People moving through Greenside can’t help but noticed a massive piece of graffiti situated just above Shop 1 on 116 Greenway Street in that suburb famous for its side walk cafes, gourmet eating spots and creative retailers. The piece of street art which is causing people to stop and stare includes the messages “be yourself”; “life’s delicious” and “be different.” The graffiti stretches over a building and is some three stories tall.
“The age old question when it comes to graffiti goes something like is it vandalism or is it art?” asks Christina Patricios, founder of Odd Café. “This debate has raged in societies since graffiti became a permanent feature of our world and part of our popular culture. At Odd Café we believe that most graffiti is art. Obviously some defacing of public spaces isn’t wanted, but intentional street art that seeks to inspire, inform, entertain or make a social statement is completely different. That’s art that enriches us all.”
Patricios alludes to the likes of graffiti greats such as Banksy. “A huge amount of people revere Banksy’s work which has become famous because of the political and social statements he makes with his work, but what few people know is that he was born in Bristol and was part of the underground scene. His work was inspired by the British government’s approach to graffiti. In the nineties the UK government very much saw graffiti as vandalism, and mainstream society didn’t have an appreciation for street art.”
Banksy started out as a free hand street artist but then graduated to doing stencil work, very much in the style pioneered by Frenchman Blek le Rat. Today Banksy’s art is sold by the likes of Christie’s of New York with pieces like “Fuck the police” fetching $229,000; “In the Event of a Divorce Cut Here” fetching $146,500 and the very well known “Love is in the air” realizing $46,850.
Odd Café is contributing to the growth and recognition of this art form locally and has invested in the three story high mural done by respected and emerging local graffiti artists. “We love design and art forms that intersect with popular culture and invested a considerable amount of money in creating a mural that covers the building Odd Café is housed in. We believe this will inject local culture into Greenside and could help people become more appreciative of graffiti as an art form,” says Patricios. “Just as Newtown is being beautified by street art we wanted to bring colour, debate and visual entertainment to Greenside.”
The three story high artwork was created by Mars and the DS Crew and took about four days to complete using some 100 cans of spray paint. “The brief was wide open which we appreciated because we find work that is wedded to branding or business overly confining and this can clash with the street art mandate, so it was important to us that we had huge freedom when doing this work,” says Mars.
“The building now sports cartoon characters, real characters and graffiti lettering which we mixed and mashed up to make it funky in keeping with Odd Café. We used purples, yellows, greens, flesh tones. When we were finished we had emptied about 100 cans of spray paint.”
Mars entered the world of graffiti when he was thirteen after seeing pictures of graffiti in an American hip hop culture magazine. “I practiced drawing some of the pictures on paper and before long my friend and I were out there painting pictures under bridges. I think I started a lot earlier than most people do,” says Mars.
What has driven Mars to mature as a graffiti artist is building a reputation. “You choose a name and try to make that name as big as you can. In the beginning that’s what it is all about. But as you mature you begin to compete with yourself and it’s all about becoming a better artist and pushing yourself further in terms of creating a legacy.”
The building featuring Greenside’s largest work of graffiti can be seen at 116 Greenway Street in Greenside Johannesburg, which is also home to Odd Café.