Definitions

taking notice

Graffiti

[gruh-fee-tee]

Graffiti (singular: graffito; the plural is used as a mass noun) is the name for images or lettering scratched, scrawled, painted or marked in any manner on property. Graffiti is sometimes regarded as a form of art and other times regarded as unsightly damage or unwanted. Some people think of it as art, others vandalism, and others, a culture of its own.

Graffiti has existed since ancient times, with examples going back to Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. Graffiti can be anything from simple scratch marks to elaborate wall paintings. In modern times, spray paint and markers have become the most commonly used materials. In most countries, defacing property with graffiti without the property owner's consent is considered vandalism, which is punishable by law. Sometimes graffiti is employed to communicate social and political messages. To some, it is an art form worthy of display in galleries and exhibitions, to others it is merely vandalism. There are many different types and styles of graffiti and it is a rapidly evolving artform whose value is highly contested, being reviled by many authorities while also subject to protection, sometimes within the same jurisdiction.

Etymology

Graffiti and graffito are from the Italian word graffiato ("scratched"). "Graffiti" is applied in art history to works of art produced by scratching a design into a surface. A related term is "graffito," which involves scratching through one layer of pigment to reveal another beneath it. This technique was primarily used by potters who would glaze their wares and then scratch a design into it. In ancient times, graffiti was carved on walls with a sharp object, although sometimes chalk or coal were used. The Greek infinitive γράφειν - graphein - meaning "to write," is from the same root.

History

The term graffiti referred to the inscriptions, figure drawings, etc., found on the walls of ancient sepulchers or ruins, as in the Catacombs of Rome or at Pompeii. Usage of the word has evolved to include any graphics applied to surfaces in a manner that constitutes vandalism.

The only known source of the Safaitic language, a form of proto-Arabic, is from graffiti: inscriptions scratched on to the surface of rocks and boulders in the predominantly basalt desert of southern Syria, eastern Jordan and northern Saudi Arabia. Safaitic dates from the 1st century B.C. to the 4th century A.D..

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. Located near a mosaic and stone walkway, 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.

The ancient Romans carved graffiti on walls and monuments, examples of which also survive in Egypt. The eruption of Vesuvius preserved graffiti in Pompeii, including Latin curses, magic spells, declarations of love, alphabets, political slogans and famous literary quotes, providing insight into ancient Roman street life. One inscription gives the address of a woman named Novellia Primigenia of Nuceria, a prostitute, apparently of great beauty, whose services were much in demand. Another shows a phallus accompanied by the text, 'mansueta tene': "Handle with care".

Disappointed love also found its way onto walls in antiquity:

Quisquis amat. veniat. Veneri volo frangere costas
fustibus et lumbos debilitare deae.
Si potest illa mihi tenerum pertundere pectus
quit ego non possim caput illae frangere fuste?

Whoever loves, go to hell. I want to break Venus's ribs
with a club and deform her hips.
If she can break my tender heart
why can't I hit her over the head?
-CIL IV, 1284.

Errors in spelling and grammar in this graffiti offer insight into the degree of literacy in Roman times and provide clues on the pronunciation of spoken Latin. Examples are CIL IV, 7838: Vettium Firmum / aed[ilem] quactiliar[ii] [sic] rog[ant]. Here, "qu" is pronounced "co." The 83 pieces of graffiti found at CIL IV, 4706-85 are evidence of the ability to read and write at levels of society where literacy might not be expected. The graffiti appear on a peristyle which was being remodeled at the time of the eruption of Vesuvius by the architect Crescens. The graffiti was left by both the foreman and his workers. The brothel at CIL VII, 12, 18-20 contains over 120 pieces of graffiti, some of which were the work of the prostitutes and their clients. The gladiatorial academy at CIL IV, 4397 was scrawled with graffiti left by the gladiator Celadus Crescens (Suspirium puellarum Celadus thraex: "Celadus the Thracian makes the girls sigh.")

It was not only the Greeks and Romans that produced graffiti: the Mayan site of Tikal in Guatemala also contains ancient examples. Viking graffiti survive in Rome and at Newgrange Mound in Ireland, and a Varangian scratched his name (Halvdan) in runes on a banister in the Hagia Sophia at Constantinople.

Graffiti, known as Tacherons, were frequently scratched on the walls of Romanesque churches.

When Renaissance artists such as Pinturicchio, Raphael, Michelangelo, Ghirlandaio or Filippino Lippi descended into the ruins of Nero's Domus Aurea, they carved or painted their names and returned with the grottesche style of decoration. There are also examples of graffiti occurring in American history, such as Signature Rock, a national landmark along the Oregon Trail.

Later, French soldiers carved their names on monuments during the Napoleonic campaign of Egypt in the 1790s. Lord Byron's survives on one of the columns of the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion in Attica, Greece.

Art forms like frescoes and murals involve leaving images and writing on wall surfaces. Like the prehistoric wall paintings created by cave dwellers, they do not comprise graffiti, as the artists generally produce them with the explicit permission (and usually support) of the owner or occupier of the walls.

