The Graffiti Hype Cycle

Entering the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’?

There is this well known thing in technology circles called the Gartner Hype Cycle. The ambitious goal of it is to “ represent the maturity, adoption and social application of specific technologies.”

I’m not a fan generally but on this occasion I think it helps illustrate a completely separate point I’m seeking to make.

I’ve been a fan of graffiti since I first saw the Malcolm McClaren video for ‘Buffalo Gals’ featuring the Lee Quiñones artwork on the handball courts. This was reinforced by a confluence of events in the 80’s. Like a lot of people I was mesmerised by the documentary ‘Style Wars’ (shown on Channel 4 over the Christmas holidays in 1983 thus influences a whole generation of school kid graffiti artists) and was asked to leave more than one bookshop for spending hours reading ‘Subway Art’ before getting my own cherished copy.

Then in 1985 the Arnolfini the infamous graffiti exhibition took place. 3D, later of Massive Attack, was already a legend in my tiny world at the time as he attended my school and was already responsible for art work all over the city (the Phase 2 piece near the Uni on St Michaels Hill was the first piece I ever saw in person.) The Arnolfini though brought people from all over the UK showcasing different styles and I was sold entirely. I was 12 years old. This was the ‘Trigger’ for graffiti.

In many ways that represented the first coming of graffiti in Bristol. 3D, Fade & Jaffa (the Z Boys), Felix and a very young Inkie were all active at the start and then a generation of artists learned their skills at Barton Hill youth club with the help of John Nation, including guys like Cheo and Jody. This time when artists from the Barton Hill crews were traveling the country (and beyond) painting in contests and appearing on TV shows seemed liked the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations’ — Inkie and Cheo even came second in the self-styled ‘World Graffiti Championships’! This all came to an end really with the ‘Operation Anderson’ arrests in 1989. This started a long ‘Trough of Disillusionment’!

It was probably a decade before Bristol really embraced graffiti again — Inkie helped organise the huge ‘Walls on Fire’ exhibition in 1998 around the waterfront as the development of that area was just starting and thus providing seemingly miles of boards to paint. This seemed to ‘Trigger’ a reset.

Feek & Dicy FSH (Walls On Fire, Bristol) :

One of the other organisers of this project was the little known Banksy and this pretty much kicks off the ‘Banksy era’ of Bristol graffiti. I think this reached the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations’ sometime after the legendary Bristol Museum takeover and maybe as late as See No Evil in 2011.

Walking through Stokes Croft today I definitely felt like we were in another ‘Trough of Disillusionment’. At its height this area benefitted hugely from the explosion in interest in graffiti writing and street art in the city.

The work of people like Chris Chalkey really helped make the area a destination for artists and helped really turn the area around. Over the years it has been home to some of my favourite pieces and there is still loads of great stuff there. However in general the place is a mess.

It is inevitable I fear but each time graffiti becomes popular eventually it starts to attract the people with all the nerve but none of the talent and so walls become battlegrounds between taggers and toys. People chucking up two colour, two minute ‘throw-ups’ over beautifully crafted pieces (hell someone has gone over a pretty new ‘Silent Hobo’ down there). This starts to reinforce the arguments the enemies of graffiti have always made and sooner or later there is a backlash. The backlash starts to effect the popularity and bit by bit only the truly committed artists remain and the taggers and toys fade away only to return again the next time it all starts to ‘trend’.

I wonder if we are due another one of these cooling off periods or whether things are too engrained in the fabric of the city now so we are heading for the “Plateau of Productivity” where the graffiti/street art ‘industry’ fuelled by the connection to Banksy outweighs the concerns of the anti-graffiti campaigners.

For better or worse I’m a lifer — I love stumbling across graffiti wherever I am in the world and I’m hopeful that we will naturally move beyond the current situation in the City and get back to doing what we do best — hyping graffiti to unrealistic levels ☺

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