Stenciling Students In

Most students don’t notice, but someone’s eyes follow them
around campus. Whether it’s on their way out of the Cognitive Science building,
during their evening jog through John Muir College Commons or on a stroll
through Mandeville’s concrete hallways, they’re being watched.

Not through the lens of a hidden video camera or the peepers
of a curious wanderer, but by a simple stenciled eye, discreetly tattooed onto
the concrete as a signature image of a graffiti artist.

“[Stencil art] makes things prettier,” said one sophomore
stencil-graffiti artist who wished to remain anonymous. “An interesting stencil
can add something. It’s always repeated and it’s always the same thing, so it’s
sort of like a stamp or pop art. It’s just a question of decorating the campus
in a certain way, and that’s how a lot of people choose to do it.”

Many students contribute to alternative, on-campus art in
the form of stenciling, a type of graffiti that is quicker and tidier than the
traditional art form. Spearheaded by a British graffiti artist named Banksy,
stencil graffiti has become increasingly popular in the last decade due to its
low risk and appealing aesthetics.

The basic process of a stencil starts when the artist
chooses an image and creates a dual-tonal pattern with a computer program such
as Photoshop. The artist massages the photo until it’s fit to print, then
laminates and razors it. Artists can also create more complex multilayered
stencils, which allow for numerous colors within one piece. The final product
is an idiosyncratic graphic that can take only a few seconds to spray on a
wall, a definite plus for those wary of the law.

“If you’re fast you can do it in 10 seconds,” the artist
said. “That’s the appeal of it, that’s why it became popular in the first
place, because the difference between putting up a huge piece in half a minute
and putting up a huge piece in 10 minutes is, you know, you’re arrested.”

UCSD’s official art pieces consist of Stuart Collection
pieces like the “Two Running Violet V Forms” (better known as the giraffe
catchers), but graffiti artists view creative student areas such as the
Mandeville graffiti stairway and the Che Cafe as underappreciated and divided
from the rest of the campus.

“UCSD has a really great visual arts department, and it’s
really supported,” the artist said. “Maybe if it were to be more integrated
with the rest of the campus, rather than just held in Mandeville, that would be
better. Right now it’s crammed down in the bottom of a stairway and it’s sort
of isolated.”

In addition to confining the location for artistic student
expression, campus officials have recently started painting over graffiti
outside of Mandeville Hall, placing discouraging signs nearby the area and
regulating students like Muir College senior and stencil artist Ji-San Lee.

“Being able to paint freely and not have to worry about
doing something illegal is great,” Lee said. “But recently I tried painting [at
Mandeville Hall], and some guy told me I couldn’t.”

According to Lee, the university’s unwelcoming attitude is
due to a general misunderstanding of the art form.

“I skate and stencil and there are a lot of faculty members
that see painting on the wall or skating and they’re frustrated,” Lee said.
“But a college campus shouldn’t be such a rigid environment. With stencils, it’s
not like we’re having gang wars. I think it gives the campus more culture and
more diversity, besides having concrete everywhere.”

Just as stenciling contributes to a campus’ look, it also
builds a more cohesive population at UCSD.

“It creates a community, like the Mandeville wall is itself
a community,” the anonymous artist said. “Not that everyone who does graffiti
knows each other that well, but it’s more like the art itself. Eventually it’s
transient, it’s going to be gone the next day, so if you can put something up
that’s really good that people really like, they won’t take it down and maybe
you’ll see it in their styles later which, in a way, makes it so your art is
still existing.”

Whether or not the university actively supports the
stenciling student movement, artists on campus can’t help but pencil themselves
into the campus agenda.

“Seeing your work around campus is like being in a museum
and looking at your painting,” Lee said. “It’s a hard feeling to beat.”

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