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Mural Restoration and Conservation – The removal of graffiti and tagging on murals

Posted · 40 Comments
Tagged 5th St. Mural in LA

Tagged 5th St. Mural in LA

It looks like there is new energy and efforts being put forth by companies, city and state government, artists and art related associations to deal with the vandals and disgrace of tagging and graffiti. Why is there so much attention being given to this important involvement of preserving and the conservation of murals at this time?

Because of the realization that almost all of the most important artworks of this movement nationwide dating prior to the 1970s are disappearing. From the 1960s to the global movement it is today, this visual language has evolved. How do we choose to conserve and preserve these images located in public? It mostly depends on if the wall is public or private. Was the mural commissioned or just another illegal expression. It is their accessibility that exposes them to weather, graffiti, tagging and the surfaces on which murals are painted can damage the artwork over time. Hundreds of murals from the 1970s and 1980s are in severe disrepair. Without serious conservation and preservation they will parish.

The freeway murals in downtown LA are the subject of the constant battle against graffiti and tagging vandals. Caltrans (the highway maintenance authority in the State of California) is required by law to keep graffiti under control and off walls. Therefore, the distressing result is that the majority of the 1984 Olympic freeway murals, for instance, are painted over with gray paint by Caltrans to cover graffiti and tagging.

There have been some new developments and new techniques in the processes of contemporary mural restoration and art conservation in the removal of graffiti and mural protection, with most of the art conservation/restoration work is done under the guidance of the original artist. This collaboration makes the final result much more in line with the artist’s intent and leaves the mural more “original.”  These murals and other surfaces in every community are tagged or covered with graffiti.

So, what do you think? Do mural artists/ street artists accept, understand or like the tagger’s way of expression? In personal conversations with Thomas Suriya, Kent Twitchell, Willie Herron and Judy Baca (all major Los Angeles mural artists) it is a gorilla war of protecting public pride. “They ought to be castrated.” is the comment. So… I guess that says it all.

The task of maintenance seems to some unimaginative city officials to surpass the funding in most cities but this is actually a battle of urban pride and priorities, not so much budgets. There are dozens of way to incite public pride, such “Adopt a Mural”… even ways that would not cost the city direct financial costs.

This battle with the spray can gorillas is usually a matter of dealing with 13 and 14 year olds that don’t have attentive parents and don’t have parents with resources to clean up the mess even though there are laws that if the vandals are caught, the parents should pay the bill. It can be a gang thing but I’ve been in Gangland where murals are respected. It could be a political thing but most psuedointellectuals will avoid art. Let’s call the majority of taggers simply bored kids looking for a thrill. Most or all of them will “be over it” by the time they are 16 and most taggers are truly sorry for their tagging days when they hit their 20’s.

If we show the youth how to partake in a movement that is important, like being involved with real street artists, to have pride in being involved in projects that deserve to be recognized then the visual language becomes theirs, and the courage to get involved in the effort to protecting the murals will continue.

Street art or vandalism?

Street art or vandalism?

If you have any question on mural restoration, please contact Scott Haskins at
Fine Art Conservation Laboratories: (805) 5643438

Art appraisal questions? Call Richard at 805 895 5121

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Vandals deface neighborhood mural with graffiti

Vandals deface neighborhood mural with graffiti

40 Responses to "Mural Restoration and Conservation – The removal of graffiti and tagging on murals"
  1. Max says:

    We have exactly the same issue with grafitti in the UK, the debate about if grafitti is art or vandalism has not been resolved but the UK government has called for a listing of the important and historically important murals so they can be saved for the nation.

    Max in the UK

  2. Heather says:

    How do I preserve an intended spray paint mural, indoors, at my college? I plan to increase the lighting, will that make a difference?

    • Scott says:

      There is more to know before I can give you good tips:
      Is the mural already painted? (I will have more questions after you answer this.)
      Will it be indoors or outdoors? (… more questions once I get your answer)
      Will people be able to reach it easily (located in high traffic area) or is it out of the way?
      Looking forward to hearing from you.

  3. Lauren says:

    Graffiti is an art and it should be well maintained and taken care. If the graffiti is about vulnerability or its about something that is against the society then it should be removed. Which are the best places for arts like graffiti?

    • Scott says:

      Lauren, one of the reasons I wrote this article was to help people understand the difference between “graffiti” and “street art.” I assume, from your comment, that you agree with me that not all graffiti is art. Disrespect to public and private property and destruction of property are two ways that vandals use graffiti. However, street art has it’s place and you can get permission and permits to put it up on a wall. What is a shame and sad for me is when the vandals tag great public works of art. It requires a mind similar to one that promotes anarchy, in my opinion.

