Walking around Glasgow over the past few weeks, I noticed scraps of colorful figures with cube-shaped heads pasted to the sides of a few buildings. I didn’t know it at the time, but these scraps were the remains of Peter Drew’s graffiti rendition of one of the most famous scenes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The series consisted of 16 wheatpaste figures accompanied by speech bubbles in different locations, a project which he began in April and finished in September, just before returning to his home in Adelaide, Australia a few weeks ago.
These graffiti pieces make you wonder how Shakespearean tragedies like Hamlet would have played out if they were set in our world of technologically-mediated communication. Would Hamlet’s ruminations have the same impact if he posted them on Twitter or texted them to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, complete with a few appropriate Emojis? How Drew divides the soliloquy up into tweet-friendly chunks and gives his Hamlet a pixelated, emoticon-like face brings these questions to the forefront.
However, these weren’t the only issues raised by the emoticon soliloquy. While Drew was putting the wheatpastes up around town, he was also completing his Masters degree at the Glasgow School of Art. Putting up these works, despite their temporary medium, without the city’s permission was seen as a potential cause for expulsion from the program. The controversy was even featured on the New York-Based art blog Hyperallergic. Drew held off on completing the series to avoid expulsion, and was finally able to finish his vision last month.
While this project, and the controversy surrounding it, is particularly exciting and brings up the opportunity for heated debate about graffiti’s legality and to what extent a student in art school should be allowed to practice it, Drew’s other works are equally interesting. The monumental portraits of family and friends from his hometown seem to be on the opposite end of the spectrum from the generic emoticons of Drew’s interpretation of Hamlet, and give a completely different impression, adding an impressive breadth of variety to his projects.
If you would like to see more of Peter Drew’s graffiti art, check out his website. He also has a blog where he writes about the ideas behind his projects as well as issues facing graffiti artists today.