GRAFFITI as ART
In art history “graffiti” refers to the inscriptions, figures drawing, etc. found on the walls of ancient ruins, as in the Catacombs of Rome or at Pompeii. Today's usage of the word “graffiti” has evolved to include any graphics applied to surfaces in a manner that constitutes vandalism. Graffiti is often regarded by others as unsightly damage or unwanted vandalism.
Graffiti has existed since ancient times Roman, Caricature of a Politician Egyptian, Ancient Graffiti on Monument Graffiti can be anything from simple scratch marks to elaborate wall paintings
The first known example of "modern style" graffiti survives in the ancient Greek city of Ephesus (in modern-day Turkey). Local guides say it is an advertisement for prostitution. The graffiti shows a handprint that vaguely resembles a heart, along with a footprint and a number. This is believed to indicate that a brothel was nearby, with the handprint symbolizing payment. Greek, Ephesus Brothel Advertisement
Modern graffiti in America began in the late 1960s. Graffiti was used as a form of expression by political activists . . . Hex Nixon, NY, 1973 This popular graffito of the 1970’s reflects the hostility of the youth culture to the U.S. President.
. . .and for approval or disapproval of musicians Inscription in the London subway made famous by photograph for album cover to Fresh Cream London, 1967
The “pioneering era” in graffiti art took place between 1969-1974. The goal of most artists at this point was called “getting up” and involved having as many tags and bombs in as many places as possible. It was during this time artists began to move from the city streets to the subways. They broke into subway yards in order to hit as many trains as possible, creating larger elaborate pieces of art along the subway car side. This is when the act of bombing was established. 1970's NYC Subway Graffiti
By 1971 tags began to take on their signature calligraphic appearance. Each graffiti artist needed a way to distinguish themselves. Tags began to grow in size and scale, as well as complexity and creativity. Letter size and line thickness became larger giving birth to the “masterpiece” or “piece” in 1972. Super Kool 223 is credited as being the first to do these “pieces” by introducing the "fat cap" - an industrial spray nozzle that widened the arc of the paint. SUPER KOOL 223
Graffiti artists began to incorporate the use of scenery and cartoon characters into their work. The use of designs such as polka dots, crosshatches, and checkers also became popular. Spray paint use increased dramatically as artists began to expand their work. “Top-to-bottoms” emerged at this time, some completely covering subway cars or trains. Fab Five Freddy In 1972, Hugo Martinez founded the United Graffiti Artists (UGA), consisting of many top graffiti artists of the time and aiming to present graffiti in an art gallery setting. In 1979, Roman art dealer Claudio Bruni gave graffiti artists Lee Quinones and Fab 5 Freddy a gallery opening in Rome.
In June 1980 a large avant-garde art show was held in a former bus depot and massage parlor near Times Square. The Times Square Show featured more than a hundred artists. Graffiti artists included Jean- Michel Basquiat, Futura 2000, Lee Quinones, and Keith Haring. Announcement for the Times Square Show, 1980
The 1980s is considered the Golden Age of graffiti art with the emergence of “wild style,” an intertwined and decorative lettering that mixes icons and images from popular culture to form a complex composition. Seen 6, marker on paper, 1985 Wild Style A difficult to read type of letter with many arrows, angles and complex connections. It was probably started by the Brooklyn writers, but no one is really sure of its origin.
In the 1980s, high art was being criticized as too institutionalized and intellectual. A huge discrepancy existed between art in museums and the experience of common people. Art critic Rene Richard highlighted graffiti art in Art Forum, an important high art magazine. Art dealers sought new artworks to stimulate the art market. Graffiti became an art commodity worth investing in. Page 35: All works by Jean-Michel Basquiat. Clockwise from top left: Famous Negro Athlete #47, 1981, mixed media on paper, approx. 11 x 17". Gringo Pilot, 1981, mixed media on seamless paper, 81 x 103" at widest point. World Crown, 1981, mixed media on canvas, approx. 60 x 72 "
Untitled, acrylic & mixed media on canvas by, 1984 Jean-Michel Basquiata-Haitian American artist. He gained popularity first as a graffiti artist in New York City, and then as a successful 1980s-era Neo-expressionist artist. Basquiat's paintings continue to influence modern-day artists and command high prices. Basquiat died accidentally of mixed-drug toxicity (cocaine and heroin).
