Just before his exhibit launched at the Institute of Contemporary Art two years ago Shepard Fairey was arrested for posting depictions of Andre the Giant across the city, including the BU Bridge.
Many saw handcuffing the artist best known for his “Hope” image of President Obama as grandstanding, but Boston has a reputation for being tough on graffiti.
About 15 years after the city started Graffiti Busters to remove graffiti from privately owned buildings, Boston’s once vibrant graffiti culture is practically dead.
“Boston is untouchable,” former Cambridge tagger, Raodee, said. “Places like New York you can hit the streets; people might see you doing it but they’re not going to say something.
“The vandal squad has gotten ridiculous. It’s almost not worth it.”
After forming five years ago, the Back Bay organization Graffiti NABBers removed 10,000 tags.
“We’d be delighted if the perception is they shouldn’t be tagging this city anymore,” NABBers chairwoman Anne Swanson said.
Simmons College art professor emeritus, Bob Oppenheim, said Boston’s graffiti crackdown has pushed the craft even further underground.
“The quality of things is still there but they are being pushed to the fringes,” he said. “It’s a more ungrounded world. Is it better or worse? It means the worlds can live harmoniously.”
Back in the day, Boston tags held their own against New York and Philadelphia.
“Boston had its own concrete style,” said Mayan Tamang, co-owner of Cultures in Harvard Square. “It was raw and eclectic.”
Raodee and several other former taggers are now legitimate artists who are commissioned to do murals and other projects, but many of Boston’s graffiti legends are in jail or dead.
“There aren’t older cats passing it down so kids are doing their own style,” Raodee said. “It’s evolving now. Younger cats are straying away from Boston’s technical style. Kids are looking to different cities for inspiration.”
“I definitely hunger for the old days of Boston graffiti. It’s definitely not the same.”
Oppenheim said those who feel their creativity is being stifled still have an outlet.
“If the graffiti artist needs more exposure there’s another world in a gallery,” he said.
Zero tagging tolerance
Earlier this month five alleged vandals were placed on pre-trial probation for spray painting profanity in the Back Bay and two years ago the international tagger formally known as “UTAH” — Danielle Bremmer — received two six-month jail terms and a five-figure restitution order for vandalizing the Back Bay and Blue Line trains.