Painting Publics

Transnational Legal Graffiti Scenes as Spaces for Encounter

Caitlin Frances Bruce
Book Cover

PB: $29.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1445-8
Publication: Mar 19

HC: $125.00
EAN: 978-1-4399-1444-1
Publication: Mar 19

Ebook: $29.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1446-5
Publication: Mar 19

276 pages
6 x 9
54 color photos

Argues that public art generates spaces for encounter as well as places and moments that can reenergize the felt sense of possibility in urban spaces

Read an excerpt from the Introduction( pdf).


Public art is a form of communication that enables spaces for encounters across difference. These encounters may be routine, repeated, or rare, but all take place in urban spaces infused with emotion, creativity, and experimentation. In Painting Publics, Caitlin Bruce explores how various legal graffiti scenes across the United States, Mexico, and Europe provide diverse ways for artists to navigate their changing relationships with publics, institutions, and commercial entities.

Painting Publics draws on a combination of interviews with more than 100 graffiti writers as well as participant observation, and uses critical and rhetorical theory to argue that graffiti should be seen as more than counter-cultural resistance. Bruce claims it offers resources for imagining a more democratic city, one that builds and grows from personal relations, abandoned or under-used spaces, commercial sponsorship, and tacit community resources. In the case of Mexico, Germany, and France, there is even some state support for the production and maintenance of civic education through visual culture.

In her examination of graffiti culture and its spaces of inscription, Bruce allows us to see moments where practitioners actively reckon with possibility.


Painting Publics brings a host of new connections into the scholarly discussion of graffiti and a new set of concerns about urban public spaces and everyday democratic engagements. Bruce’s nuanced analyses and impressive theoretical synthesis of materials across several disciplines also provide some ‘practical applications’ for urban design and placemaking. Well written, and provocative, this book has the potential to significantly shape future scholarship on both public space and graffiti/public art.”
Joe Austin, Associate Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and author of Taking the Train: How Graffiti Art Became an Urban Crisis in New York City

“‘Graffiti demands attention but resists reading,’ says Caitlin Bruce in this riveting book, which, nonetheless, ‘reads’ graffiti as network, art, encounter, circulation, media, and more. In critical dialogue with Jacques Rancière, Édouard Glissant, Raymond Williams, and the counterpublic literature, Bruce positions herself where ‘urban texture’s weave is loose’ and shows how public art activates scenes of sensation in contexts of urban citizenship both national and transnational. Painting Publics is a joy to read.”
Bonnie Honig, Nancy Duke Lewis Professor of Political Science and Modern Culture and Media at Brown University and author of Public Things: Democracy in Disrepair

Table of Contents


1. Transnational Graffiti Histories, beyond Rupture Narratives
2. Meeting of Styles Chicago: Affective Valences of Multiple Publics
3. Meeting of Styles Mexico: Performing Dissensus, Producing Visual Noise
4. Meeting of Styles France: Creative Cities Discourse and Festival as Dialectical Image
5. Encountering Ephemerality: The 5Pointz Controversy

Selected Bibliography

About the Author(s)

Caitlin Frances Bruce is an Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Pittsburgh. Visit her online at