Transnational Legal Graffiti Scenes as Spaces for EncounterCaitlin Frances Bruce
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
"(A) well-researched, comprehensive, and interesting read. Bruce clearly presents the potential benefits associated with cultivating spaces for encounter but also recognizes the difficulties this entails. Rather than simply offering a solution, the book raises questions and thereby arguably becomes a space for encounter in its own right."
— Visual Communication Quarterly
" The book benefits greatly from Bruce’s knack for lucid and snappy descriptions of the ‘transnational graffiti scenes’ under study, and offers a complex but clear conceptual framing. This makes for an important contribution on a number of fronts. Bruce stakes the claims for the argument early on, creating a clearing distinct from work celebrating graffiti as some form of resistance.... At heart, this book is about the place of public art in civic life, not just in the sense that artwork facilitates dialogue, but how the production of the artwork is itself dialogical, often quite literally, where artists converse while they work, or onlookers and passers-by provide commentary or ask questions.... As Bruce shows brilliantly, it’s the scene that enlivens the work."
— Visual Studies
"Painting Publics is beautiful. It is a joy to see color photos, many of which were taken by the author, throughout the book allowing the various hues and values often present in graffiti art to be appreciated by readers. Accompanying these pictures is Caitlin Bruce’s prose, which eloquently weaves together the role of public art, transnational cities, and spaces for encounter.... (Bruce) explores the art world, attempting to understand how places, processes, and people create and contribute to public life.... This book offers important insights for those studying visual rhetoric, public theory, urban studies, and public art.... Bruce skillfully weaves together conceptual research, field methods, interviews and participant observations, to provide readers with a nuanced understanding of the graffiti world."
—Quarterly Journal of Speech
" Unlike previous texts that ignore or disparage legal graffiti, Painting Publics makes it the focus, taking a deep dive into complex and sometimes fraught negotiations between artists, sites, sponsors and audiences. Bruce’s brief history of the art form is ripe with examples of graffiti’s long-standing and fluid relationship to museums, galleries, commercial spaces and other legal channels.... (T)he book seems most helpful in its contribution to scholarly discourse on graffiti’s potential to foster civic engagement. Although not a standard guidebook, Painting Publics also has practical takeaways for artists, arts administrators and urban planners through its detailed analysis of thriving graffiti scenes."
"(A) fascinating, well-written book densely packed with big ideas and strong theoretical support. Bruce’s work demonstrates a need to critically engage with graffiti on many levels, not only to understand its value as an art form, but also to appreciate the richness of the practice from a cultural, historical, political, and philosophical standpoint.... Readers will appreciate the author’s coverage of interpersonal communication, mediated communication, visual communication, and communication in the public sphere.... Painting Publics is a robust exploration of transnational legal graffiti scenes as spaces for encounter. It would be a great addition to an academic course syllabus or a researcher’s personal library."
—Communication Research Trends
"The animating concerns of Painting Publics that prove the most innovative are the theoretical potential of invention, the rigorous attention to space and place, as well as the engagement with performances/practices through a transnational articulation. Bruce’s exploration of invention and publicity are particularly poignant at a time when citizens and scholars, across many disciplines, are demonstrating a reinvigorated concern for space and place in relation to civic life.... (A)n excellent model for engaging in transnational work. It exemplifies the richness that can be achieved by combining rhetorical fieldwork/ethnography with rhetorical history and criticism. And, for scholars interested in argumentation and advocacy, the book provides a model for interweaving considerations of publics with visual cultural critique."
—Argumentation and Advocacy
"Painting Publics is an impressive tour of international graffiti that brings along concepts from rhetorical studies, political theory, and art history to enhance our appreciation of actual street artists—even as it undermines familiar fantasies about graffiti’s ethos. This book is likely to shape conversations about urban aesthetics in years to come, as rhetorical scholars turn considerable attention to the prospects for shared spaces to make public life more hospitable."
—Rhetoric Society Quarterly