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Graffiti: Illegal Vandalism or Insightful Artwork?

Graffiti has existed nearly as long as walls have. Since we have had a place to demonstrate creativity, communicate with others, and create our own work, graffiti has taken place. Even though graffiti can be traced back to cave people, it wasn’t until the late twentieth century that graffiti became recognized as an expressive art form. In its history, graffiti was used primarily for communication purposes. In the United States, graffiti was used predominantly by hobos that road on trains all over the country.¹ In the 1940s, graffiti was used largely among the Hispanic population of Los Angeles to document and control the locations of certain gang members. At the time, spray paint did not yet exist, so all of the artwork was done in black and white marker. ¹ It wasn’t until the 1970s that spray paint had been invented, but once it was, the world of graffiti would never be the same.
Although, graffiti had been going on since the early twentieth century, it wasn’t until spray paint came about, with bright colors, and less time needed to create, that it became a problem. New York was the first place to get hit in a big way. There were people taking graffiti to New York’s subway system, and this news went national really quickly. It was in New York that the first “tagger” was identified. Until this point (1971), graffiti artists did not sign their work, but the first in the United States to repeatedly sign their work, or leave just a name in graffiti was in New York; his tag was “Taki 183”. ¹ By the 1980s, there was a coating on trains that made it impossible for paint to stick to. At the same time, graffiti had become popular and intriguing to the public. Art galleries were opening to incorporate graffiti, and many of these street artists were able to sell their work for hundreds of thousands of dollars. ¹
In present times, graffiti is seen as a criminalizing act, or as a way of expressing oneself. It all depends on who is defining graffiti, but in general it swings far in one direction, or far in the other. Most opinions of graffiti are not typically neutral. Even though graffiti is seen by authority as a criminal act, there have been made public legal walls around the world for artists who express themselves through graffiti. In searching for any legal walls in Orlando, Florida, I came across two. This means, of all the graffiti that you may come across in the Orlando area, only two locations of graffiti are actually legal. The locations are on the Cross Seminole Trail at the 417 in Oviedo, and the walls of Phö 88 on 17-92 in the Mills-50 district. The rest of the graffiti that is seen in Orlando is technically illegally placed there. Due to time and distance, I was only able to visit one of the legal walls in Orlando, but I was also able to gather graffiti from non-legal walls as well as public displays of urban art. A large part of the artwork I came across were electrical boxes, or used a dumpster as their canvas. The creativity that I came across and stumbled upon was unimaginable.
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This first example of public art, as previously mentioned, uses a small dumpster as a canvas. The artist, “Boy” left a tag in the bottom right-hand corner of the dumpster to take credit for his work. This is a common trend in graffiti, although may not be entirely prevalent in the examples to follow.
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This artwork took place on one of the walls of Phö 88 in Orlando, in the Mills-50 district. This is one of the two “legal walls” in the Orlando area. The artwork has five artists, all of whom tagged their names in the upper corners of the mural. The artists who worked on the legal wall want and deserve credit for their work.
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The “Crummy Gummy” dumpster graffiti was made to look like R2D2 from Star Wars. The entire dumpster was painted, not just the front view in the picture. The 3D art work was able to “come to life” with a four sided ‘canvas’.
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This wall, found at the corner of Mills and Lake Highland Drive, is painted with a mural, sponsored by Redbull, of a disco scene. The mural features a woman dancing, a disco ball, a DJ, and mixing table, as well as subtly placed Redbull logos.
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The artist of this work used the tag “Dolla Short”, and surprisingly, I was able to find two of his works, in different locations in Orlando. The first location is off of Mills located near Marks Street. The second, is located off of Bumby at The Drunken Monkey. The embedded file is attached further down.
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Tako Cheena is filled with artwork, and almost the entire exterior is painting and covered in graffiti. There are several other representations attached below.
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This fence is located behind Phö 88, on the “legal wall” that I was able to visit in Orlando. The fence is painted all around, and this particular graffiti work happened to elaborately spell out “LOVE”.
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This dumpster was painted with a cat over the gay pride flag, hence the title of the MARA upload. Found behind some buildings in the Mills-50 area, this dumpster was not tagged, but helps to represent some of the art expression that exists in this area.
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More are from Tako Cheena; this was taken on the opposite side of the building from the previous Tako Cheena wall upload. Tako Cheena is a great supporter of local artists, and allows free expression at their restaurant.
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This is a large section of fence behind Phö 88 that is also legal. The fence is painted for the Community Center of Orlando. The graffiti done here is completely legal, and is also very intriguing to look at. The work on the fence was done very intricately.
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Taken from a block away at ground level, this three story building is covered with a mural of a brain melting into two cartoon hands. This is a great representation of art expression, and is somewhat relatable to how college students probably feel at the end of the semester.
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A second representation of “Dolla Short’s” art work.
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This artwork was captured at The Drunken Monkey off of Bumby. Along with Tako Cheena, The Drunken Monkey fully supports local artists, and has a large part of their building covered in graffiti, as well as a wall that lines their parking lot. I truly recommend going to check out the wall if you’ve never been.
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This dumpster exhibits what most people think of when they think of the term, “graffiti”. However, based on the previous uploads it should be clear to see that graffiti is much more than just a few scribbles of spray paint. With time and careful consideration, graffiti is absolutely an expression through art. Graffiti like the kind in this picture is what has given graffiti in general a bad name, and what has made it carry a negative connotation throughout its existence.
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This wildcat fence graffiti is located next to the “LOVE” fence painting behind the Phö 88 building in the Mills-50 district. Another legal representation of graffiti and public urban artwork. This picture captures more than just a colorful painting, but brings creativity to the table. When working with only a brown, wooden fence, the untagged author was able to create a wildcat full of bizarre and captivating color combinations.
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What makes this upload unique is that the graffiti is on a van. The van is owned by The Drunken Monkey, which explains why the van is decorated so expressively. However, this is the only mobile form of graffiti that I came across in my graffiti seeking endeavor.
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Finally, off of Edgewater Drive, there is an ice cream shop called The Soda Fountain. The building is painted with a mural of a variety of people eating ice cream, and across the street there is another public mural. Although these walls are not considered “graffiti”, they are still a public representation of urban artwork, and that contrast should be made.

