Vandalism to art

Upon arriving at the Wall 2 Canvas first annual graffiti contest, the diverse turnout was immediately surprising. Families, parents, adults, teenagers and students all congregated in order to watch 12 local artists compete live and head-to-head for a cash prize of $500. Sponsored by Magic Hat Brewery and Shelburne Art Center, the event provided live music — including King Magnetic from Army of the Pharos — a barbecue, Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream and a beer tasting of Magic Hat’s finest elixirs.  The artists were given exactly two hours, a five foot by five foot wood panel and the theme “under pressure” to work their magic. Holly Boardman, creative director of the Shelburne Art Center and founder of Wall 2 Canvas, wanted to present the contemporary form of graffiti art to the public.  “I wanted to create a venue where we can enjoy the live happening of the technique and skills, in order to observe the creative process rather than interpret graffiti as crime,” she said. Graffiti is often misunderstood and viewed exclusively as a form of vandalism, due to the affiliation with gangs, the newest generational method of “bombing” ­­­­­­­­­— the frequent painting of tags or marks of an individual — and because it can deface private property. “[It’s] misunderstood,” a contestant who goes by Thomas Jefferson, said. “It’s art. People think it’s all about bombing, [which is where] much of the hostility comes from.” One possible solution to this conception is change and evolution. “Graffiti has to evolve,” Sterling Downey, urban street artist and founder of Underpressure, an annual graffiti competition in Montreal that attracts 12,000 people said. “You can’t just stay the same with bombing and tagging. You need to take it outside the box and stand out.”  Still, graffiti has spawned new forms of expression, in which artists use the aesthetic medium of the street to formulate new, innovative works of art. Wall 2 Canvas participant and UVM alum Kristen L’Esperance uses spray stencil work to provide textures and patterns to her wheat pasting works.  “[With wheat pasting,] as it starts to weather and deteriorate, a symbiotic relationship is formed with the art and the building,” L’Esperance said.  Her methodology furthers her use of materials and formulates the use of the street as canvas, capturing its essence in order to give her piece significance. Despite its more artistic manifestations, graffiti faces a large amount of animosity. “[I think it’s a] generational thing,” Downey said. “The oldest generation does not see the value in it. That is where the struggle is. The older generation that owns property, they don’t want their property vandalized, so obviously they are going to speak out [against graffiti].” Whether or not the event succeeded in its goal of helping to change these perceptions is hard to say, but judging by the diverse turnout, it would seem that it was successful.  The crowd at the event was not just people involved in the culture. Many of them were people who own properties and businesses and who commission graffiti works. All proceeds raised from the event benefited the efforts of the Shelburne Art Center for providing affordable art education to people of all ages, Boardman said.