  4. Shine Montano says:

    The problem is, when the 13 to 16 year old vandals grow up and start feeling sorry about their tagging days, there will always be new batches to replace them. Parents and schools should help make these kids aware of the effects of vandalism.

    • Scott says:

      Well, if we can’t depend on education, they what is your alternative? I’ve found that though there are new vandals, the old ones who have “repented” are giving a hand at doing community service to work with these kids, in cleaning up the city, in being good contributors. Another question is, what do we do, let them destroy all our outdoor cultural property without putting up a fight. Actually, I think the fight can be won… and is won everytime we help a kid move on.

  5. Judy says:

    it is a shame that so many of these great works of art are being covered up. There won’t be a record of the culture of our time.

  6. Marian says:

    We should invest more on projects for the kids where they can express themselves through art.

  7. Jeff says:

    From a real-estate standpoint murals can at times harm the pricing in the area. But what people don’t understand is the positive impact they can have on the community. A sense of community and a long-term reputation for having residents with a good community spirit will always outweigh any negative a mural could do.

  8. Yes, murals need to be conserved. They depict something about a community, their occupation or something exclusive which we might not know. On the walls of the street, it is a pleasure to the eyes. Off late, this is being covered by graffiti.
    It is something traditional which needs to be preserved.

  9. charles says:

    Murals, street art, and well done graphics, are indeed art, not just graffiti. they should be protected from vandalism and preserved – they often add color and life to an otherwise blank, dull looking wall!

  10. smith says:

    thank for the information

  11. Yes, it truly is a shame that so many kids of this age have no respect for murals…or for much of anything for that matter. I agree that the parents should ultimately be held responsable since they should have been doing a better job of watching their kids and instilling manners in them.

  12. James Brown says:

    Murals in the streets must restored because I saw many murals destroyed by bad kids. The art of murals can’t be appreciated if the murals are repainted with another. And Streetart for me is nice as long as the design has beautiful and great design…

  13. Navneet says:

    Graffiti and tagging are a release of energy and these murals keeps different place from other any painting. We shall make some efforts to preserve the graffiti and tagging in their rightful place. Is sorry to mark public property.

  14. Phillip Wately says:

    This blog is wonderful! I really like your articles on murals and graffiti. Keep up the great work! I noticed restoration work began on the other mural across from the mural you’ve already done of the man! Yeah!

  15. Abby says:

    Thanks for sharing this helpfull informattion

  16. Very interesting site. Hope it will always be alive! I’m a mural artist and I deal with these issue all the time. Thanks for being part of “the solution.”

  17. Street art or vandalism? You know, I think it kind of depends on whose property it is and if they have permission.

  18. Janice Swift says:

    Very interesting post.This blog is wonderful. I appreciate it for sharing this with us. I’m in Salt Lake City Utah and we don’t seem to have someone around that understand art restoration.

  19. Carl Watters says:

    I was calling around about the cleaning of a large painting we own and I called a local restorer who told me to call you! Wohoa! I guess you are the man! When will you be in town next? Nice video, btw. It gave me a good idea about your extensive experience and gave me confidence to contact you.

  20. Rafael Melo says:

    i think grafiti is an art and should not be erased

  21. ed brown says:

    I have to agree with a previous poster – that “some” graffiti is artwork. Some of it is dangerous and downright disturbing. Bright colors don’t make it art … sometimes the message isn’t something that should be on public display.

  22. Carl says:

    I believe that there are some graffiti that can be classify as art but most of them are not. Mural artist must be respected by not putting graffiti on their murals.

  23. Zareen says:

    Its a great written article on Removal of Graffiti and Tagging on Murals.

  24. URL says:

    From a real-estate standpoint murals can at times harm the pricing in the area. But what people don’t understand is the positive impact they can have on the community. A sense of community and a long-term reputation for having residents with a good community spirit will always outweigh any negative a mural could do.

  25. The colleagues from our moving company in London had a discussion about this. There is a lot of beautiful street art in London, but there are also a lot of scribbles and hate comments. Something a troll would say, as if youtube is not enough. If there was a way to keep the scribblers away and ensure a better environment for the artists, it would be great, but sadly I don’t see this happening.

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  29. ruchessay says:

    This is also art…

  30. in the UK we have the same issue, great post to read.

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  32. Mark says:

    Thank you for informative article,we also have the same problem here in London,i think graffiti is amazing .

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  35. James says:

    Grafitti in the UK are in my opinion not that big issue. Grafitti artists are even called often when some old building or part of the infrastructure should be painted or to look better when drawn on it. And I partly agree that this might be the solution. Still, there are many places defaced by grafitti ‘artists’ and there should definitely be some kind of stricter regulation..

  36. John Black says:

    I will agree with others, graffiti is an art and it should not be ereased.

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