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  • Writer's pictureAdam Pekr

What is the difference between a graffiti artist and a mural artist?

I know, it sounds like the start of an excellent joke, and I am sure there are many but this isn’t one of them! There are also going to be differences in opinion on this question and the history behind graffiti culture, whilst relatively new history, is rich. The purpose of this blog post isn’t to write an essay on the history of graffiti, but to explain a little about how graffiti came to be and what it is now, and how my work fits in with this picture.

A graffiti style wall with lettering, the blackburn wanderers logo and a video console controller
A graffiti style wall for a Blackburn Wanderers, McDonalds and video game fan

The reason behind this blog post is that I often get referred to as a graffiti artist or asked if I do graffiti. It is an excellent question and one amongst others I will aim to address below.

The word graffiti originates from the Greek word ‘graphein/graffein’ which simply means ‘to write’. In actual fact, the first people to do graffiti did not refer to it by this name. They usually called it ‘writing’. The term graffiti was first used in the context we understand it by ‘The New York Times’ and the novelist ‘Norman Mailer’ in the 1970’s.

Whilst drawings on caves seem distant from what we have come to understand to be graffiti, in later Roman and Greek times people wrote protest poems on walls: thus the evolution of the medium began.

In 1961 graffiti was being used on the western side of the Berlin wall to make political statements whilst on the East side of the wall no-one could get close to it. Meanwhile in the US people who travelled on freight trains looking for work were using ‘graffiti’ to communicate with each other. Many of them could not read or write and therefore created their own language.

A graffiti style 'Happy Xmas' painted onto a wall
A Christmas wish wall for offices in Manchester

Later, tagging was used to mark territory by gangs and then the ‘writing’ became competitive- who could tag the most trains (referred to as bombing). Of course, as this trend grew and more people started becoming involved, styles developed. It was no longer enough just to write their name, and working on a wider variety of surfaces developed different approaches to font such as bubble and mechanical lettering. Soon, this act of vandalism became known as an art form…

This was accelerated by Hugo Martinez who founded the ‘United Graffiti Artists’ organisation, which presented some of the ‘writers’ works as artists work in galleries. Around 1974 graffiti started to feature different elements like characters and scenery and therefore became more like murals. They were still painted without permission on the most part.

But murals have been around a long time, and in a totally different context. Think of all the stately homes with rooms transformed into landscapes, religious buildings with ornately painted ceilings. One of the techniques frequently used is ‘trompe l’oeil’ which means ‘trick of the eye’. This is due to the concept of the mural having such depth it appears real, 3d. For those of you who know my work, you will know that much of what I do technically fits into this category.

view through three windows out to see painted on the wall with vines spiralling up columns
A trompe l'oeil mural for a Greek restaurant

So, do I do graffiti?

Whilst there are still graffiti artists who tag spaces without permission, this is not what I do. But the truth is, I did. Growing up in Czech Republic I painted someone’s garage door without permission. Somehow, in my infinite teenage wisdom I thought that they would like it. Unfortunately they didn’t. Soon after people were offering me their garage doors though and I am grateful to have come a long way since then!

When many people ask me if I do graffiti they usually mean writing (lettering) and more often than not it is of a child’s name or sometimes people want a graffiti wall that looks like layers of different tags.

a graffiti name on a bedroom wall with light saber and space ships
A Star wars themed graffiti name

So yes, I can absolutely paint a graffiti style wall. Am I a graffiti artist? No, I am a professional mural artist who enjoys creating art on walls and surfaces in varied styles. I specialise as an airbrush artist but use spray cans when necessary and sometimes entire projects with only brushes. I will always choose the best media for the project. So, I’m sorry to break the news that I am not Banksy, but we must recognise that graffiti is a socio-political movement that became a more widely recognised art form.

For me, murals allow me to create art in ways that feel good to me- I love how physically demanding this work is, the combination of physical and mental effort that every job takes, combined with the opportunity to constantly develop styles and techniques within my artform.

A man is spray painting a graffiti wall with shades of pink and green on a bar wall
Adam painting a graffiti style Amy Winehouse wall

So, whether you are looking for a graffiti style wall or a mural for your home or business, I am happy to discuss your project and advise on how I can make your ideas a reality. Just visit the contact page and drop me a line by email or to give me a call/Whatsapp.

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