Socialist Worker

Marcus Barnes—‘You’re never going to stop people writing on the walls’

Graffiti artist turned journalist Marcus Barnes told Alistair Farrow why he’s relaunched magazine Keep the Faith—and why public space needs defending

Issue No. 2496

Extracts from Marcus’ magazine Keep the Faith, which celebrates illegal graffiti on trains

Extracts from Marcus’ magazine Keep the Faith, which celebrates illegal graffiti on trains

Cops prosecuted graffiti artist Marcus Barnes, now editor of Keep the Faith magazine, in 2011.

He was the first person in Britain charged with encouragement to commission criminal damage. But after a three-year legal ordeal the charge didn’t stick. A year after the trial’s end he is relaunching the magazine.

Marcus first launched the magazine in 2010. He told Socialist Worker, “A dark cloud was spreading over the graffiti community—people had died while out painting, people had been sent to prison.

“That’s where the idea for the magazine came from, to encourage people to keep the faith in dark times.”

Graffiti writers go to great lengths to paint trains, risking death and arrest. They have been criminalised even as trendy “street art” has won increasing acceptance in the mainstream.

The repression comes at a cost. In 2009, Tom Collister, also known as Skeam, killed himself in his prison cell. He had been given a 30-month sentence for graffiti.

For Marcus this clampdown is political. “The decision has to come from somewhere and it comes from the top,” he said.

“The state uses anti-terror laws brought in after the 7/7 London bombings against graffiti artists. I know people who have been put under surveillance, who have had conditions put on their bails.”

His charge over the magazine came alongside counts of criminal damage. He pled guilty to the criminal damage, receiving community service and a suspended sentence.

“Because of my history of illegal graffiti they saw me as a criminal and nothing else,” said Marcus. This made Keep the Faith a target.

“The magazine isn’t full of pictures of street art but of illegal graffiti on trains,” he said.


“We’re also a smaller, independent publisher and don’t have the financial clout to hire an expensive legal team.”

Prosecutors argued that documenting illegal graffiti counted as “encouragement”.

As well as dispelling this, the defence had to make a case for freedom of expression.

They pointed to how big firms hire street artists to make their products look edgy without risk of persecution.

Modern graffiti began alongside hip hop culture in working class New York, during a period of social upheaval. It was part of a battle over who controls public space that is still raging today.

“People think that because we pay taxes we have control of stuff,” said Marcus. “But not many of us own anything. Most of the buildings we see on high streets are privately owned. It seems like there is a greater and aggressive push to claim ownership of public space.”

Rail privatisation adds to the criminalisation of graffiti on trains. Marcus explained, “Rail companies have stock leased to them by foreign companies, often owned by states. They are fined if there is graffiti on trains or if trains are taken out of service.

“Private companies are in charge of the public domain and we don’t have a say in how public space is used.”

But Marcus says repression won’t work. “You’re never going to stop people writing their names on walls,” he argued. “So they should stop wasting money in times of austerity.

“They should talk to graffiti artists to come up with progressive solutions rather than spending hundreds of thousands on cleaning it.”

Buy the magazine online at

Leonardo da Vinci: Ten Drawings from the Royal Collection

Ten of Leonardo da Vinci’s finest drawings are touring four museums across Britain and Ireland this year. They are currently in Newcastle until April.

The works have been selected from the Royal Collections to show the scope of Da Vinci’s interests.

Many will know Da Vinci for famous paintings, such as the Mona Lisa.

But his interests were far more wide-ranging, including anatomy (see above).

Through these drawings, Da Vinci recorded the world around him.

He thought that they could capture the world far more accurately than the written word.

Laing Art Gallery,
Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 8AG.
Until 24 April

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