Getting a Handle On Graffiti in Utah

Whenever I see that a new splotch of graffiti has shown up in a public place, I find myself hoping that somebody will hurry and clean it up so that the graffiti problem doesn’t get worse. But that somebody has as of yet never been me. Now I’m noticing that graffiti is showing up a lot more in areas that I frequent. It’s not getting cleaned up in an appropriate amount of time. And it’s getting more vulgar.

Is graffiti okay? Some people think so. I think so as long as it is privately sponsored and controlled. But not when it’s not legal or privately allowed. The graffiti that I’m starting to see crop up everywhere is definitely not being encouraged or allowed—on the side of train cars, on overpasses, and on vacant buildings.

To make matters worse, now there are web sites that show the kinds of graffiti defacement that has occurred. Whoever is posting such images on these web sites may think they’re providing a public service, but actually, there’s no better encouragement—even for illegal activities—than publicity. The competition is ratcheting up now—the graffiti that is being cleaned up is now much more frequently being replaced within 24 hours.

Some kinds of graffiti are not illegal. These are the kinds of graffiti that should be encouraged. In the movie Freedom Writers, the story depicted a graffiti wall that was provided by the high school for legal graffiti production.

Illegal graffiti cannot be condoned. Law enforcement personnel cannot solve the increasing problem by themselves. Private individuals need to get involved. If graffiti occurs on private property without owners’ consent, property owners should have it cleaned off immediately, and all attempts should be made to punish the perpetrators. For public graffiti defacement, citizens should contact their local governments to find out how they can help eradicate a growing cancer.

Graffiti can be a very attractive form of artistic expression, but not when it’s produced on public property and/or without prior approval. Therefore, schools and private entities should provide an outlet for the desire to produce graffiti. The best example I can think of that facilitates artistic graffiti is the old building near the side of Interstate 15 at Brigham City, Utah. In other words, there probably aren't enough sanctioned graffiti walls in Utah.

Enforcement of and cooperation with the law, combined with outlets for sincere artistic expression, can help us solve this problem before it becomes very ugly.


  1. In Salt Lake City, you can call a graffiti hotline at the city and report graffiti and they will clean it up. I've called them a couple of times.

  2. Disrepect for others' property and for public property should not be tolerated. I don't know that providing space for legal graffiti addresses the basic issues at stake here.

  3. Some call graffiti black art. Some call it dark and ugly. I saw a graffitti mural on 700 south and that baby was dark and ugly and a thing.

  4. Hey Frank,
    I bet you didn't know that Senator Buttars read your blog......

  5. Reach,

    Providing space for legal graffiti addresses the legal issue by making it more clear which venues are illegal for graffiti, while satisfying the artistic urge. Some graffiti is beautiful.

    R & J,

    Cool! Hi, Senator Buttars! Welcome to my dark and ugly blog!!

  6. "Graffiti can be a very attractive form of artistic expression, but not when it’s produced on public property and/or without prior approval."

    That doesn't make any sense. I've never understood this supposed relationship between legality and aesthetic concepts. Given this logic, Michelangelo's painting of the last supper, which was painted on a wall, could only be attractive if he had permission to paint on that given wall.

    A good artist that demonstrates this fallacy is Bansky from London. His work derives much of its meaning from their locations and places where permission would not be granted for his work.

    "Enforcement of and cooperation with the law, combined with outlets for sincere artistic expression, can help us solve this problem before it becomes very ugly."

    I'm not so sure about this. This can certainly help but Salt Lake's graffiti problem isn't that bad, mostly because they remove graffiti so fast. But the unintended consequence of this is that graffiti artist simply have moved to the train yards. Some of the greatest freight train artists in the nation hail from this fine city and rarely will you see them on an illegal wall in the city.

    One of the biggest issues I think you miss is that illegal graffiti is like a drug. There is no greater rush than seeing you name five feet tall and twenty feet long on the freeway, being seen by thousands of people. There is not legal wall that satisfies this urge. Much like building a skate park, it can never replace the desire of skaters to skate the "streets." Credibility in the scene requires as much.

    Furthermore, I don't think there are the resources available to fully engage the police departments in the issue. Foremost, I don't think the depts. have an effective method of sharing information about graffiti. It also takes a lot of time and resources to catch graffiti being produced in the act. Even if you catch someone the only evidence the prosecutors usually have is circumstantial.

    Lastly, I just want to say I find it ironic how ugly the primer gray rectangles are that cover graffiti. Many times that is far ugly and delightful than the city itself.

    And here is one of those sites you were talking about:

  7. Graffiti sucks, no matter how pretty it might be. As dr.n points out, it's more about "being seen" than about the "art". It's illegal, and should remain so.

  8. Dr. N,

    Graffiti cannot be considered attractive when it's done illegally. They move to the train yards, yes, but this is still illegal. I'm saying that illegal graffiti producers should be punished.


    I disagree with your blanket statement. Not all graffiti is illegal. I gave examples in my article of graffiti that clearly is not. Now, the contributors to may consider most graffiti legal (as implied by how many pictures of supposedly "legal" graffiti they are hosting)--but that's a different argument.

