First off: a little history. Graffiti isn’t just the doings of the past 50 years’ worth of youths. In fact, it’s been found on structures that predate the ancient Greeks and Romans! From the Italian “graffio”, meaning “to scratch”, graffiti’s popularity has increased in recent years largely because of the availability of cheap mark-making devices such as spray paint, decals/stickers and markers.
There are a number of steps you should take if you find that your building has been “tagged” (and you’d like to remove the marks). They include: (1) Photograph the scene. (2) Inform the police in case there have been related incidents or tags in the area. (3) Conduct cleaning trials on the surface of the building. This involves testing small, less noticeable areas and beginning with the least aggressive treatment and working your way up until you find an effective method. (4) Consider a removable barrier-coating system to make any future graffiti easier to clean from the building.
I won’t go into depth on the removal techniques; if you need more explicit directions, visit the sources listed at the bottom of this post. Your chosen method of removal will depend on the media used by the vandal/artist and the surface type. Porous materials like brick and stone are much more difficult to clean and require careful attention. Chemical methods are usually preferred in cases of graffiti on masonry surfaces. This focuses on dissolving the media. Poulticing can be very useful as it keeps the cleaning solution in contact with the surface for an extended period of time and prevents it from being redeposited in the masonry. Mechanical methods such as wire-brushing or grit-blasting focus on abrading the mark from the surface of the building and are much rougher on the existing structure. Laser removal, although quite effective for fragile surfaces, is less accessible to many building owners because of its high cost.
Now for the art-sy side of graffiti. Though it’s often condemned for initiating the downward spiral of a neighborhood’s condition, graffiti can also allow for the expression of social discontent or even bring beauty into an otherwise lifeless urban landscape. I’m sure the above mural in this bohemian district of Seattle, WA brightens up many a rainy day!
The above picture is one I made while I was visiting the Montmartre district of Paris. The incredible detail and control of line, depth and color is truly the work of an artist. Apparently, the building owners thought so, too since this yards-long mural surely wasn’t painted in day! Montmartre’s graffiti was undeniably a highlight of my trip to Paris, but I would have looked much less fondly on it had it been on the side of the Sacre Coeur. I guess what I’m saying is that, as admiringly or disparagingly as people may see graffiti, it has its place – socially and environmentally. Whether it’s celebrated or scrubbed away depends on the physical context and the nature of the mark; consider your audience before you tag!