York is not particularly well known for its graffiti. As an affluent, predominantly middle class city, there is little to be found, and any new pieces tend to be stamped out and painted over fairly quickly. In fact, an initiative, (recently awarded a community award by the Princess Royal), has been set up to counteract the installation of graffiti. The scheme is Taking Action Against Graffiti York (TAAGY), and aims to create a graffiti-free city.
The presence of graffiti increases the perception of an unsafe area of crime, it encourages further graffiti and is a form of antisocial behaviour that will not be tolerated in York. Graffiti is a crime and by coordinating the efforts and information provided by key partners we can clean up the city, increase the number of successful prosecutions for criminal damage and improve the quality of life for those who live and visit York.
The website claims only eighty-three instances of criminal graffiti in the entire city, which when compared with other cities of a similar size, is very low. However, very, very few of these instances of graffiti could be considered to have any artistic merit. In fact, the vast majority are made up of ‘tags’, or the inane scrawlings of teenagers. In many cities around the country, dedicated spaces have been set up for graffiti artists to apply their talents. These spaces might be underpasses, skate parks, or just blank walls. No such areas exist in York, save one.
Behind Clifton Bingo, beyond Bootham, there is a very mysterious and unique graffiti project. Nobody seems to know where it came from, who the artist is, or who commissions the pieces, but the large pieces on a brick alleyway are a permanent feature. TAAGY have not seen fit to remove them, and do not see them as criminal or offensive.
The graffiti currently displays a series of hands, in various poses and positions, against a background of red and blue. The detail is rich and dynamic, and regular pedestrians into the city centre will no doubt have ventured down the alley to explore the art at least one of the times that it caught their eye. The five rendered panels (insinuating a commission), however, have been known to change, and this is where the mystery lies. More obscure designs have graced the walls in the past. Based around faces, there have been two other series of designs since 2004.
It has been a long time since the graffiti has changed. Keep your eyes peeled, and in the meantime, have a mosey down to Clifton Bingo to see the hands for yourself.
The mysterious graffiti can be seen here.