Rome Travel Guide

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Graffiti: A Rome Primer

Although New York and Los Angeles are the most famous graffiti sites in the world, Rome is an active center of this controversial art form. Like Los Angeles, Rome is a city of stucco walls, perfect surfaces for graffiti artists, and they've taken advantage of these canvasses--and other surfaces, too, covering the city with drawings and paintings. Although much of it still strikes us as the work of talentless adolescents with too much time on their hands, we vowed to learn more. We were blown away by Steve Grody's book, Graffiti L.A. (Abrams), which taught us the basic terminology (tags, signatures, crews, fill, simples, throw-ups, shout-outs); convinced us that many graffiti practitioners are serious artists; gave us a sense of the culture and politics of graffiti; and even raised the disturbing possibility that all the junk that Rome's tourists complain about may be a "necessary" preliminary to the production of the good stuff, the "real" art. The blogsite has some nice 2007 examples of Trastevere graffiti. The one at lower right features two tags, one by Lucas, the other, in the center and less obvious, by Croels. Tagging is a controversial aspect of graffiti writing, because it seems so much like scribbling. The upside is that by writing his name 5 times on this wall, Lucas is developing his talent.

Jessica's Rome Photo Blog also has some good graffiti pix - put "graffiti" into the search engine on her blog.

In Rome, we met with the city's queen of graffiti, Maria Teresa Natale. While not herself an artist, Maria Teresa knows more about Rome's graffiti scene than any one else, with the possible exception of Gabriella Tarquini, with whom she manages the website lascia il segno (leave the sign), essentially an online, annotated graffiti library, focusing on Rome, Milan, and Berlin, and housing more than 11,000 images. There's another link to the website on the right of this site. (And, don't bother with "English"; all the good stuff is pictured in the Italian parts of the site.)

Over coffee in Monteverde Vecchio, Maria Teresa told us about the Rome graffiti scene. Rome, she explained, is the only city in the world where both regular trains--she mentioned the ones that run from the Ostiense station to Lido d'Ostia (to the beach) and the metro cars--are "decorated," as she put it. In Milan, she said, graffiti writers were more likely to be designers who functioned like regular artists, presenting their work in gallery exhibitions. Rome hasn't reached that stage, although its better educated artists, some of them engineers or architects, are often working with posters or stickers, while the poorer and less educated are more likely to be doing the spray can thing, making letters or figures ("puppets," in the English translation from the Italian).

Among Rome's notable graffiti artists are sprayers Thoms, Bol, Soeww, and Genuine Crew; the letterer Kemh; and street artists Lex, Hogre, JB Rock, Diamont, and Sten (not to be confused with Stan), whose puppets are legendary. One of Sten's atypical yet iconic puppet figures for the Teatro Vascello, in Monteverde Vecchio, is at left. The works of these artists, and that of others, is likely to be found in train stations (Maria Teresa mentioned Nuovo Salario and Appiano) and Centri Sociali (social centers), notably Forte Prenestino (see Rome the Second Time for a description and directions).

Most graffiti writing in Rome is against the law. The liberal, reform-minded former mayor Walter Veltroni initiated a "conversation" with graffiti artists, likely in an effort both to recognize the artistic merit of the form and to bring it under some control. He offered the artists about a dozen "legal" walls, each about 100 meters long, outside the city center, and other walls--some in train stations--for which artists could sign up to paint and control that particular space for a three month period. In retrospect, those were the good old days. The 3-month wall program has been suspended, and heavy fines are levied on anyone caught painting train cars.

Maria Teresa told us that most of the best graffiti is located far outside the Centro, where artists are less likely to interrupted by the police. Still, we've found several worthy, close-in sites. For political graffiti, we recommend the left-leaning community of Garbatella, easily reachable on Metro B. See the subtle example at left, one of several on the building.

On the other end of the political spectrum is the graffiti sponsored by businesses that would rather have a nice drawing on their saracinesca (metal shutter) than messy tags.

Another good site, described in Itinerary 10 in Rome the Second Time (p. 150), is Forte Braschi, located in Parco del Pineto, where the art work lines the outside perimeter of the military installation.

The third close-in site is an underpass on via Appia Antica, less than 100 meters outside the city wall. The art that opens this post, at top left, is from there.



PInay Ricamora said...

I looked up Graffiti in Rome and found your blogpost... I was really intrigued by the graffiti. I also linked your post with my blogpost:

Anonymous said...

Im an artist (real art no chicken scratch bullshit) from the states touring europe i need a good shop like chrome and black ,london or grafneck , prague. And the best couple walls locations in rome as ill be there in a few days. If anyone can help it would be appreciated