Broderson, D. (2013). Graffiti. In T. Riggs (Ed.), St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture
(2nd ed., Vol. 2, pp. 522-523). Detroit: St. James Press. Retrieved from

Mcauliffe, C. “Legal Walls and Professional Paths: The Mobilities of Graffiti Writers in
Sydney.” Urban Studies 50, no. 3 (2013): 518-37. doi:10.1177/0042098012468894.

Public Art: drunken monkey – mobile art

Bumby: mobile art at Drunken Monkey


April 30, 2016 at 12:53:18 PM EDT

Public Art: drunken monkey

Bumby: drunken monkey


April 30, 2016 at 12:51:01 PM EDT

Public Art: drunken monkey – dollashort

Bumby DollaShort mural at Drunken Monkey


April 30, 2016 at 12:49:54 PM EDT

Public Art: The Soda Fountain

Edgewater drive, wall mural at The Soda Fountain


April 30, 2016 at 12:18:59 PM EDT

Public Art: Boy

Mills/50 Boy Graffiti


April 25, 2016 at 5:32:03 PM EDT

Public Art: Dolla Short

Mills/50 by Dolla Short


April 25, 2016 at 5:25:30 PM EDT

Public Art: Tako Cheena

Mills/50 Tako Cheena


April 25, 2016 at 5:22:37 PM EDT

Public Art: Pride Cat Dumpster

Mills/50 cat pride dumpster


April 25, 2016 at 5:21:16 PM EDT

Public Art: Beetle Bug – Tako Cheena

Mills/50 beetle bug


April 25, 2016 at 5:19:56 PM EDT