What makes an artist? Why are they different? Are they different? Everyone has a gift. Some people use it.

“Are you healthy – yeah! Are you breathing – yeah! Let’s go to work.”

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The title of this intriguing, unpatronising, affectionate and dislocated documentary has been lifted from the name Aaron Rose gave to the memorable show he put together in New York recently, featuring artists who have been together through the testing years, the discovery years and the touching-the-hem-of-fame years.

“Everything that was once underground gets celebrated at some point.”

Many were rebels. Many were skateboarders. Many were graffiti artists. Few were taught. Some hung out on the dark side.

“I had a friend, called Samuel, who had his head cut off right here in the park.”

At the beginning, in the Nineties, they followed the traditional route of teenage isolation, obscurity, punk excess, parental disapproval towards gatherings in warehouse venues where the food and drink was free. They looked back at Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Andy Warhol and saw groupings where people were “enjoying each other’s company, messing around, creating stuff”, and that’s what they wanted, what they found.

There comes a moment when the messing around changes into something approaching a career, although such a concept implies training, power points and upward mobility. Art is fluid. Art is “getting back at all the tanned motherfuckers who wouldn’t talk to me.” Art is a kind of freedom, a balance between revolution and recognition.

This generation, edging into their forties, practised their craft on the walls of buildings and the bodies of trains. Money didn’t come into it. Not then. Later, when one of them is commissioned to animate a Pepsi Cola ad, there is conflict. But not for long.

The art establishment seeks constant renewal, eventually reaching beyond the safety of the satisfied to the latent imagery of Beautiful Losers.

Reviewed on: 07 Aug 2009
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Generation Graffiti evolves from Nineties punk art to New York fame.
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