Graffiti: art, vandalism or a fact of French life?

by James Dalrymple

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about grafiti in Grenoble and France and how in many cases I no longer notice it: it has become a part of the town’s visual identity and not just an eye-sore. On Sunday in particular, it is impossible to ignore, as the majority of shop shutters come down to reveal vivid spray-painted slogans, most acts of vandalism but simply left be. While I would never condone vandalism, some of the grafiti has become intermingled in my mind with some of the arresting street art in the city, to the point where it is not always easy to distinguish which is which – that is to say, what constitutes art and what constitutes vandalism. On top of this debate there is always the concurrent one that questions who owns public space, who gets to decide on what we see.

Graffiti in Grenoble varies from tagging and spray-painted murals to Bansky-inspired stencils from the witty to the witless. Impossible to ignore, graffiti always invites us to look, even if it doesn’t encourage it. From visual jokes to vulgar sketches and political slogans, graffiti is an attempt to confront the spectator but due to its proliferation often seems to fade into the general visual detritus of urban life – traffic signs, bill stickers, etc. I am curious as to what inspires people to deface their surroundings. There is no way to justify defacing historical monuments – the grafiti at the Bastille, for instance, is particularly jarring and senseless. But are derelict buildings fair game? And why are bins defaced? It seems to be a thing of pathos – to see rubbish bins defaced with such vigour. I’ve included some photos below, a mix of vandalism, commissioned wall art and other forms of visual appropriation. If you have an opinion on the matter, or a good photo to share, please contact us.

Tagging on derelict building

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