Written by Debra Morrall
Imagine for a moment, a job description for a graffiti artist which might read as such:
- Do you have artistic vision and flair?
- Can you think fast and move quickly?
- Do you have a head for heights?
- Are you prepared to die for your art?
The last statement might make you think of railway tunnels, motorways and canal walls – the kind of dangerous surfaces favoured by street artists. What you probably wouldn’t immediately connect with is that the aerosol spray paints used by graffiti artists all across the world, can shorten their lives by up to seven years.
Clouds of toxic fumes disperse around the graffiti artists as they work. Avoiding inhalation is impossible and the very action of breathing in spray paint will line your lungs with solvents and resins which can cause respiratory problems and asthma, brain damage, damage to the reproductive system and kidney or liver damage long term health issues and even premature death. Widely known as ‘painter’s syndrome’ the health implications of painting with any kind of acrylic based paint is the reason why associated occupations have been classified as hazardous to health.
Grafitti is the art form that divides us all. Some see the impressive scale, fine detail and often impossible location in which work is displayed. For others, graffiti is the scourge of the streets, unsightly, of little value and there to be painted over or cleaned off. Viewing graffiti or street art in this way, we only see the contribution (or lack of it, if that’s the way you see it), that the artist makes in pursuit of bigger, better and more detailed works. What we don’t see is the price that graffiti artists pay with their health and the environmental damage that they impose upon innocent bystanders. Long after an artwork is completed, the piece continues to emit harmful VOC’s which are breathed in by anyone that comes into contact with it.
And that’s not all. Spray cans are an environmental disaster of their own. What began with a turning of the tide over aerosol deodorants and hairspray in the early 1990’s has shaped the way we shop for all sorts of products, with more of us selecting those with a non spray function.
Times are changing too, on the street. A new wave of health conscious street artists are picking up pace by consciously choosing paints that don’t damage the environment. Ottawa artist Stefan Thompson started this wave almost ten years ago and since then Brazilian artist Alexandre Orion and British artist Paul Curtis are just two well known artists that are rewriting the rule book when it comes to street art.
Imagine the contribution that Airlite could make to graffiti. Each and every artwork could be an air purifier, playing its part in a changing perception of global street art. Decorative, visually exciting, enriching, original, unique and deserved of praise, cleaning our air and helping us all to breathe better. What a way to go.