Modern graffiti

Graffiti is often seen as having become intertwined with hip hop culture as one of the four main elements of the culture (along with rapping, DJing, and break dancing). However, there are many other instances of notable graffiti this century. Graffiti has long appeared on railroad boxcars. The one with the longest history, dating back to the 1920s and continuing into the present day, is Bozo Texino. During World War II and for decades after, the phrase "Kilroy was here" with accompanying illustration was widespread throughout the world, due to its use by American troops and its filtering into American popular culture. In the sixties, its popularity was eclipsed by American graffiti proclaiming that "Yossarian lives!", a reference to the protagonist of Joseph Heller's novel, Catch-22. The student protests and general strike of May 1968 saw Paris bedecked in revolutionary, anarchist, and situationist slogans such as L'ennui est contre-révolutionnaire ("Boredom is counterrevolutionary"). A famous graffito of the 20th century was the inscription in the London subway reading "Clapton is God". The phrase was spray-painted by an admirer on a wall in an Islington Underground station in the autumn of 1967. The graffiti was captured in a now-famous photograph, in which a dog is urinating on the wall. A popular graffito of the 1970s was the legend "Dick Nixon Before He Dicks You," reflecting the hostility of the youth culture to that U.S. president. Graffiti also became associated with the anti-establishment punk rock movement beginning in the 1970s. Bands such as Black Flag and Crass (and their followers) widely stenciled their names and logos, while many punk night clubs, squats and hangouts are famous for their graffiti.

Graffiti as an element of hip hop

In America around the late 1960s, graffiti was used as a form of expression by political activists, and also by gangs such as the Savage Skulls, La Familia, and Savage Nomads to mark territory. Towards the end of the 1960s, the signatures—tags—of Philadelphia graffiti writers Top Cat, Cool Earl and Cornbread started to appear. Around 1970-71, the centre of graffiti innovation moved to New York City where writers following in the wake of TAKI 183 and Tracy 168 would add their street number to their nickname, "bomb" a train with their work, and let the subway take it—and their fame, if it was impressive, or simply pervasive, enough—"all city". Bubble lettering held sway initially among writers from the Bronx, though the elaborate writing Tracy 168 dubbed "wildstyle" would come to define the art. The early trendsetters were joined in the 70s by artists like Dondi, Futura 2000, Daze, Blade, Lee, Zephyr, Rammellzee, Crash, Kel, NOC 167 and Lady Pink.

The relationship between graffiti and hip hop culture arises both from early graffiti artists practicing other aspects of hip hop, and its being practiced in areas where other elements of hip hop were evolving as art forms. By the mid-eighties, the form would move from the street to the art world. Jean-Michel Basquiat would abandon his SAMO tag for art galleries, and even street art's connections to hip hop would loosen. Occasional hip hop paeans to graffiti could still be heard throughout the nineties, however, in tracks like the Artifacts' "Wrong Side of Da Tracks" (Between a Rock and a Hard Place, Big Beat, 1994) and Company Flow's "Lune TNS" (Funcrusher Plus, Rawkus, 1997).

Origins
Between the years of 1969-1974 the "pioneering era" took place. During this time graffiti underwent a change in styles and popularity. Soon after the migration to NYC, the city produced one of the first graffiti artists to gain media attention in New York, TAKI 183. TAKI 183 was a youth from Washington Heights, Manhattan who worked as a foot messenger. His tag is a mixture of his name Demetrius (Demetraki), TAKI, and his street number, 183rd. Being a foot messenger, he was constantly on the subway and began to put up his tags along his travels. This spawned a 1971 article in the New York Times titled "'Taki 183' Spawns Pen Pals". Julio 204 is also credited as an early writer, though not recognized at the time outside of the graffiti subculture. Other notable names from that time are: SJK 171, Stay High 149, PHASE 2, Stitch 1, Joe 182, Junior 161 and Cay 161. Barbara 62 and Eva 62 were also important early graffiti artists in New York, and are the first women to become known for writing graffiti. Also taking place during this era was the movement from outside on the city streets to the subways. Graffiti also saw its first seeds of competition around this time. The goal of most artists at this point was "getting up": having as many tags and bombs in as many places as possible. Artists began to break into subway yards in order to hit as many trains as they could with a lower risk, often creating larger elaborate pieces of art along the subway car sides. This is when the act of bombing was said to be officially established.

By 1971 tags began to take on their signature calligraphic appearance because, due to the huge number of artists, each graffiti artist needed a way to distinguish themselves. Aside from the growing complexity and creativity, tags also began to grow in size and scale – for example, many artists had begun to increase letter size and line thickness, as well as outlining their tags. This gave birth to the so-called 'masterpiece' or 'piece' in 1972. Super Kool 223 is credited as being the first to do these pieces.

The use of designs such as polka dots, crosshatches, and checkers became increasingly popular. Spray paint use increased dramatically around this time as artists began to expand their work. "Top-to-bottoms", works which span the entire height of a subway car, made their first appearance around this time as well. The overall creativity and artistic maturation of this time period did not go unnoticed by the mainstream – Hugo Martinez founded the United Graffiti Artists (UGA) in 1972. UGA consisted of many top graffiti artists of the time, and aimed to present graffiti in an art gallery setting. By 1974, graffiti artists had begun to incorporate the use of scenery and cartoon characters into their work.

