September 23, 2023


Art Is Experience

Edinburgh Graffiti and the Art of Tagging

The writing is on the wall in Edinburgh, and where it’s readable it shows that a certain group of young people have been very busy. Their names?

Well there’s the ubiquitous Sine, and there are the NSA and OE gangs; and there’s Winston and a whole host of others; but where are they coming from?

In the case of many of these, they are coming from quite good homes actually. The fact that graffiti writing materials are so expensive, just like the neighbourhoods favoured by many of these guys, show a certain middle class sensibility to begin with.

In some of these cases too, they are artists who in their field, have achieved international recognition and far flung celebrity. Take Arek, one of Edinburgh’s best known vandals. Just because the people of Edinburgh see Arek’s tags written up on their telephone kiosks and communications exchange boxes, they might assume that he is a bored teenager with a rebellious streak. Well he may be both (though he’s not) but the fact is that Arek has made incredible works of street art all over Europe, much admired by those in the know.

There are a lot of good websites out there that display these taggers’ work, and they’re all worth looking at. Publicly however, the serial taggers are pretty much despised, as people dutifully remove their tags, only to find them and others written up again a week or so later.

And there isn’t a single part of town that’s immune. OE tags in particulalr are found in every area of Edinburgh, from Clermiston to Leith and far beyond; but that’s what the OE are about – Owning Edinburgh. All of it is based on a craze that began in New York as recently as the early 1970s, and although it comes and goes in waves, it would seem that as of 2011, there is a particular rise in tagging activity.

Legal it is not; pretty it is not; what about it then? To get technical and psychological about it, the closest comparison would be shoplifting. Shoplifting is another addictive and antisocial pursuit that like tagging, can become compulsive for those involved. There’s a buzz, yes; and as for the risks, they are huge. It’s not pleasant being caught doing either, and many a tagger will tell you a tale of both.

In the meantime, and until the current craze dies, Edinburgh, you will have to put up with the horrid writing on the wall, I guess.