The demographic contrast is colossal between the stereotype of your grandparents and the archetype of a delinquent hooded graffiti writer who bombs the margins of the nighttime metropolis.
The mental image of seniors wielding spraycans in public is also a reliable feel-good community story that TV news producers devour like frosted donuts and one that makes you feel like everything is all right with the world after all. Yes, Covid-19 looks like it is killing off half the country, but just take a few minutes to watch Mildred maneuvering that Montana Gold with two hands to spray a portrait of her cat on the wall!
Is there any doubt that all is well and everything is going to be fine after all?
Truth be told, we’ve met a significant number of old-skool New York train graffiti writers who are in their 60s and 70s and who still occasionally catch a tag when no one is looking, so perhaps our stereotypes of seniors need adjustment. Not to mention seniors like one of New York’s most prolific street artists, the octogenarian Robert Janz, and Jacques Villeglé, the French nonagenarian who originated a style of on-the-street Paris poster laceration that pre-dated by decades many street artists who followed.
But as an ‘event’ seniors with spraycans have been going since at least the early 2010s in Portugal and Germany where a white-haired 70 year old became famous as a one-woman anti-nazi graffiti crusader.
In the last few years the senior sprayers idea continues to expand and become a little more commercial; An enterprising Denver art gallery drummed up goodwill with its version of graffiti grannies and even the Nuart Festival brand offered an inspiring senior spray program to their clients in Aberdeen to round out the street art package for a wider audience last year. Of course if you are a black New York senior who is writing an Anti-Trump message in chalk on a wall, you’ll be fingerprinted and given a mugshot.
Here in Belgrade, spirits have been lifted by this month by what organizers at Street Art Belgrade and Paint Kartel characterize as the “first ever ‘Street art workshop for seniors”. They say that the goal of this new program in the Serbian capital is “to inspire and provide practical knowledge to participants over the age of 60, as a way of support for understanding street art and further creative expression,” they say in their press release.
Indeed, many of the images feature people of different generations working together. “Through this workshop, the older generations connected with the younger ones in a unique way and challenged the stereotype that street art is only for ‘young people’.
At a time when (primarily) young people have been in the streets around the world vociferating about racism and other issues surrounding equality, maybe more of our conversations about intersectionality are going to include our seniors as well. Most would agree that any program that fosters greater mutual respect is a positive step forward.
You may also feel a note of optimism to see stereotypes of graffiti writers, muralists, and street artists evolving; artists from the Serbian “Paint Kartel” crew served these seniors as creative mentors throughout the workshop.