Mid 1970s

By the mid 1970s time, most standards had been set in graffiti writing and culture. The heaviest "bombing" in U.S. history took place in this period, partially because of the economic restraints on New York City, which limited its ability to combat this art form with graffiti removal programs or transit maintenance. Also during this time, "top-to-bottoms" evolved to take up entire subway cars. Most note-worthy of this era proved to be the forming of the "throw-up", which are more complex than simple "tagging," but not as intricate as a "piece". Not long after their introduction, throw-ups led to races to see who could do the largest amount of throw-ups in the least amount of time.

Graffiti writing was becoming very competitive and artists strove to go "all-city," or to have their names seen in all five boroughs of NYC. Eventually, the standards which had been set in the early 70s began to become stagnant. These changes in attitude led many artists into the 1980s with a desire to expand and change.

The late 1970s and early 1980s brought a new wave of creativity to the scene. As the influence of graffiti grew beyond the Bronx, a graffiti movement began with the encouragement of Friendly Freddie. Fab 5 Freddy (Fred Brathwaite) is another popular graffiti figure of this time, often credited with helping to spread the influence of graffiti and rap music beyond its early foundations in the Bronx. It was also, however, the last wave of true bombing before the Transit Authority made graffiti eradication a priority. The MTA (Metro Transit Authority) began to repair yard fences, and remove graffiti consistently, battling the surge of graffiti artists. With the MTA combating the artists by removing their work it often led many artists to quit in frustration, as their work was constantly being removed. It was also around this time that the established art world started becoming receptive to the graffiti culture for the first time since Hugo Martinez’s Razor Gallery in the early 1970s.

Spread of graffiti culture
In 1979, graffiti artist Lee Quinones and Fab 5 Freddy were given a gallery opening in Rome by art dealer Claudio Bruni. For many outside of New York, it was their first encounter with the art form. Fab 5 Freddy's friendship with Debbie Harry influenced Blondie's single "Rapture" (Chrysalis, 1981), the video to which would also offer many their first glimpse of a depiction of elements of graffiti in hip hop culture, as would Charlie Ahearn's independently released fiction film Wild Style (Wild Style, 1982), and the early PBS documentary Style Wars (1983). Hit songs "The Message" and "Planet Rock" (both 1982) contributed to a growing interest outside New York in all aspects of hip hop. Fab 5 Freddy and Futura 2000 took hip hop graffiti to Paris and London as part of the New York City Rap Tour in 1983. Hollywood also paid attention, consulting writers like PHASE 2 as it depicted the culture and gave it international exposure in movies like Beat Street (Orion, 1984).
New York decline
Just as the culture was spreading outside New York and overseas, the cultural aspect of graffiti in New York was said to be deteriorating almost to the point of extinction. The rapid decline in writing was due to several factors. The streets became more dangerous due to the burgeoning crack epidemic, legislation was underway to make penalties for graffiti artists more severe, and restrictions on paint sale and display made racking (stealing) materials difficult. Above all, the MTA greatly increased their anti-graffiti budget. Many favored painting sites became heavily guarded, yards were patrolled, newer and better fences were erected, and buffing of pieces was strong, heavy, and consistent. As a result of subways being harder to paint, more writers went into the streets, which is now, along with commuter trains and box cars, the most prevalent form of writing.

Many graffiti artists, however, chose to see the new problems as a challenge rather than a reason to quit. A downside to these challenges was that the artists became very territorial of good writing spots, and strength and unity in numbers became increasingly important. This was probably the most violent era in graffiti history—artists who chose to go out alone were often beaten and robbed of their supplies. Some of the mentionable graffiti artists from this era were Blade, Dondi, Seen and Skeme. This was stated to be the end for the casual NYC subway graffiti artists, and the years to follow would be populated by only what some consider the most "die hard" artists. People often found that making graffiti around their local areas was an easy way to get caught so they traveled to different areas.

New York 1985–1989
The years between 1985 and 1989 became known as the "die hard" era. A last shot for the graffiti artists of this time was in the form of subway cars destined for the scrap yard. With the increased security, the culture had taken a step back. The previous elaborate "burners" on the outside of cars were now marred with simplistic marker tags which often soaked through the paint.

By mid-1986 the MTA and the CTA were winning their "war on graffiti," and the population of active graffiti artists diminished. As the population of artists lowered so did the violence associated with graffiti crews and "bombing." Roof tops also were being the new billboards for some 80's writers. Some notable graffiti artists of this era were Cope2, Ja, Zephyr, Sane Smith, and T-Kid.

New York Clean Train Movement era
The current era in graffiti is characterized by a majority of graffiti artists moving from subway or train cars to "street galleries." The Clean Train Movement started in May, 1989, when New York attempted to remove all of the subway cars found with graffiti on them out of the transit system. Because of this, many graffiti artists had to resort to new ways to express themselves. Much controversy arose among the streets debating whether graffiti should be considered an actual form of art.

