The art of graffiti

With Banksy’s San Francisco exhibit and popularity of outdoor murals, attention turns to its messaging

Nolan Zils/Bear Witness
Sophomore Max Ortiz helps bring a waterfall to life in on of the Mural Club’s pieces in the World Languages row. He said he enjoys graffiti as a means of expression.

Sophomore Max Ortiz views his graffiti as a form of expression. It’s art, except on public building. He tags in the big cities such as Los Angeles and and San Francisco, but also on many of the papers he gets in school.

His medium ranges from spray paint, to Sharpies, whatever’s available. He would use his eraser to etch tags on desks.

Ortiz said he gained his love for graffiti from the 2018 movie “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” In one scene the protagonist Miles Morales uses graffiti in a subway station to get away from his current frustrating situation.

“That’s how he expresses his creativity, and that’s just a way of him showing who he is, that’s his personality” he said about Morales. “My tag is my personality. It’s who I am.”

Growing up, Ortiz said that his parents discouraged him from using graffiti as a means of expression. It’s often associated in popular media with gangs and vandalism. However, he said the conflict with his parents helped him hone his message.

“I feel like my parents kind of stopped me from doing what I wanted to do, like stop me from being able to express myself simply because they didn’t understand it,” Ortiz said. “And that’s the best part, then you have this little personality… a way that I can show who I am.

The art of Banksy

Juliette Bonacum/Bear Witness
One of Banksy’s pieces on display at the Palace of Fine Arts. The exhibit ended at the end of February.

One of the biggest problems with graffiti is the limitations it comes with. For one, graffiti on any building that isn’t one’s own is illegal. However, California law says that if artists can get permission from the building’s owners, then “the graffiti on the wall is 100% legal.

From “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” to Banksy, the street artist known for his very public work, graffiti and urban art is seeing a transition close to acceptance.

The Palace of the Fine Arts is hosting The Art of Banksy – San Francisco, which opened in November 2021, featuring the the work of an England-based street artist, political activist and film director.

This exhibit is walk-through gallery of his art, starting with his first pieces and gradually moving into his techniques and deeper meaning pieces with quotes along the way. The exhibit had many different varieties of his art whether it was hanging glass work, or refurbished pieces of wood.

“This exhibit does showcase the art side of graffiti, like street art,” said museum employee Jamie Jun during a recent visit. “But for people who don’t know the value of Banksy or the value of this art could see this as just marks on the street.”

English teacher Barbara Arduini paid a visit in December. She said the exhibit is a sign of his cultural impact.

“I thought it gave a really interesting kind of side note about when things were created and the reaction to it,” she said. “I also thought it did a good job of capturing his activism and his ironic humor.”

Many of his provide a visual twist, from a masked man throwing flowers instead of a molotov cocktail, to Disney characters in “The Jungle Book” juxtaposed against deforested land.

As street art gains popularity, school groups at Branham are using blank wall spaces to share messages of love and unity. The Latinx Student Union recently completed a mural near the band room, and the Mural Club, led by Spanish teacher Erica Marquez has worked on a series of murals dedicated to cultural connections. Max Ortiz has been helping put up these art pieces.

However, he still is drawn to his tags, and enjoys its mystique.

“People don’t understand graffiti, and you can’t get people to understand graffiti unless they do it,” he said. “Everyone sees everything a different way. So that’s kind of the point. I want you to go out and be like, ‘Wow, that’s sick!’”