark.
Its not that surprising that modern urban graffiti found a platform to evolve in the United States and in particular, places like New York. Apart from history and environment, culture plays an important role here. And, probably the most significant cultural elements in the modern urban graffiti mechanism could be attributed to masculinity and individuality.
Masculine societies tend to focus on the performance of people while feminine cultures tend to focus on their well-being. To illustrate this look at the difference between a Volvo and a BMW. Volvo is built by a Scandinavian company. Their national culture is feminine. BWM is built by a German company. Their national culture is more masculine. Volvo is family car and focuses on safety. BMW focuses more on performance and strength.
Urban messages in masculine cultures, such as the US, are very direct, invoke high levels of peer pressure and are typically authoritative and are performance related. More specifically, the messages relate to “do this”, “don’t do this”, “not allowed”, “you must do this “. A lot of rules and regulations with stiff penalties for breaking them.
Feminine cultures also focus on preventive action messages but are less authoritative and focus on messages that deal with responding to people in a more caring way. Rules are less evident more implicit and their society seems to rely more on social structure to maintain order. The urban information bombardment is typically less aggressive here. The graffiti found here is usually more refined and evolved but less daring and revolutionary.
Individualism and collectivism also seem to play an important role. Individualism forces people to become more distinctive in relation to others. In modern urban graffiti the idea is to gain the spotlight. Set yourself apart. Collective cultures focus rather on the greater interests of people as a whole. Urban messages relate more to being responsible, respectful and meaningful towards yourself and others. In most Asian countries this will be profoundly evident. Messages will tend to have deeper meaning here.