Artists have covered the streets of Atlanta with a punk flavor. The sides of buildings are decorated with influential sayings, paintings of civil rights leaders and symbols of protests, marked by the art of the street.
Street art in Atlanta is immensely diverse, as street artists like VAYNE and SLAW take on a style of art that features popping words in a train graffiti-like style. Tagging, a form of street art where artists write names in bubble lettering, is another common occurrence around the city and can be seen everywhere.
Street art is often controversial, raising the debate of whether it is art or vandalism. Several spots in Atlanta, such as Little Five Points, The Beltline and Krog Street Tunnel embrace graffiti as a part of the city’s charm. However, there are several places where people view tagging and graffiti as criminal offenses.
As of now, graffiti, most forms of street art and tagging are illegal. That is why artists around the Atlanta area go by different names to conceal their identity and create a community of artists who work in the streets to share their work. VAYNE, mentioned earlier, is one of the more notorious of these street artists.
VAYNE, who hides their real name to the public for their protection, is known for his large block letters spray-painted in various Atlanta areas. His work is one of the first things seen coming into Atlanta from i85-South, his tag VAYNE looming over the city on an overpass bridge.
Another notorious Atlanta Street artist, SLAW, also displays art on bridges seen when driving into the city. While dangerous and potentially incriminating, street art is one of the many staples of Atlanta.
Street art is part of the city’s culture. Empty bridges, walls and walkways give artists a canvas to display their work and show off their talents in a public setting.
Apart from street art, SLAW and VAYNE’s work can sometimes be seen in galleries, still using his aliases to hide their identities. Recently, Cat Eye Creative displayed VAYNE’s art in a downtown gallery.
These artists work together in their art both on the street and in a gallery setting, and in Cat Eye Creative’s exhibit “Summer in the City,” VAYNE and SLAW created a piece of art called “Pack of Smokes.” This piece is a 37” by 10” by 24” sized replica of a pack of Marlboro Red cigarettes. SLAW’s street tag name is on the top of the sculpture, in the artist’s usual street style.
A lot of the street art and work around Atlanta is made famous through social media. People from all over the country come to see places like Krog Street Tunnel and the immense amount of Graffiti featured around that area.
Instagram accounts such as @bucket_head77 and @atlantastreetart showcase a lot of art involving VAYNE and SLAW.
Despite legalities, several groups in Atlanta advocate for street artists and want them to have a safe and legal way to display their art. Living Walls ATL is one of those groups working to evolve the landscape of the city constantly.
“We love Atlanta,” Living Walls ATL’s website states. “Our ultimate goal is to create thought-provoking and community-informed public art for many more years to come.”
Through Living Walls ATL, artists bring avoided and neglected public spaces to life, keeping the art scene in Atlanta flourishing, lively and beautiful. Art is a highly impactful source of entertainment, and it is crucial to the city of Atlanta that art in all forms remains protected.
“We believe in our artist’s visions and their ability to represent and honor our communities responsibly,” The group’s website states. “Our process involves facilitating conversations between communities and artists to create work that represents the diverse cultures that make this city so beautiful.”
Maddie Bass, a sophomore Georgia State art student, is an avid believer in street art and stands firmly with the ideology that street art is the soul of Atlanta. She believes that all forms of art are valid, pushing towards the legalization of graffiti.
Bass sees graffiti as more of an art form rather than vandalization, but she also recognizes that this form of art is both. She is a big fan of Atlanta street artists, a favorite being Chris Veal, a man who started as a tag artist but now gets paid to create murals around the city.
“I know some people see graffiti as trashy, but as an artist, I appreciate everything from murals to just someone’s tag on a light pole,” Bass said. “The city would definitely be a bit dull and less personable with no graffiti. It provides a sort of voice [and] a way for people driving through to relate to Atlantans. If it’s driven by malice with the purpose of damaging something or someone, I am less eager to support it.”
In the past, Bass worked with spray paint in a few of her pieces. It’s a medium she loves and appreciates, and it is also something she loves and appreciates with other artists.
Her relationship with street art as a medium is a bit blurry, as she loves the art form but does not participate herself. Bass sees street art as something that is typically very public and unrestricted. She sees forms of street art as a way to search for identity, cry for help or display something beautiful and necessary.
According to Bass, these walls provide a place for artists to express their talents and emotions. “No one can say no, or that it’s too much. The artist holds free reign and can create whatever they like. That’s the best part about street art,” Bass said. “
She, as an artist, is a big fan of artists such as SLAW and VAYNE because they are both so influential. Bass holds a heart for Atlanta artists, and she feels as if these two, in particular, are some of the most recognizable based on their work on the streets.
“They’re (SLAW and VAYNE) everywhere,” Bass said. “They’re so consistent in Atlanta. It almost reminds me of the book ‘1984’ because those names consume the walls like the character ‘Big Brother,’ but there is no feeling of an overarching plot. It’s just a freeing reminder that these artists are out here constantly doing what they love.”
Atlanta is for dreamers. Atlanta provides a home for those who create, love and live in an often unconventional way. It is an accepting place. Atlanta’s walls are a symbol of that acceptance.