During this period many graffiti artists had taken to displaying their works in galleries and owning their own studios. This practice started in the early 1980s with artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, who started out tagging locations with his signature SAMO (Same Old Shit), and Keith Haring, who was also able to take his art into studio spaces.

In some cases, graffiti artists had achieved such elaborate graffiti (especially those done in memory of a deceased person) on storefront gates that shopkeepers have hesitated to cover them up. In the Bronx after the death of rapper Big Pun, several murals dedicated to his life appeared virtually overnight; similar outpourings occurred after the deaths of The Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur, Big L, and Jam Master Jay.

Commercialization and entrance into mainstream pop culture

With the popularity and legitimization of graffiti has come a level of commercialization. In 2001, computer giant IBM launched an advertising campaign in Chicago and San Francisco which involved people spray painting on sidewalks a peace symbol, a heart, and a penguin (Linux mascot), to represent "Peace, Love, and Linux." However due to illegalities some of the "street artists" were arrested and charged with vandalism, and IBM was fined more than $120,000 for punitive and clean-up costs.

In 2005, a similar ad campaign was launched by Sony in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Miami in order to market its handheld PSP gaming system. In this campaign, taking notice of the legal problems of the IBM campaign, Sony paid building owners for the rights to paint on their buildings "a collection of dizzy-eyed urban kids playing with the PSP as if it were a skateboard, a paddle or a rocking horse."

Along with the commercial growth has come the rise of video games also depicting graffiti, usually in a positive aspect – for example, the Jet Set Radio series (2000-2003) tells the story of a group of teens fighting the oppression of a totalitarian police force that attempts to limit the graffiti artists' freedom of speech. In plotlines mirroring the negative reaction of non-commercial artists to the commercialization of the artform by companies like IBM (and, later, Sony itself) the Rakugaki Ōkoku series (2003-2005) for Sony's PlayStation 2 revolves around an anonymous hero and his magically imbued-with-life graffiti creations as they struggle against an evil king who only allows art to be produced which can benefit him. Following the original roots of modern graffiti as a political force came another game title, Marc Eckō's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure (2006), featuring a story line involving fighting against a corrupt city and its oppression of free speech, as in the Jet Set Radio series.

Other games which feature graffiti include Bomb the World (2004), an online graffiti simulation created by graffiti artist Klark Kent where users can virtually paint trains at 20 locations worldwide, and Super Mario Sunshine (2002), in which the hero, Mario must clean the city of graffiti left by the villain, Bowser Jr. in a plotline which evokes the successes of the Anti-Graffiti Task Force of New York's Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (a manifestation of "broken window theory") or those of the "Graffiti Blasters" of Chicago's Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Numerous other non-graffiti-centric video games allow the player to produce graffiti (such as the Half-Life series, the Tony Hawk's series, The Urbz: Sims in the City, and Rolling). Many other titles contain in-game depictions of graffiti (such as The Darkness, Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone, NetHack, Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked, The World Ends With You, The Warriors, Just Cause, Portal, various examples of Virtual Graffiti, etc.). There also exist a host of games where the term "graffiti" is used as a synonym for "drawing" (such as Yahoo! Graffiti, Graffiti, etc.).

Marc Ecko, an urban clothing designer, has been an advocate of graffiti as an art form during this period, stating that "Graffiti is without question the most powerful art movement in recent history and has been a driving inspiration throughout my career.

Keith Haring was another well-known graffiti artist who brought Pop Art and graffiti to the commercial mainstream. In the 1980s, Haring opened his first Pop Shop: a store that offered everyone access to his works—which until then could only be found spray-painted on city walls. Pop Shop offered commodities like bags and t-shirts. Haring explained that, "The Pop Shop makes my work accessible. It's about participation on a big level, the point was that we didn't want to produce things that would cheapen the art. In other words, this was still art as statement".

Global developments

South America

There is a significant graffiti tradition in South America most especially in Brazil. Within Brazil, Sao Paulo is generally considered to be the current centre of inspiration for many graffiti artists worldwide.

Brazil "boasts a unique and particularly rich graffiti scene...[earning] it an international reputation as the place to go for artistic inspiration." Graffiti "flourishes in every conceivable space in Brazil's cities." Artistic parallels "are often drawn between the energy of Sao Paulo today and 1970s New York." The "sprawling metropolis," of Sao Paulo has "become the new shrine to graffiti;" Manco alludes to "poverty and unemployment...[and] the epic struggles and conditions of the country's marginalised peoples," and to "Brazil's chronic poverty," as the main engines that "have fuelled a vibrant graffiti culture." In world terms, Brazil has "one of the most uneven distributions of income. Laws and taxes change frequently." Such factors, Manco argues, contribute to a very fluid society, riven with those economic divisions and social tensions that underpin and feed the "folkloric vandalism and an urban sport for the disenfranchised," that is South American graffiti art.

