I’m Not A Graffiti Writer

I’d like to take a few moments to speak on a few things, regarding identity and how it ties into my visual arts process. Want the TL;DR version? I’m not a graffiti writer.

About 5 years ago, my creative process took a major change from the usual, as I jumped from my mostly-digital cartoonist and graphic design elements and dived right into the techniques of stencils, aerosol, and acrylic paints.

This change came from being inspired by a lot of the graff writers and muralists I learned from during the past decade. After studying how these artists were contributing to their surrounding communities – in terms of public art, raising social and political awareness, and so on – I became further fascinated by their work ethic, and ultimately decided to create a style of work that celebrated the likeness of these people. I dubbed this style as a sort of “celebration of the human aesthetic”.

Shortly after, I developed a unique body of work that contained the likeness of human portraiture, while also paying homage to the street art and illustrative styles that inspired me most (graff style writing, the stencil process, and even my graphic design and cartoonist techniques). However, as one may imagine, having such a wide influence of styles can cause an artist to lose direction, leaving your mind to creatively run all over the place, for a lack of a better term.

For instance, I was battling with the concept of labels, and I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to call my work. I wasn’t sure if I could technically call it “street art” or “aerosol art” or “stencil work”…but before I knew it, other people were able to quickly narrow it down and call me things like a “graffiti writer”, “graffiti bomber”, “stencilist”, “street artist”, etc…I’ve even got the occasional comparisons to Banksy and Shepard Fairey, which kinda left a sour taste in my mouth.

What I understood through all this, was that the comparisons and labels weren’t necessarily coming from how my work looked, but more so from the tools I used, and how closely tied these tools were to the more mainstream labels. For example, mention “spray paint” to someone when asked what kind of medium you use for your work, and 9 times out of 10, that person will probably assume that you bomb trains and tag your signature around the city. That assumption is doubled twice when you mention the use of stencils, so I guess that’s understandable.

Before I ramble on even further, I suppose what I’m trying to get at is that there’s a huge difference between the “graffiti artist” labels I mentioned earlier, and the work I produce that’s inspired by it. And while it may seem easy and convenient to use these labels as a means to identify the art forms you see, please understand this; Yes, I use aerosol and stencils, I’ve painted murals, and I even got some cool graff letter styles I’ve been working on. But as an artist who doesn’t actively go out bombing or writing on trains and buildings, I feel that calling me a graffiti writer would be a disservice to the ones that actually put in that type of work, and it would be disrespectful of me to take on such a label.

In short, I’m simply a visual artist who’s inspired by the concepts and philosophies of street art culture. That’s good enough for me.

-Reggie LeFlore