Have you always wondered about those strange looking drawings one sees driving under a bridge or past old obscure buildings in the middle of town? Perhaps you’ve asked yourself who painted them there and why?

Well, who better to ask than someone who has made a profession out of it? Perdeby spoke to a prominent Joburg graffiti artist known as Rasty.

Rasty has had a passion for graffiti since the age of 17. “Back then I went to a club where there were graffiti artists from Cape Town painting live. I had always been artistic, so when I saw graffiti it instantly caught my attention and I knew that was the kind of art I wanted to make”.

Graffiti has been around for many generations. The word “graffiti” is derived from the Italian “graffiato” which translates to “scratched”. What is perhaps the earliest form of graffiti was done by the Romans, who began by scratching messages of love, political rhetoric and even advertisements of services by prostitutes on walls and monuments. This seemingly simple art of scratching on surfaces has evolved extensively.

According to Rasty, in contemporary times graffiti’s ideas and philosophies have become more varied.

“It has expanded from its modern roots in New York to every continent in the world,” he says, “Every country has taken it and made it its own. There are so many different styles and techniques, from abstract to photo-realistic, that it is no longer just a way to get people to see your name. It has become a means for the youth to express themselves in any way they can imagine.”

Rasty thinks the common misconceptions of graffiti being about vandalism and gangsterism come from a general misunderstanding of graffiti and a lack of education on the matter.

“Graffiti is not something that can be put into a little labeled box and taped up. It is a worldwide movement practiced by people from all backgrounds,” he says.

For Rasty graffiti is his life. “I have spent the past 10 years being dedicated to graffiti to the point that my whole existence revolves around it,” he says. “Most importantly it is a way for me to express myself and get my message out to the greatest possible audience – the people in the street.”

If you want to try your hand at this pop culture phenomenon the best places in Gauteng to practice graffiti are, according to Rasty, in Joburg – a favourite spot is in Newtown under the M1 bridge.

“Graffiti artists pretty much have free rein there,” explains Rasty, “And just about everyone has something there so it is also a really good place to see graffiti. Areas like Brixton, Yeoville and Troyeville are also good places to paint because there are a lot of run down walls and the people appreciate the artwork.”

As for what one needs to become a graffiti artist, Rasty believes that raw energy makes graffiti what it is, and that passion, conviction, and persistence will get any aspiring graffiti artist far.

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