Story by Kirsten O'Brien/The AS Review Photos by Joe Rudko/The AS Review
“Paint me, I’ll be here tomorrow,” taunts a hastily drawn smiley face with a long handlebar mustache. The face is spray-painted in the tunnel that connects Fairhaven College to the rest of campus. The tunnel is a hot spot for graffiti. Previous attempts to paint over the face appear to have been unsuccessful, as it is still visible under thick coats of white paint. Next to it is another smiley face, mocking the attempts to cover the original. “Nice try,” the new smiley proclaims.
To some, these types of drawings and messages are unique forms of street art that enhance the atmosphere of Western’s campus. For others, they are merely forms of malicious mischief.
Freshman Alexander Kramer started a thread on the Viking Village forum on Feb. 10 in an attempt to start a conversation about graffiti on campus. Kramer enjoys street art and has been photographing the graffiti he finds around campus and posting it on his personal blog.
Kramer grew up in Santa Fe, N.M., where there is a vibrant street art scene. He said he began looking for street art wherever he went and has continued that habit while at Western. Some days, Kramer roams specifically looking for new images or messages that may have popped up.
“Some stuff that I really look forward to finding are the ones that are kind of hidden away. It’s almost put there for people like me who go looking for it, things like little stickers and little images of paint,” Kramer said. “Stencils are really big for me too, just because you have to take time to cut out the stencil and then find an appropriate place for it.”
One hot topic of conversation on Kramer’s Viking Village thread concerned the Fairhaven tunnel. Some commenters, like sophomore Mike Williams, think the tunnel should be left to the graffiti artists and not painted over so frequently. Williams enjoys street art and posts pictures of graffiti he finds around campus on a Facebook fan page titled “Western Washington University Public ‘Art.’” Williams said that if the tunnel were left to the artists, the university could spend less money on paint and labor to clean up the designs.
“Just from what I’ve seen the past few weeks, they spend a lot of money on paint,” he said. “[If they left the graffiti], you wouldn’t have to waste money to clean it up, as long as it’s not gang signs. It would allow whatever artist wants to post something on there to have a place to do it. I think that would be a much better outlet and use of location and money.”
Not everyone agrees, however. University Police Sergeant Bianca Smith said that those who leave graffiti on campus could face charges for malicious mischief if caught. She said that people should not be allowed to draw or write on university property simply because they want to.
“It’s not for them to decide, there are proper channels that one should go through [to make art] versus just doing it,” Smith said. “It is a crime to deface public property. It’s all graffiti to me; it’s all malicious mischief. Would they do this to the side of their parents’ house? I doubt it.”
She said that depending on the amount of damage done, the penalty could range from a stiff fine to even jail time.
Bill Managan, assistant director of operations for Facilities Management, said that from July 2010 to February 2011, there was around $18,300 worth of damage from graffiti on campus. He said that in February alone, there were three and a half more incidents than during the same time last year.
As for the Fairhaven tunnel, he said that it is painted over frequently.
“There have been times when we’ve cleaned it and hours later it’s already tagged again,” Managan said.
Kramer explained that there is a difference between good graffiti and bad graffiti, with bad graffiti consisting mostly of “name-bombing,” where the artist simply scrawls their name on a wall to be noticed. That type of graffiti isn’t very artistic or visually satisfying, he said, but graffiti which has been done with care can add to the campus atmosphere.
“For the most part if it’s a well designed sticker or a tag or something that someone spent a lot of time with and actually tried to make it fit with the wall, then I think it works pretty well as long as it’s not too obscene or violent,” he said. “I don’t see what the problem is, maybe depending on the placement, but for the most part I think it actually brightens up campus quite a bit.”
Kramer said that one artist whose work he sees a lot goes by the names “CK” or “Requiem.” He said that sometimes he enjoys the artist’s work, but other times it seems like the artist is poking fun at tagging by lazily scrawling his name on buildings or other structures around campus.
“CK is borderline for me because I like the new stuff he is doing, but at the same time he’ll scrawl, ‘Check me out,’ on the sides [of buildings]. I almost feel like he is making fun of tagging,” Kramer said.
However, he said that part of the fun of graffiti is being able to make your own story or interpretation about what the artist is trying to convey.
“It’s really hard because it’s all anonymous and anyone that sees it can make their own story behind it,” Kramer said. “There are some things where you just don’t know if it’s the same artist. I kind of like that.”