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News

Let Us Spray

All over the sprawling Salt Lake suburbs, the writing’s on the wall(s).

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{::NOAD::}But Why Here?
“When you go to New York City, you see why graffiti was born,” Yeti says. For the marginalized kids in New York City who started graffiti, it was a means of demanding recognition. So, while those along the Wasatch Front may say that graffiti doesn’t belong here, Yeti argues, “Here, we’re impoverished in another way.”

The suburbs that Yeti and many writers like him hail from—Murray, West Valley City and Taylorsville—have no hard-and-fast limits. They run into one another in a blur of freeways and sprawling subdivisions. Graf writing was a way to stand out in this landscape.

Another way to understand graffiti’s growth in Salt Lake County—and in suburban America in general—is to see it as another form of teen angst, a reaction to the contradictions and hypocrisy of the adult world. Teens compare what they are told of the world by their elders (do your work, obey the law and everything will work out) with what they find in the real world (a place of soulless suburbs and commercial culture, peopled by adults with empty, work-centered lives). The two versions don’t match up. So, before they are sucked into the monotony of adulthood and responsibility, they rebel.

But, instead of starting a band or growing a Mohawk, writers join a subculture whose purpose is to point out the world’s hypocrisy. Graffiti constantly reminds us that, despite America’s unabashed optimism and its rhetoric of triumph, things are not all right.

For Yeti, who now teaches art, little has changed in this regard. “Professional life is really boring,” he says. “I still feel the drive to do this destructive thing.”

Tristan Manco in his 2002 book Stencil Graffiti says that writing is an act of destruction but also a rejection of the official view of the world. “As high-tech communications have increased, a low-tech reaction has been the recent explosion in street art. The street is a unique and powerful platform; a frontline on which artists can express themselves, transmitting their personal visions directly to the public at the same level as official messages. No other art form interacts in this way with our daily lives using our urban space as its surface.”