Off Campus

Tagged: The Iconography of Graffiti in Boston

With all the crackdowns on graffiti in Boston, it’s a wonder that artists are still out on the streets covering buildings, dumpsters, and trains with their work. While anti-graffiti programs have cut the amount of it in the Boston area to the point that many view the once-thriving Boston graffiti scene as “dead,” the city is far from being graffiti-free.

While most people think of graffiti as a couple of guys with some spray paint cans “tagging” a street sign or the façade of a building, graffiti around Boston comes in other forms as well. For instance, a series of stickers spotted especially around the Northeastern area depict a simple black and white female figure in different poses called Nineta. The artist occasionally incorporates additional color figures, such as speckle slug-like creatures and flowers. The distinguishing feature of all of the stickers, besides the figure itself, is the name “Nineta” somewhere on the sticker. This makes the stickers, which appear mostly on walls and street lamps.

Two identical women with numbers for eyes comprise another distinctive sticker series known as 5003. The numbers can appear either by themselves or as the eyes of the women.

The artist known as “Pixnit” has done series around the metro area of single-color stenciled designs featuring flowers. Often large in size, the pieces are mostly found on brick walls around the city. She is an alumna of the Tufts/SMFA program and displays her work in museums around the world.

Noir doesn’t do series per se, but his work follows a general theme that distinguishes it from other street art. Focusing on undead creatures, his work often depicts zombies and monsters, including a series of sexually promiscuous zombies. He often writes his name in block letters below his work.

Graffiti artists push the limits by writing all over Boston: the typical walls, street signs, lampposts, electrical boxes, dumpsters, and even cars from the T. On September 8, the Boston Globe reported that 14 Green Line cars were found covered in graffiti in Brighton.

Due to the abundance of graffiti in the city and surrounding area, police and citizens alike have instituted a crackdown on street art. Numerous artists have been arrested in the past few years, including Shepard Fairey, the artist behind the Obama posters who also did the mural outside of the campus center at Tufts. He was arrested in February for tagging property near Boston University.

Last December, police from 12 cities and towns in the Boston area banded together to arrest as many graffiti artists as possible. While most illegal artists used to be given fines or community service hours, many now receive jail time.

The city also provides a service called Graffiti Busters, which removes graffiti based on citizen complaints. Their web page boasts that they have erased graffiti from more than 1,000 locations in the city.

The Boston Arts Commission has instituted a program called PaintBox to try to reduce the amount of graffiti in the city while adding aesthetic appeal. The commission hires local artists selected by application to paint street boxes. This takes away space which graffiti artists can use to create their designs, but also adds the visual appeal of unique designs on otherwise plain boxes. The program was based off of a similar one in Somerville.

With all of these programs designed to cut back on graffiti, one would think that barely any street art would be left. As I wandered around the Downtown Crossing shopping area, I wondered if I would even see any graffiti. The marble buildings didn’t show a speck of spray paint.

As I walked by Citizen’s Bank, I noticed a faded patch of purple spray paint, most of which had clearly been scrubbed away before. It seemed as though this was remnant from before all of the programs to prevent and remove graffiti. An alleyway off of Milk Street proved otherwise.  Tucked in between two beautiful buildings, the alley was a haven of graffiti. The dumpster was covered in all sorts of tags, and the walls were coated in stickers and spray painted designs. Amongst the swanky shops and restaurants, the alley was evidence to me that graffiti in Boston isn’t dead.

While the graffiti scene in Boston might not be as lively as it was in the ‘90s, it is by no means extinct. Artists are still out on the streets slapping stickers and spray paint on any flat surfaces they can find. To them, the potential penalty of jail time is worth it for the art they are creating and the spread of their names. This guerilla art is still all over the city; you just have to look for it.

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