Middle East

Graffiti in the Middle East is slowly emerging, with pockets of taggers operating in the various 'Emirates' of the United Arab Emirates, in Israel, and in Iran. The major Iranian newspaper Hamshahri has published two articles on illegal writers in the city with photo coverage of Iranian artist A1one's works on Tehran walls. Tokyo-based design magazine PingMag has interviewed A1one and featured photos of his work. The Israeli West Bank barrier has become a site for graffiti, reminiscent in this sense of the Berlin Wall. Many graffiti artists in Israel come from other places around the globe, such as JUIF, from Los Angeles, and DEVIONE from London. The religious reference "נ נח נחמ נחמן מאומן" ("Na Nach Nachma Nachman Meuman") is commonly seen graffitied around Israel.

Modern experimentation

Modern graffiti art often incorporates additional arts and technologies. For example, Graffiti Research Lab has encouraged the use of projected images and magnetic light-emitting diodes as new media for graffiti writers. The Italian artist Kaso is pursuing regenerative graffiti through experimentation with abstract shapes and deliberate modification of previous graffiti artworks.

Characteristics of common graffiti

See also Graffiti terminology

Some of the most common styles of graffiti have their own names. A "tag" is the most basic writing of an artist's name in either spray paint or marker. A graffiti writer's tag is his or her personalized signature. "Tagging" is often the example given when opponents of graffiti refer to vandalism, as they use it to label all acts of graffiti writing (it is by far the most common form of graffiti). Tags can contain subtle and sometimes cryptic messages, and might incorporate the artist's initials or other letters. As well as the graffiti name, some artists include the year that they completed that tag next to the name, so that Tox, an artist from London, becomes Tox03, Tox04, etc. John Tsombikos claimed subsequent to his arrest that his "Borf" tag campaign, which gained recognition for its prevalence in Washington, D.C., was in memory of a deceased friend.

Another form is the "throw-up," also known as a "fill-in," which is normally painted very quickly with two or three colors, sacrificing aesthetics for speed. Throw-ups can also be outlined on a surface with one color. A "piece" is a more elaborate representation of the artist's name, incorporating more stylized "block" or "bubble" letters, using three or more colors. This of course is done at the expense of timeliness and increases the likelihood of the artist getting caught. A "blockbuster" is a large piece done simply to cover a large area solidly with two contrasting colours, sometimes with the whole purpose of blocking other "writers" from painting on the same wall.

A more complex style is "wildstyle", a form of graffiti involving interlocking letters, arrows, and connecting points. These pieces are often harder to read by non-graffiti artists as the letters merge into one another in an often undecipherable manner. A "roller" is a "fill-in" that intentionally takes up an entire wall, sometimes with the whole purpose of blocking other "writers" from painting on the same wall. Some artists also use stickers as a quick way to "get-up". While critics from within graffiti culture consider this lazy and a form of cheating, stickers can be quite detailed in their own right, and are often used in conjunction with other materials. Sticker tags are commonly done on blank postage stickers, or indeed anything with an adhesive side to it.

Stencils are made by drawing an image onto a piece of cardboard or tougher versions of paper, then cut with a razor blade. What is left is then just simply sprayed-over, and if done correctly, a perfect image is left. Many graffiti artists believe that doing blockbusters or even complex wildstyles involves too great an investment of time to justify the practice. Doing wildstyle can take (depending on experience and size) three hours to several days. Another graffiti artist can go over that piece in a matter of minutes with a bubble fill-in. This was exemplified by the writer "CAP" in the documentary Style Wars, who, other writers complain, ruins pieces with his quick throw ups. This became known as "capping" and is often done when there is "beef", conflict between writers.

Uses

Theories on the use of graffiti by avant-garde artists have a history dating back at least to the Scandinavian Institute of Comparative Vandalism in 1961. Many contemporary analysts and even art critics have begun to see artistic value in some graffiti and to recognize it as a form of public art. According to many art researchers, particularly in the Netherlands and in Los Angeles, that type of public art is, in fact an effective tool of social emancipation or in the achievement of a political goal.

The murals of Belfast and of Los Angeles offer another example of official recognition. In times of conflict, such murals have offered a means of communication and self-expression for members of these socially, ethnically and/or racially divided communities, and have proven themselves as effective tools in establishing dialog and thus of addressing cleavages in the long run. The Berlin Wall was also extensively covered by Graffiti reflecting social pressures relating to the oppressive Soviet rule over the GDR.

Many artists involved with Graffiti also are concerned with the similar activity of Stencilling. Essentially, this entails stenciling a print of one or more colors using spray-paint. Recognised while exhibiting and publishing several of her coloured stencils and paintings portraying the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka and urban Britain in the early 2000s, graffiti artist Mathangi Arulpragasam a.k.a. M.I.A. has also become known for integrating her imagery of political violence into her music videos for singles "Galang" and "Bucky Done Gun," and her cover art. Stickers of her artwork also often appear around places such as London in Brick Lane, stuck to lamp posts and street signs, having herself become a muse for other graffiti artists/painters worldwide in cities including Seville. Graffiti artist John Fekner, called "caption writer to the urban environment, adman for the opposition" by writer Lucy Lippard , was involved in direct art interventions within New York City's decaying urban environment in the mid-seventies through the eighties. Fekner is known for his word installations targeting social and political issues, stenciled on buildings throughout New York.

