Vandalism or Art




Empty aerosol cans litter the ground of the Day Spot, a colourful graffiti exhibition found underneath a freight train overpass just outside Midland.

The free art display intersects two farming properties, contrasting its otherwise rural surroundings.

“NO TRESPASSING: Trespassers Liable To Prosecution”, reads a forbidding sign authorised by the Brookfield Train Department on one of the overpass walls. Despite the warning, the Day Spot is covered with tags, pictures, tributes and sketches. 

It is clearly a popular location for many graffiti artists around Perth.

Two horses in a neighbouring paddock cautiously look on while local artist Tarik Carn walks towards a wall, his bag rattling with every step he takes as the aerosol cans inside clink together. He unzips his bag and empties the contents onto the ground. 

“It’s good under here,” says Carn. “People come here because it’s out of the way and there is no chance of getting caught."

Carn grabs an aerosol can and begins painting the outline of what is soon to become his tag. Lost in concentration, he spends close to the next 30 minutes perfecting his sketch. He carefully selects which aerosol can to use next out of the 15 or so he has available at his feet. 

The wall in front of Carn undergoes a gradual transformation as the tag evolves from a silver outline, to a purple and blue smudge and then into a completed tag once the final black outline around the piece is drawn.  


"Too many people destroy other peoples property

so I try to be respectful when I graff..."


Not too many people will see this tag but Carn still takes pride in his work, concentrating to ensure the finished product is exactly as he had envisioned. Eventually Carn is satisfied enough with the painting to put the aerosol cans down and come back to reality. 

“I was about 13 or 14 when I began graffing,” he says.  The term “graffing” is used to describe graffiti painting.

A passionate graffiti artist, Carn often practices his art form by drawing in notepads or tagging old mattresses. Despite his passion for the graffiti culture Carn only knows of a few legitimate graffiti places similar to Midland’s Day Spot in Perth.

“The scene in Perth is big in a way,” he says. “But it is definitely nothing compared to what is over east in Melbourne. Hopefully one day the Perth scene is just as big as what it is over there.”

As the graffiti scene in Australia grows it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between what work is street art and what is vandalism. As a practising graffiti artist Carn says he understands the difference between harmless painting and defacing property.  

“Graffiti is still art but it is also definitely vandalism,” Carn says. “I can understand why people don’t see it as art.”

“Too many people destroy other peoples property so I try to be respectful when I graff – for me people’s houses and cars are a big no go.”

In Sydney, graffiti artist Luke Shirlaw is trying to repaint graffiti culture and brand it as a positive movement. Shirlaw is the creative director of Ironlak, an Australian aerosol can manufacturer. He organises many community events and painting demonstrations to help others gain a better understanding of graffiti. 

“We regularly support projects, events, murals and exhibitions,” he says. “It’s important to support the scene that supports us and give something back.” 

Shirlaw has been involved in the Australian graffiti scene for over 20 years and has seen the culture evolve from a small art form into a popular practice of self-expression. 

“It seems like there are more and more artists getting active around the country,” Shirlaw says. “Melbourne seems to embrace the work more than other cities so I’d say the scenes are strongest in both Melbourne and Sydney.”

According to Shirlaw, the graffiti culture in Melbourne has created an attraction for tourists looking for different photo opportunities. The developing Perth graffiti culture is gradually producing more art pieces that are similar to the murals found throughout Melbourne. 

“Perth does seem to have quite a nice thing going on - it’s nice to see all the new murals in the CBD,” Shirlaw says. 

“Whenever I’ve been there it seems like there are nice walls in public places and cool things happening. 

“I think it’s because the people of Perth are so far from the nearest cultural hub that they use this isolation as fuel to make awesome things happen for their own community.”

Having graffiti acknowledged as a legitimate art form is a while off yet, but the continual support with projects like commissioned murals will benefit not only graffiti artists but the community as well. 

An artist’s skill level is what can potentially make someone consider his or her work as vandalism or art. Hidden graffiti spots around the Perth area showcase the high skill level and talents of many local graffiti artists.

But unfortunately, community sporting groups, shopping centres and people’s personal property often fall victim to poor quality tags by people who have only just begun to graffiti. These lesser quality sketches are what cause society to associate graffiti with vandalism, stopping the graffiti culture from developing further and becoming an accepted art form.  

The negative connotations associated with graffiti paint (that it is a law breaking exercise that is practised by degenerate thugs and troublesome youths)has become a stigma that is difficult to shake, especially for graffiti artists that use the art form as their main means of income. 

Walking back from the Day Spot, Carn points to a house across a park. Its cream tin fence has been covered in black graffiti, with the hardly legible words snaking down four-to-five metres of the fence line.  

“Those tags there are what make people think graffiti is mainly vandalism,” he says. “That’s someone’s fence and now they have to paint over it to cover it up.”

Across the park an elderly woman sweeps her driveway as she watches Carn trudge forward still carrying his aerosol cans in the bag that sits across his right shoulder.

She keeps her judgemental stare fixated on Carn as he gradually gets closer.
It is obvious that she knows what Carn contains in his bag, and it is even more apparent that she does not approve of it.

If only she knew that a colourful art exhibition exists through the bushes and in a vacant paddock a mere kilometre from her house.

Maybe if she did know her attitude to graffiti would change.  Then again it might change nothing at all.