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The very first recognized example of modern graffiti was discovered in Ephesus, an ancient Greek city. It seems the graffiti was actually a subtle advertisement for prostitutes. The graffiti shows a handprint that looks like a heart, along with an image that looks like a footprint, with a number etched into the image of the head of a woman. This appears to suggest that a brothel is close by. The handprint signifies that a payment is necessary.
Graffiti history has a very strong association with hip hop music culture. And there are examples of the international styles that come from Philadelphia, as well as the graffiti at the New York Subway stations. The history of graffiti includes many examples which have appeared on buildings, boxcars for railroads as well as bridges and subways. Modern graffiti has been traced back to works created by rail workers and hobos which began more than 80 years ago.
The advent of aerosol paint
Rock and roll graffiti was a significant influence. A very famous 20th century work of art was created at the London Tube station, at the Underground in 1967. The phrase depicted was “Clapton is God” and it was in reference to guitar legend Eric Clapton by an adamant admirer.
Graffiti has long been associated with anti-establishment movements by punk rock groups, starting in the 1970’s. Famous bands at the time, like Black Flag as well as Crass, had their names and logos stenciled as a form of graffiti. Many hangouts and punk clubs are very famous for the punk rock graffiti.
Spreading to hip hop culture
Some famous graffiti artists, like Fab 5 Freddy and Lee Quinones actually had gallery openings in 1979 in Rome. For many, this was their first exposure to this new “art form”. Debbie Harry, from the band “Blondie” was quite influenced by Fab 5 Freddy, and you can see the influence this had on her single “Rapture”, where certain elements of graffiti show up as a first glimpse into this hip hop culture phenomena.
Style Wars was a famous PBS documentary that reinforced the role of graffiti in New York’s emerging hip hop music culture by showing famous, and not so famous, graffiti artists. This film remains recognized as one of the most detailed representations of what the young hip hop culture was about in the early 1980’s.
The gamer culture
Video games also play a big part in the graffiti culture, but in a more positive way. There is a series called Jet Set Radio that tells the story of teens who are fighting the oppression of the totalitarian police who make it their business to stifle the freedom of speech for graffiti artists. And Sony’s Playstation 2 presented a series called Rakugaki Okoku where an anonymous hero with magic graffiti powers is show fighting against the very bad kind who suppresses any art, other than the art he thinks is to his benefit. Another game, Super Mario Sunshine shows the hero, Mario, on a mission to clean up graffiti in the city from the evil villian Bowser Jr. Other games, not specific to graffiti, let the players create their own graffiti tags so they can employ them in the games.
There are many graffiti artists who have chosen to remain anonymous due to the fact that they may have to face consequences for using graffiti as an expression of their art. Even with a certain commercialization of graffiti, and some legal graffiti allowed, many artists choose to maintain their anonymity. Learning how to draw graffiti letters is a skill that takes many years to acquire.
Radical & Political
Graffiti meanings have long been associated with a certain subculture that tends to rebel against the establishment. It can be used to fervently express political views and is certainly a tool in the ways of resistance techniques. One famous punk band, known as Crass, used graffiti to create anti-war, anarchist, feminist and even anti-consumer art that was displayed in the London Underground in the 1970’s and early 1980’s.
Graffiti is also a player in the advertising world. A New York company located in the Bronx made a name for themselves by creating advertising campaigns for Toyota, MTV, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. A company called Graffiti Kings, employed by Hewlett-Packard, showcased some great ideas for the Sprout computer. Graffiti Kings used the Sprout computer in a video which showed digital graffiti. Even the vodka company, Smirnoff, used graffiti to make the public more aware of their product.
It isn’t hard for graffiti designers to find a myriad of materials to produce a successful piece of art. The number one medium choice these days is aerosol paint. With these spray cans artists everywhere can produce amazing works of art. The availability of aerosol spray paint in art stores and hardware stores everywhere, make it the perfect medium for graffiti art.
Probably one of the most well known styles of graffiti is called tagging. A tag is pretty basic and generally the artist’s name as a unique signature. Sometimes tags contain cryptic messages.
There a several forms of tagging. One form, known as “pissing” involves refilling a fire-extinguisher with paint. This lets the artist create a “tag”, sometimes as high as 20 feet.
Other forms of graffiti are known as “throw-up” or bombing. This graffiti is usually done with only 2-3 colors and is painted quite quickly, sacrificing beauty for speed. A “piece”, is a creative and outrageous expression of the artist’s name, usually incorporating very stylized lettering and lots of different colors.
There are artists who employ the use of self-adhesive stickers. Many critics within the culture of graffiti claim this is lazy and don’t consider it a true form of graffiti.
Eventually, in the early 1980’s graffiti finally made it to the first art galleries. The public was finally able to view graffiti in New York at several galleries in the Bronx and the East Village in Manhattan.
A famous exhibition in 2006 took place at the Brooklyn Museum. Graffiti was actively displayed as an art form and started to reach great heights in the 1980’s. The display included works from 22 graffiti artists from new York.
In 2009 in Paris, 300 pieces of graffiti, by 150 artists, were displayed at the Grand Palais. This showed that in the French art world, graffiti was finally accepted as true art form.
The aerosol spray paint used by many graffiti artists contains toxic chemicals and has negative effects on the environment. So some artists are starting to use moss as an alternative. This is known as “moss graffiti”, where the artist glues moss to a surface using environmentally safe substances like buttermilk, beer and yogurt with sugar.
There are many different responses to graffiti from countries in Asia. For example, in China graffiti was used to galvanize the communist revolution in the 1920’s. In Taiwan, the government has relaxed a bit and even made certain concessions to some graffiti artists starting in 2005. “Graffiti Zones” are sections where graffiti artists can display their work. Graffiti artists working outside these areas still face fines. Singapore actually arrested a student in 1993 for spray painting several expensive cars. Even with editorials and op-eds by the New York Times, the government did not give clemency. They did however, reduce a “caning” sentence of 6 strokes to 4 strokes.
In Europe, graffiti is still considered a crime in many areas of Britain. The “Anti”Social Behaviour Act 2003” signed a charter. The motto was “Graffiti is not art it’s crime”. In 2008, for the first time, the government used a charge of conspiracy to convict graffiti artists. Budapest tackled the problem by providing approved areas for graffiti artists.
Australia & New Zealand
Many cities in Australia have also provided designated areas and walls where graffiti is permitted. Some more local governments have designated groups called “anti-graffiti squads” who are responsible for cleaning up graffiti. In Melbourne, you will find a very established graffiti culture. Many streets in Melbourne are a major attraction for tourists interested in graffiti. New Zealand has cracked down on graffiti vandalism and tagging. Recent legislation includes a ban on selling aerosol spray paint to anyone under 18 and includes having to pay fines and do community service for this offense.
The US has a graffiti database that documents vandalism and helps the police charge and prosecute offenders. This allows law enforcement to search for monikers and tags quickly. There are also gang injunctions designed to help protect the environment. These include restricting possession of spray paint and other materials used in graffiti art. Hotlines have also been set up as a way to deter graffiti vandalism. Search warrants for vandalism are also set up so the police can look for items typically used in graffiti.
Drawing & sketching are great. Do a simple drawing in the sand or experiment with augmented reality. We have all the apps you need.Art & Design Apr 21, 2018 7 min read
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