In the UK, Banksy is the most recognizable icon for this cultural artistic movement and keeps his identity secret to avoid arrest. Much of Banksy's artwork can be seen around the streets of London and surrounding suburbs, though he has painted pictures around the world, including the Middle East, where he has painted on Israel's controversial West Bank barrier with satirical images of life on the other side. One depicted a hole in the wall with an idyllic beach, while another shows a mountain landscape on the other side. A number of exhibitions have also taken place since 2000, and recent works of art have fetched vast sums of money.

Radical and political

Graffiti often has a reputation as part of a subculture that rebels against authority, although the considerations of the practitioners often diverge and can relate to a wide range of attitudes. It can express a political practice and can form just one tool in an array of resistance techniques. One early example includes the anarcho-punk band Crass, who conducted a campaign of stenciling anti-war, anarchist, feminist and anti-consumerist messages around the London Underground system during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

In Amsterdam graffiti was a major part of the punk scene. The city was covered with names as 'De Zoot', 'Vendex' and 'Dr Rat'. To document the graffiti a punk magazine was started called Gallery Anus. So when hip hop came to Europe in the early 1980s there already was a vibrant graffiti culture.

The developments of graffiti art which took place in art galleries and colleges as well as "on the street" or "underground", contributed to the resurfacing in the 1990s of a far more overtly politicized art form in the subvertising, culture jamming or tactical media movements. These movements or styles tend to classify the artists by their relationship to their social and economic contexts, since, in most countries, graffiti art remains illegal in many forms except when using non-permanent paint. Since the 1990s a growing number of artists are switching to non-permanent paints for a variety of reasons -- but primarily because is it difficult for the police to apprehend and for the courts to sentence or even convict a person for a protest that is as fleeting and less intrusive than marching in the streets. In some communities, such impermanent works survive longer than works created with permanent paints because the community views the work in the same vein as that of the civil protestor who marches in the street -- such protest are impermanent but effective nevertheless.

In some areas where a number of artist share the impermance ideal, there grows an informal competition. That is, the length of time that a work escapes destruction is related to the amount of respect the work garners in the community. A crude work that deserves little respect would invariably be removed immediately. The most talented artist might have works last for days.

Artists whose primary object is to assert contol over property -- and not primarily to create of an expressive work of art, political or otherwise -- resist switching to impermanent paints.

Contemporary practitioners, accordingly, have varied and often conflicting practices. Some individuals, such as Alexander Brener, have used the medium to politicize other art forms, and have used the prison sentences forced onto them as a means of further protest.

The practices of anonymous groups and individuals also vary widely, and practitioners by no means always agree with each others' practices. Anti-capitalist art group the Space Hijackers, for example, did a piece in 2004 about the contradiction between the capitalistic elements of Banksy and his use of political imagery.

On top of the political aspect of graffiti as a movement, political groups and individuals may also use graffiti as a tool to spread their point of view. This practice, due to its illegality, has generally become favoured by groups excluded from the political mainstream (e.g. far-left or far-right groups) who justify their activity by pointing out that they do not have the money – or sometimes the desire – to buy advertising to get their message across, and that a "ruling class" or "establishment" control the mainstream press, systematically excluding the radical/alternative point of view. This type of graffiti can seem crude; for example fascist supporters often scrawl swastikas and other Nazi images.

One innovative form of graffiti that emerged in the UK in the 1970s was devised by the Money Liberation Front (MLF), essentially a loose affiliation of underground press writers such as the poet and playwright Heathcote Williams and magazine editor and playwright Jay Jeff Jones. They initiated the use of paper currency as a medium for counterculture propaganda, overprinting banknotes, usually with a John Bull printing set. Although short lived the MLF was representative of London’s Ladbroke Grove centered alternative and literary community of the period. The area was also a scene of considerable anti-establishment and humorous street graffiti much of it also produced by Williams.

Both sides of the conflict in Northern Ireland produce political graffiti. As well as slogans, Northern Irish political graffiti include large wall paintings, referred to as murals. Along with the flying of flags and the painting of kerb stones, the murals serve a territorial purpose. Artists paint them mostly on house gables or on the Peace Lines, high walls that separate different communities. The murals often develop over an extended period and tend to stylisation, with a strong symbolic or iconographic content. Loyalist murals often refer to historical events dating from the war between James II and William III in the late 17th century, whereas Republican murals usually refer to the more recent troubles.

Decorative and high art

A 2006 exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum displayed graffiti as an art form that began in New York's outer boroughs and reached great heights in the early '80s with the work of Crash, Lee, Daze, Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

It displayed 22 works by New York graffiti artists, including Crash, Daze and Lady Pink. In an article about the exhibition in Time Out Magazine, curator Charlotta Kotik said that she hoped the exhibition would cause viewers to rethink their assumptions about graffiti. Terrance Lindall, an artist and executive director of the Williamsburg Art and Historic Center, said regarding graffiti and the exhibition:

"Graffiti is revolutionary, in my opinion," he says, "and any revolution might be considered a crime. People who are oppressed or suppressed need an outlet, so they write on walls—it’s free."