Futura 2000 (born 1955), an internationally acclaimed graffiti artist, started to paint illegally on New York's subway in the early seventies. Futura 2000 began painting "legally" as the live on- stage backdrop painter for The Clash's 1981 European tour. He currently is a successful graphic designer and gallery artist.
One of the most distinctive features about Futura's work is his abstract approach to graffiti art. During the 1980s, the primary focus of the majority of graffiti artists was lettering, Futura pioneered abstract, which has since become more popular. Conversely, his aerosol strokes are regarded as different from those of his peers, as they are as thin as the fine lines achieved only through the use of an airbrush.
Lee Quiñones, born 1960 in Puerto Rico and raised in New York, was one of the key innovators during the early days of New York’s street-art movement. He was also one of the first street artists to transition away from creating murals on trains and begin creating canvas-based paintings. A film still of Lee Quinones’ graffiti from Charlie Ahern’s “Wild Style,” 1981.
Keith Haring (May 4, 1958 – February 16, 1990) was an artist and social activist whose work also responded to the New York City street culture of the 1980s. By expressing concepts of birth, death, love, sex and war, Haring's imagery has become a widely recognized visual language of the 20th century. • In 1988, he was diagnosed with AIDS. He established the Keith Haring Foundation in 1989, to provide funding and imagery to AIDS organizations and children's programs, and to expand the audience for Haring’s work through exhibitions, publications and the licensing of his images. Haring used his imagery during the last years of his life to speak about his own illness and generate activism and awareness about AIDS.
American popular culture soon made heroes of graffiti artists. The Graffiti art movement is also indebted to the Hip-Hop culture popular at that time, which included rap music, disc jockies and break dancing. This subculture gained attention in the New Yorker magazine, and movies with graffiti art as a backdrop.
By the 1990s, Hip-Hop culture had become known worldwide and accepted as part of mainstream U.S. culture. Graffiti art became commercialized, appearing in the advertisements of Nike and Sprite. Marketing strategies targeted at youth culture reinforce the notion of graffiti as an artistic form of expression of the younger generation.
Today graffiti art has become a common element in modern culture. Marc Ecko, urban clothing designer, and advocate of graffiti as an art form, states “graffiti is without question the most powerful art movement in recent history and has been a driving inspiration throughout my career.”
With the popularity and legitimization of graffiti came the rise of video games depicting graffiti art as it was in the 1980s. Mark Ecko's Getting Up Atari This game allows players to step into the shoes of a graffiti artist and features a hip-hop soundtrack. The music, detailed graffiti patterns, and gritty urban scenes set the mood that's reminiscent of Manhattan in the golden days.
Gang Graffiti Gang graffiti appeared in the U.S. in the 1950s. It is the most unacceptable form of public graffiti because of the notorious reputation of gangs. These are primitive scrawls focusing on the gang name or symbols adopted to mark territory and war zones. They are often simple alphabets written backwards, numbers marked in sets or letters intentionally crossed out to send coded messages among gang members or warn away intruders. Usually these activities are carried out by junior members within the gang hierarchy or by newly recruited young members to prove their worth and courage by entering the territory of another gang and leaving an insulting mark. They are selected because they are the most expendable and can be easily replaced.
MODERN ISSUES: Graffiti has become an expensive social problem in many cities in the world. U.S. cities spent an estimated four billion dollars cleaning graffiti in 1994. School vandalism is an increasing problem that depletes educational budgets and delays upgrading plans. Cleaning graffiti in schools is also a struggle for many teachers, principals, and school staff. As a result there has been strong advocacy in recent year for stricter state legislation against “juvenile delinquency” on school property. Graffiti can spark “risk-taking” tendency amongst adolescents who do not think about the consequences of their actions before climbing on bridges or overpasses and hanging in dangerous positions to leave their marks.