Graffiti is the most misunderstood element of hiphop. Since it involves destruction of property and is therefore illegal (unless you go to the legal graff wall in NE Portland), it's easy for people to instantly demonize it without bothering to understand it as a form of cultural and artistic expression.
J.D. Davis is a Portland artist who quit graffiti writing because he was "never hardcore enough to keep up with the graff heads. Plus, getting busted twice and breaking both my kneecaps slowed me down a bit. Once I quit formal graffiti, I found a love for urban and experimental fine art." Now, Davis practices what is called "Post-Graffiti" or "Public" art--he'll make a painting on plywood and chain it to a pole, for instance. It's a way of claiming land--something graffiti represents--but isn't as permanent as graffiti writing (and, until the "poster ban" is foisted upon us, it's still a legal activity).
"I do public art," Davis explains, "because it is a way to bring my aesthetic experiments onto the streets. My street work is very benign, as opposed to graffiti, which is very aggressive by nature. I feel that what I do is not graffiti but more like a distant cousin to graff."
Davis brings his street sense to canvas, making the term "post-graffiti" literal. Some of his gallery paintings are full of abstract, stark strokes in blacks and yellows--representations of the same angular strokes graffiti writers use in spray paint or marker on walls and concrete. His public art is more collage-oriented. Using big blocks of wood, masking tape, swipes of paint, staples, stickers and other tactile media, the graff element is more apparent in cursive phrases that say things like, "my styles rock fresh."
Davis' approach to public art and putting hiphop-influenced art in galleries, and where everyday non-gallery-goers can see it, is a vital movement. If more people practice art publicly, perhaps graffiti writing can be de-stigmatized and de-mystified. As Davis says, "Graffiti is the most important art form of the last 40 years. It is the most pure and beautiful form of expression that I know of. It's also a great training ground for young people to discover their own ability of self-learning, and creates a healthy disrespect for law and order by challenging the notion of private property--All things that I find very important for a young person to cultivate."
You can see J.D. Davis' art on the street, or at his solo shows in July at Half & Half, in August at The Doors Gallery, and in October at PS What? Gallery.