In Australia, art historians have judged some local graffiti of sufficient creative merit to rank them firmly within visual art. Oxford University Press's art history text Australian Painting 1788-2000 concludes with a long discussion of graffiti's key place within contemporary visual culture, including the work of several Australian practitioners.

Gang relations with graffiti

One common use of graffiti is to mark territory or "turf" by tagging a space such as a wall on building to inform other gangs of their presence. Usually, this type of tag will have the name of the gang. They are also used to communicate with other gangs, usually to warn them of a coming assassination of a certain member, by either writing the member's street name and crossing it out, or by finding tags by the member and crossing them out.

If a gang overwrites another gang's tag, it is also the symbol of a takeover of a gang's turf or a sign of aggression toward the gang. While most cities now take measures to prevent this, such as washing or erasing tags, it was much more common in the mid 1980s when crime waves ran high.

Currently, a graffiti group The Public Animals (TPA) has assumed the role of a federation of sorts. Founded in late 1976 to early 1977, TPA is at the forefront of unifying former rivals between crews, cliques or gangs. Under the TPA umbrella, many graffiti artists from all over the world and from different associations have found the ability to peacefully unite and perform their art form without the obligatory allegiance to a particular group of individuals whose philosophies may be limited by territories, nationalities, or personal viewpoints. The leader of The Public Animals, JOEY TPA, maintains a simple yet effective philosophy in that the global aspect of art is evolving and that as artists, there is more to be had in unifying rather than dividing.

Government responses

North America

Graffiti advocates perceive graffiti as a method of reclaiming public space or to display one's art form, their opponents regard it as an unwanted nuisance, or as expensive vandalism requiring repair of the vandalized property. Graffiti can be viewed as a "quality of life" issue, and its detractors suggest that the presence of graffiti contributes to a general sense of squalor and a heightened fear of crime.

In 1984, the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network (PAGN) was created to combat the city's growing concerns about gang-related graffiti. PAGN led to the creation of the Mural Arts Program, which replaced often hit spots with elaborate, commissioned murals that were protected by a city ordinance, increasing fines and penalties for anyone caught defacing a mural.

The Philadelphia Subway line also features a long standing example of the art form by way of the broad and spring garden stop, along the broad & ridge (to 8th and market) line. Which while still existing, has long been quarantined, and has featured tags and murals that have existed for upwards of 15years.

Advocates of the "broken window theory" believe that this sense of decay encourages further vandalism and promotes an environment leading to offenses that are more serious. Former New York City mayor Ed Koch's vigorous subscription to the broken window theory promoted an aggressive anti-graffiti campaign in New York in the early eighties, resulting in "the buff"; a chemical wash for trains that dissolved the paint off. New York City has adopted a strenuous zero tolerance policy ever since. However, throughout the world, authorities often, though not always, treat graffiti as a minor nuisance crime, though with widely varying penalties. Roof tops became the mainstream after the trains died out.

In 1995 Mayor Rudolph Giuliani of New York set up the Anti-Graffiti Task Force, a multi-agency initiative to combat the perceived problem of graffiti vandals in New York City. This began a crackdown on "quality of life crimes" throughout the city, and one of the largest anti-graffiti campaigns in U.S. history. That same year Title 10-117 of the New York Administrative Code banned the sale of aerosol spray-paint cans to children under 18. The law also requires that merchants who sell spray-paint must lock it in a case or display cans behind a counter, out of reach of potential shoplifters. Violations of the city's anti-graffiti law carry fines of $350 per count. Famous NYC graffiti artist Zephyr wrote an opposing viewpoint to this law.

On January 1, 2006, in New York City, legislation created by Councilmember Peter Vallone, Jr. attempted to make it illegal for a person under the age of 21 to possess spray-paint or permanent markers. The law prompted outrage by fashion and media mogul Marc Ecko who sued Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Councilmember Vallone on behalf of art students and legitimate graffiti artists. On May 1, 2006, Judge George B. Daniels granted the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction against the recent amendments to the anti-graffiti legislation, effectively prohibiting (on May 4) the New York City Police Department from enforcing the restrictions. A similar measure was proposed in New Castle County, Delaware in April 2006 and was passed into law as a county ordinance in May 2006.

Chicago's mayor, Richard M. Daley created the "Graffiti Blasters" to eliminate graffiti and gang-related vandalism. The bureau advertises free cleanup within 24 hours of a phone call. The bureau uses paints (common to the city's 'color scheme') and baking-soda based solvents to remove some varieties of graffiti.

In 1992, an ordinance was passed in Chicago that bans the sale and possession of spray paint, and certain types of etching equipment and markers. The law falls under Chapter 8-4: Public Peace & Welfare, Section 100: Vagrancy. The specific law (8-4-130) makes graffiti an offense with a fine of no less than $500 per incident, surpassing the penalty for public drunkenness, peddling, or disruption of a religious service.

