Will Pekins: Investigating Contemporary Graffiti Culture in NYC

My name is Will Pekins and I’m a BFA studio art student with a focus on painting,
printmaking, and sculpture. I’m currently a senior, graduating after the fall semester of 2023. My time in the studio art program has greatly expanded my artistic practice,
allowing me to realize projects that would have been unattainable prior to attending.
This research project is centered around the contemporary graffiti culture in New
York City. Through first hand interactions with New York graffiti writers, I aim to explore
the behind the scenes aspects of this art form so as to create a dialogue that analyzes
the hidden social structure within. This research will provide insight on the motivational factors that drive these artists and allow me to create a commentary on the life of those involved in the rarely studied contemporary graffiti scene.

Will Pekins, Senior, Studio Art

I will spend the first three weeks of July in New York City documenting the lives
and habits of different local graffiti writers. My research will take the form of notes,
photos, and audio recordings. Over the course of these weeks, I will shadow different
graffiti writers, observing their habits, jobs, living conditions, social lives, etc. I will also
conduct a series of recorded one on one conversations which focus on exploring the
reasons why people paint graffiti. My investigation of this culture will culminate in a limited edition of artist books. The book will explore the varied lifestyles of graffiti writers and question the psychological factors that attract people of all backgrounds to the practice of writing graffiti. In creating this book, I aim to expose an under studied artistic culture so as to further the dialogue to those on the outside.

Rooftop Graffitti in Chinatown, Manhattan, NYC Photo by Howie Mapson on Unsplash

Artist books are generally created in limited editions and often place as much
emphasis on the physical form of the book as is placed on the content. I’m choosing the
form of an artist book to convey the results of my research because I feel that it will be
the best suited mode of communication for this kind of content. The form of an artist
book will allow for more flexibility in terms of editing and integrating the research into a final format most suitable for an outside audience. My interest in this topic stems from my own history of writing graffiti for over ten years before quitting and returning to school to pursue studio art. The subject of contemporary graffiti, particularly the artists themselves, is poorly represented at this time. I feel that it is important to expand this dialogue to the academic field in order to help properly represent this often misunderstood niche of artists.

After completing my BFA degree I plan to move back to New York City and return to my job as a scenic artist at Bednark Studios in Brooklyn. I began working at Bednark in 2017 and have remained as a seasonal summer employee during my time at FSU. I aim to leverage my experience as a multidisciplinary artist and fabricator so as to work my way out of the scenic department and into the role of project management. While pursuing my professional career, I also plan to continue examining the behind the scenes aspects of the graffiti culture through my artwork, so as to recognize and appreciate these remarkable artists. Graffiti itself is enthralling, but I am equally as interested in the artwork as I am interested in the extremely unique aspects of what it is to be a graffiti writer. This project will allow me the opportunity to further my research on this topic and help to expand my artistic practice as I finish out my time here at FSU.

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