Committed Spray Can

By Baptiste Léger.

You are walking in the street, doing window shopping or driving your car. Going to the cinema or going back home. Suddenly you stop: a street art fresco is in front of you. Is it art? Is it vandalism? Anyway, this is something, there is something behind these colors on this wall. Most of the street artists, as for instance Nevercrew, Blu, July i, and Banksy, are committed artists. In their case, they have in common that they address the topic of global warming. They have the power to grab your attention, that can be a few seconds or more. It’s difficult to be insensitive to street art. We can’t escape those artworks, they dress our houses’ walls, and they have been doing that, since the dawn of human time. According to Craig Castleman and Gustavo Barbosa, graffities already existed in prehistoric times [1]. Cavemen were drawing animals on cave walls. It continues during Antiquity, hundreds of messages were found in the city of Pompeii. During the 1789 French Revolution, prisoners carved on the jail cell wall. The art dealer Maga Danysz have a different view of graffiti, in an interview for the French cultural magazine Télérama, she gave the date of the first graffiti according to her: 1942. During the World War II, a bomb factory worker named Kilroy wrote on the workpieces of the assembly line “Kilroy was here.” Bombs were dropped with this ironic message. This sentence had not gone unnoticed, and soldiers started to write “Kilroy was here” on the walls. As Maga Danysz explains in this interview: “I like this story because it lays the foundations of the graffiti culture: the interest of the message, which give a meaning to a work; and the virality allows to be seen by as many.” [2] To be seen by as many, this is maybe one of the most important things of the graffiti culture. Contrarily to art in museums, street art is accessible to everyone. Street artists well understand their power and uses it in one of the main topics of our century: global warming.

The subject of global warming has taken a hold of us in the last years. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report from the 8th of October 2018 is alarming: if humans doesn’t reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, our future is uncertain. An augmentation of the temperature of 1.5°C or 2°C in 2030 taking us to an apocalyptic future. At 1.5°C: it is the acceleration of the rising flood and everything that entail. It’s crucial to reduce the CO2 emissions before 2030, and then in 2050 to arrive in a “CO2 neutrality.” According to this report, 2.400 billion of investment each year are needed between 2016 and 2035. That represent 2.5% of the Mondial PIB. This cost has to be compared to the non-action, which seems to be more expensive [3].

Behind a graffiti, a message:

The interesting thing with the street art is we don’t have to come to it, it comes to us in our street. It is a habit to see it. It comes over uninvited in our everyday life. With just one image, street art can share a message, it gets straight to the point, this message can be innocuous or not. Banksy, July I, Nevercrew, and blu have the power to carry a message, to face us the reality. A fresco is for everyone, it is understandable by everyone, and it’s actually easier than a scientific report.

A dolphin in a plastic bottle, a bear swimming in oil. Those frescos are signed by the Switzerland street artists Christian Rebecchi and Pablo Togni from the group Nevercrew. They are interested in the environmental question and the topic of the use of natural resources. Behind these strong colors and realist frescos, these artists addressed the topic of the relationship between humanity and nature. In front of this artwork, can we merely say: “oh that’s beautiful”? Can we be insensitive to these messages?

Nevercrew "Black machine" - Mural painting and installation, Turin (Italie), 2015

Street art can be accompanied by a text. Thanks to it, the message is clear. The Toronto Street Artist July i do that most of the time. Next to this depressed bear riding monocyclic with a pink skirt, it’s written “born to be wild.” What a sarcastic sentence denouncing circus and particularly the domination of humans over animals. I also have to mention the Banksy half immersed graffiti “I don’t believe in global warming.” All these street arts use provocative or sarcastic images with simple slogans. To summarize: wake up.

The wall as a medium:

Painters have canvas and museums, street artists have walls and streets. A wall has an important symbolic: it is the symbol of the property, it separates public and private space [1]. In a way, the wall can be the message. The street art is free, when the fresco is made, there is no censure, the artist is free to express himself. The message is between the artist and the passerby. There is no curator, no hierarchy, no censure [2]. No one in between to dictate what is good and what is not. This idea of free speech is important in street art and for the topic of global warming. We already know that street art and graffiti are powerful means of expression as experience has taught with the Egyptian Revolution [3]: people read graffiti, people react to them. This is propaganda. And today, thanks to internet, a local message can become shared all around the world with a picture [4]. Internet is a museum without walls and the front page of a newspaper at the same time. In regards to the accessibility of the art form contributes to its power, Banksy says, “graffiti ultimately wins out because it becomes part of your city, it's a tool. A wall is a very big weapon,” he says, “it's one of the nastiest things you can hit someone with.”[5]

“If graffiti changed anything, it would be illegal.”



[1] Denise PIRANI, Transition démocratique et culture urbaine au Brésil : le Phénomène du graffiti, 1992, P. 1

[2] Olivier GRANOUX, Aux origines du street art #1 : le graffiti new-yorkais (1942-1983), Télérama, December 2015

[3] La tribune, Le futur apocalyptique que nous promet le GIEC si la température de la planète grimpe de 1,5°C en 2030, October 2018

[4] Jakub Dąbrowski “The medium is the message”– graffiti writing as McLuhan’s medium, Warsaw 2011

[5] Kristina Marie Gleaton, Power to the People: Street Art as an Agency for Change, 2012. P.20

[6] Ibid., P.38

[7] Martin Irvine, The Work on the Street: Street Art and Visual Culture Martin Irvine, Georgetown University P.10

[8] Kristina Marie Gleaton, Power to the People: Street Art as an Agency for Change, 2012. P.16


BLANCHE Ulrich, Street Art and related terms – discussion and working definition, Heidelberg University.

DABROWSKI Jakub “The medium is the message”– graffiti writing as McLuhan’s medium, Warsaw 2011.

GLEATON Kristina Marie, Power to the People: Street Art as an Agency for Change, 2012.

GRANOUX Olivier, Aux origines du street art #1 : le graffiti new-yorkais (1942-1983), Télérama, December 2015.

IRVINE Martin, The Work on the Street: Street Art and Visual Culture, Georgetown University.

PIRANI Denise, Transition démocratique et culture urbaine au Brésil : le Phénomène du graffiti, 1992.