The Future of Graffiti - Graffiti Life

The Future of Graffiti

I was recently interviewed by Smart Magazine about the use of drones to create urban art. You can read the piece here:

Below is the full transcript of my thoughts on the matter, with a little bit of history of both our company and graffiti in general.


I don’t want to sound dramatic, but graffiti has changed my life. It went from a hobby, to an obsession, to my career. I like to see it when I’m travelling around different cities, and although my illegal painting is over I still love to see others making their mark.

I used to see graffiti as a kid, I first remember noticing things when I was around 10 years old. It fascinated me, although I wasn’t completely sure what it was, I knew that I wanted to be a part of it. When I was older, around 18, I met an artist that took me under his wing. Back then it was like a secret society and you couldn’t get in unless you were invited in. Not like now, where the internet has changed everything. When I started, the term ‘street art’ did not exist and public acceptance of what we do was not there. As artists we were vilified and, as legal painting areas were shut down, were faced with the choice of quitting painting or making work illegally. At that point, I started making work in the streets.

After a decade of working illegally and seeing friends and peers sent to prison for graffiti, I decided to form Graffiti Life. I had always felt that what we were doing was beautiful, despite being illegal, it was still art. The public perception towards street art had begun to shift and we saw an opportunity to turn our passion into our careers. We weren’t sure if the business would be a success, but seven years on our team has grown from three to ten and we have completed projects for some of the biggest companies in the world, including; Nike, Adidas, BMW, Mercedes, Ebay, Youtube, TK Maxx, Asos, Disney, BBC, Sony and many more.

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As a company, a key part of our growth has been the willingness to embrace new technology, from social media, to live streaming, to laser mapping and we will always look to the future in order to innovate.

The history of graffiti has shown that whenever there is a shift or evolution in graffiti it has been due to technology. As long as humans have roamed the planet we have wanted to make a mark and tell a story. In fact, there is speculation that the very first cave paintings may have been made by Neandertal man, so surely, the desire to paint walls must be in our DNA!

Ancient graffiti has been found carved into the preserved walls of Pompeii and even in the foundations of the pyramids.

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The ‘Kilroy’ character, drawn and painted by soldiers during WWII became the first example of something going ‘viral’, spreading over the world. There is a story that Hitler became paranoid that Kilroy was a super spy and commissioned a search to track him down. Coincidentally it was during WWII that the most significant technological breakthrough for graffiti would begin, with the invention of pressurised containers that were used to help American troops against the mosquito problem they faced in the South Pacific. By 1949 the first cans of spray paint became available to the public. Gangs that had previously used house paint or tar to create their tags now had a small, easy to conceal tool that could create tags fast.

In the 1970’s graffiti artists began tagging their names using spray paint and soon realised that by taking the nozzle from a can of hairspray they could affect the paint flow from a can of paint. This allowed bubble letters to be created and the foundation of modern-day graffiti was laid.

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As with many things, the internet totally changed graffiti. There used to be very definite styles that were specific to certain areas, as artists were influenced by those around them. The internet blew everything open and allowed artists to be influenced by and collaborate with other art-makers across the globe. 

Drone graffiti is an exciting new development in the evolution of the artform. It is at a very basic stage right now, but I have noticed that even since the famous destruction of a Kendal Jenner billboard in 2015 (by ‘Katsu’), the technology then improved to the stage where crude but legible words could be created.

Looking at the few photos available of Carlo Ratti’s new drone project, it would appear that quite complex shapes are now possible. I would say that it is only a matter of time before more complete art works are able to be created by the use of drones. Some say that having a ‘robot’ create graffiti diminishes the artwork, and to a degree I see the point, things made by hand are always more special. I can’t see the future but I feel that, at least during my lifetime, hand-painted art will not disappear. The drone is not here to replace modern graffiti, it just opens the door for innovation and new possibilities in using technology to create art.

With the artwork I produce with Graffiti Life the final produced image is the most important thing for me. I will utilise whatever method produces the best results, so would I consider using drones in the future? Sure. If it helps me create the desired outcome, I’m all for it.

I feel that the world is at the dawn of a technological revolution that began in the 1980s, things are changing so rapidly. One thing that has been consistent throughout history is art. The methods we use to create it have changed but it has always been there. Graffiti artists are rebellious, rules do not apply, and because of this they are always searching for new ways to make their mark, from stickers, to stencils, to drones, to who knows, perhaps graffiti within a virtual space? As exciting as the past 20 years have been for graffiti I feel that the next 20 will be even more so. 

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