“Graffiti belongs to everyone and no one.”
French-Hungarian photographer, Brassaï moved to Paris in 1924. At first, he worked as a journalist, taking photographs to supplement his income. Often joining his friend, Andre Kertesz when he went out with his camera, it didn’t take long for Brassaï to find himself inspired. Photography enabled him to express his love of the city: “to capture the beauty of streets and gardens in the rain and fog, and to capture Paris by night.”
In 1933, Brassaï began documenting the graffiti he found in the working class districts of Paris. Wandering the city, he’d make notes and sketches, noting down the location so that he could return to take photographs in better light. Resembling cave drawings, the marks were at odds with their modern surroundings and, over time, he noticed the graffiti would change; etched faces morphed and mutated, growing old as they weathered, exposed to the elements.
For local children in the fourteenth and fifteenth arrondissement, two death’s-heads held special significance. Dubbed “The Frog” and “The Giraffe”, they were treated as mysterious portents, and remained untouched, for a long time. Brassaï drew many comparisons between art, childhood and magic. He said, “everything is magic for a child. For children, the visible world is simply a screen placed in front of the visible world.”
Like children’s drawings, graffiti for Brassaï, was pure and raw. It fascinated him and he wanted to explore the impulses that led people to make it. He believed, “in drawing a line or figure, a child has a feeling of power and dominion similar to that of a magician. Only through art can he force the world to obey his will.”
The urge to leave our mark is strong and walls everywhere bear witness to this compulsion. From the cave paintings of Altamira in Northern Spain, the lava-preserved etchings in Pompeii and modern street art, our primal gestures can express a range of human feeling and emotion.
Drawing or carving our name, a sign or symbol into a fixed surfaces, leaves a mark, and this impression can endure. Birth, love or death, it’s all there, distilled on the wall.