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What Is Aerosol Art?

Aerosol art, commonly known as graffiti, is a vibrant urban art form where artists use spray paint to create intricate designs and expressive pieces on surfaces like walls and trains. It's a blend of skill, creativity, and social commentary. Curious about how aerosol can transform spaces and voices? Discover the colorful world of this misunderstood craft. What will you find?
Jennifer Voight
Jennifer Voight

Aerosol art, also called graffiti art, is a reference to the spray-painted images that appear in public spaces. By using the term aerosol art, an air of legitimacy sets apart a practice that many consider to be an art form from the unwelcome graffiti images that are a crime in many cities and a nuisance to building owners and residents. Although the practice may have begun as a method of youth to make a statement about society or claim a territory for a gang, many aerosol artists have produced images that many perceive as having great artistic merit and quality. In recent decades, individuals and organizations have sought to improve the reputation of an emerging aerosol art form and give young artists a platform upon which to express their talents in a more socially acceptable context.

Spray paint has long been the medium of choice for youth, often from underprivileged, urban upbringings, to mark buildings and other public spaces. Early graffiti and aerosol art expressed a need to claim territory or, in a quite literal sense, leave one’s mark on the world. The availability, portability, and permanence of spray paint caused its popularity to soar as a method of creating aerosol art, leading many cities to ban its sale to minors. As graffiti is illegal in many cities around the world, speed is also a priority when creating aerosol art. Canned aerosol or spray paint fits that requirement well.

A can of spray paint.
A can of spray paint.

One reason for the increasing acceptance of aerosol art in mainstream society is the quality of the images. Many aerosol art images go beyond scribbled markings and words to intricately detailed and colorful compositions that, like other more traditional art forms, contain a powerful message and evoke emotion in the viewer. Some artists have become well known for their recognizable images that spring up around a city overnight. The vicarious excitement of knowing an individual is creating the images in secret while attempting to stay one step ahead of the law only adds to the mystique of these countercultural young artists.

Graffiti is also known as aerosol art.
Graffiti is also known as aerosol art.

In recent years, many aerosol artists have obtained legendary status. Some have legitimized their art by creating spray-painted art work on canvases that may be sold to collectors. Some urban organizations have created aerosol parks with permanent walls available for youth to create images without defacing nearby structures. The intent of these parks is to create a safer, legal environment for youth to express themselves while preventing unwanted graffiti in the city.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is aerosol art and how does it differ from traditional art forms?

Aerosol art, commonly known as graffiti or street art, is a form of visual expression that utilizes spray paint as the primary medium. Unlike traditional art forms that often employ brushes and are created in studios, aerosol art is typically executed in public spaces, offering a more accessible and often unsanctioned canvas. This art form is characterized by its vibrant colors, bold lines, and sometimes controversial presence in urban environments.

What are the origins of aerosol art?

Aerosol art has its roots in the early 1960s and 1970s in New York City, where individuals began tagging their names on subway cars and buildings. It evolved from simple tags to more elaborate pieces, known as 'masterpieces', by the 1980s. This evolution was not just about the art itself but also about the statement it made against conventional norms and the assertion of identity and presence in the urban landscape.

How has aerosol art been received by the public and art community?

The reception of aerosol art has been mixed. Initially, it was often dismissed as vandalism and associated with gang activity. However, over time, the perception has shifted. Many pieces are now celebrated for their artistic merit and cultural significance. Some aerosol artists have gained international recognition, with their work being showcased in galleries and commanding high prices. According to a BBC report, Banksy's "Devolved Parliament" sold for nearly £9.9 million at auction, highlighting the commercial success of some street artists.

What techniques are commonly used in aerosol art?

Aerosol artists employ various techniques to create their pieces, including layering, shading, and freehand. They often use stencils for more intricate designs and can achieve texture through controlled spray patterns. Cap swapping, which involves changing the nozzle of the spray can, allows for different line widths and effects. The ability to blend colors quickly before the paint dries is also a unique aspect of aerosol art.

Is aerosol art legal, and how do artists navigate the legality of their work?

The legality of aerosol art depends on the location and whether the artist has permission to paint on the property. Unauthorized graffiti is illegal in many places and can result in fines or arrest. However, there are legal avenues for aerosol artists, such as commissioned murals or designated graffiti areas. Some cities have recognized the cultural value of street art and have created legal spaces for artists to work, fostering a vibrant public art scene.

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    • A can of spray paint.
      By: difught
      A can of spray paint.
    • Graffiti is also known as aerosol art.
      By: Katrin Lantzsch
      Graffiti is also known as aerosol art.