  9. Frank,

    I agree much graffiti is ugly and takes a special eye to appreciate it. Much like most modern art (BTW, did you know graffiti is the first movement of art that was founded by youth and not the established art community?)

    But I still disagree with the statement that it cannot be attractive if it's legal - there just is not a logical connection between aestethics and legality.

    I urge to you consider two artists in your assessment. First, Shepard Failey a.k.a. Obey Giant. It is likely you've seen his work around in poster stores, on the streets, and on the clothing of our fellow citizens. He has established himself as a legit artist selling canvasas to the collectors who regard him as the first major artist since Warhol. And yet, he still does illegal work that is identical to his legal work. Although, I would argue I think his illegal work is a more forceful of an art because the surrounding environment interacts with his images in a way the white walls of the gallery do not.

    Secondly, consider the British artist Banksy. His legal prints sell for thousands of pounds but in no way compare to the power his usually politically and socially charged stencils have on the street. In fact, in one instance he did an illegal multicolored stencil that the community actual decided was worthy to keep rather than paint over with an ugly primer gray.

    It must be noted, however, that these two artist are not graffitist in the traditional sense. I.E. in the vein of 99% of the graffiti in SLC. Rather, their art is considered "post-graffiti" or third wave graffiti or some other BS name. But the fact is that they got there start in the art world doing illegal works and continue to participate in breaking the law to display their art.

    My point is, that it is fallacious to say that graffiti, when illegal, cannot be attractive. And for further evidence of this, I point to my argument in my previous post that the Last Supper was painted on a wall (well, fresco'd) and would still be attractive if Michelangeo had done it illegal.

    On another point all togther, one of the interesting aspects of graffiti and more specifically "post-graffit," is that the artist has shunned the traditional approach to being an artist. There is an attitude in graffiti that art is for everyone, not simply those who collect art or are part of high-culture. And while, breaking the law is breakign the law and carries heavy consquences, this is the aspect I find the most endearing. Obey Giant doesn't have to give his art away anymore, he could feed galleries his work and accept the five figure payments for them but rather he spends just as much time and effort (plus the risk of jail) to wheat paste up a huge poster on the side of the building for all to enjoy or hate. The art forces people to respond and discuss art in a way that most mainstream or legitimate art does not or cannot.

  10. Dr N,

    You say "My point is, that it is fallacious to say that graffiti, when illegal, cannot be attractive."

    Actually, I think you're right. I concede the point.

    Maybe what I should have said is that we can't let the fact that graffiti is attractive deter us from getting rid of it if it's illegal. Or maybe laws allowing attractive graffiti should be liberalized (I haven't thought about the ramifications of that much, though.)

    Is either of these a better statement (something you can agree with)?

  11. I'd agree with those statements. And I want to make a point to say that I don't mean my comments to say I don't think there should be nothing done about graffiti.

    And the length of comments is only evidence of the fact that I find graffiti as a social phenom and as a source of new ideas in art of great interest. As a social issue, it has had a profound affect where I've heard people say its existence is evidence of a true city. Where in a sea of anonymous people it provides a way for people to standout and (alluding to the name of my site) and existential reaction that proclaims, "I was here, I exist, I am trully part of this city." Moreover, I think part of the graffiti problem is related to people taking back their environment. That is to say, we are forced to see billboards and ads everywhere we go and in the same light graffiti is a vehicle for people to affect their environment as they see fit (and the only way one can without spending thousands of dollars). And in terms of art ideas, these same advertisements are being produced by graffiti artists and if not the images of graffiti have been appropraited to sell every item under the sun.

    One last thing before I get back to work: As you might have assumed, I was once known to graffiti the walls of the town and the cars of the trains. (to this day I think I might be one of the few people who enjoy getting stopped by a train.) But, in the words of The Clash, "I fought the law and the law won." Consequently, I no longer am party to such activity as I can longer afford the consequences it would have to the future I have planned. I still like to produce art and graffiti has certainly had a major influence on not only how I create it but how I view it. My academic studies also lead me to view it quite differtly than other graffiti artists as well. I am of the school that graffiti's purpose should be to engage the public in a conversation while most people are of the school that graffiti is only for those who do graffiti.

    The boss is calling, I got to bounce...Thanks for reading my long and winded comments

    Dr. EN

  12. hi so this is only a couple years old but i hope you still get it! i am trying to figure out who own the building on the side of the highway that you talked about in brigham city i am hoping to do a welcome home for my sis who is on a mission in a couple weeks but was wanting to get permision if i needed to first! if you have any ideas or could help i would really appreciate it! ill check back and see if you have comented1
    THank YOu!

  13. screw you all! im a graffiti artist in slc. they need dedicated walls for us to paint.

  14. im a graffiti artist in salt lake city and i preform both legal and illegal graffiti and graffiti style art. This a heavily misunderstood form of art, it can be political and beatiful. There are kids that will go paint on houses and thats wrong. But i believe that as long as advertisment is legal graffiti should be too. All day everyone is constantly bombarded with messages telling me to consume, reproduce, and obey. If you produce legal walls it will curb it heavily. GRAFFITI CANNOT BE STOPPED WE WILL ALWAYS PAINT YOUR WASTING YOUR TIME.


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