In 2005, the city of Pittsburgh implemented a custom database-driven graffiti tracking system to build and enhance evidence for prosecution of graffiti artist suspects by linking tags to instances of graffiti. One of the first suspects to be identified by the system as being responsible for significant graffiti vandalism was Daniel Joseph Montano. He was dubbed "The King of Graffiti for having tagged close to 200 buildings in the city.

Europe

In Europe, community cleaning squads have responded to graffiti, in some cases with reckless abandon, as when in 1992 in France a local Scout group damaged two prehistoric paintings of Bisons in the Cave of Mayrière supérieure near the French village of Bruniquel in Tarn-et-Garonne, earning them the 1992 Ig Nobel Prize in archaeology.

In September 2006, the European Parliament issued the European Commission to create urban environment policies in order to prevent and eliminate dirt, litter, graffiti, animals' excrement and excessive noise from domestic and vehicular music systems in European cities, along with other concerns over urban life.

The Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 became Britain's latest anti-graffiti legislation. In August 2004, the Keep Britain Tidy campaign issued a press release calling for zero tolerance of graffiti and supporting proposals such as issuing "on the spot" fines to graffiti offenders and banning the sale of aerosol paint to anyone under the age of 16. The press release also condemned the use of graffiti images in advertising and in music videos, arguing that real-world experience of graffiti stood far removed from its often-portrayed 'cool' or 'edgy' image.

To back the campaign, 123 MPs (including Prime Minister Tony Blair) signed a charter which stated: Graffiti is not art, it's crime. On behalf of my constituents, I will do all I can to rid our community of this problem. However, in the last couple of years the British graffiti scene has been struck by self-titled 'art terrorist' Banksy, who has revolutionized the style of UK graffiti (bringing to the forefront stencils to aid the speed of painting) as well as the content; making his work largely satirical of the sociological state of cities, or the political climate of war, often using monkeys and rats as motifs.

In the UK, city councils have the power to take action against the owner of any property that has been defaced under the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 (as amended by the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005) or, in certain cases, the Highways Act. This is often used against owners of property that are complacent in allowing protective boards to be defaced so long as the property isn't damaged.

In July 2008, a conspiracy charge was used to convict graffiti artists for the first time. After a three-month police surveillance operation, seven members of the DPM crew were convicted of conspiracy to commit criminal damage costing at least £1 million. Five of them received prison sentences, ranging from 18 months to two years. The unprecedented scale of the investigation and the severity of the sentences rekindled public debate over whether graffiti should be considered art or crime.

Australia

In an effort to reduce vandalism, many cities in Australia have designated walls or areas exclusively for use by graffiti artists. One early example is the "Graffiti Tunnel" located at the Camperdown Campus of the University of Sydney, which is available for use by any student at the University to tag, advertise, poster and create "art". Advocates of this idea suggest that this discourages petty vandalism yet encourages artists to take their time and produce great art, without worry of being caught or arrested for vandalism or trespassing. Others disagree with this approach, arguing that the presence of legal graffiti walls does not demonstrably reduce illegal graffiti elsewhere. Some Local Government Areas around Australia have introduced "anti-graffiti squads", who clean graffiti in the area, and such gangs as BCW (Buffers Can't Win) have taken steps to keep one step ahead of local graffiti cleaners.

Many state governments have banned the sale or possession of spray paint to those under the age of 18 (age of majority). However, a number of Local Governments in Victoria have taken steps to recognize the cultural heritage value of some examples of graffiti, such as prominent political graffiti. Tough new graffiti laws have been introduced in Australia with fines of up to $26,000 AUS and two years in prison. The fine for carrying a spray that you cannot give a legal reason for carrying is $550 AUS.

Melbourne is a prominent graffiti city of Australia with many of its lanes being tourist attractions, such as Hosier Lane in particular, a popular destination for photographers, wedding photography and backdrops for corporate print advertising. The Lonely Planet travel guide cites Melbourne's street are as a major attraction. Everything including; Sticker Art, Poster Art, Stencil Art and Wheatposting can be found in many places throughout the city. Prominent street art precincts include; Fitzroy, Collingwood, Northcote, Brunswick, St. Kilda and the CBD, where stencil and sticker art is prominent. As you move further away from the city, mostly along suburban train lines, graffiti tags become more prominent. Many international artists such as Banksy have left their work in Melbourne and in early 2008 a perspex screen was installed to prevent a Banksy stencil art piece from being destroyed, it has survived since 2003 through the respect of local street artists avoiding posting over it.

Asia

In China, graffiti began with Mao Zedong in the 1920s who used revolutionary slogans and paintings in public places to galvanise the country's communist revolution. Mao holds the record for the longest piece of graffiti, which contains 4000 characters criticising his teachers and the state of Chinese society.

Graffiti is still in its infancy in developing countries such as India, Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan.

Graffiti made the news in 1993, over an incident in Singapore involving several expensive cars found spray-painted. The police arrested a student from Singapore American School, Michael P. Fay, questioned him and subsequently charged him with vandalism. Fay pleaded guilty for vandalizing the car in addition to stealing road signs. Under the 1966 Singapore Vandalism Act, originally passed to curb the spread of communist graffiti in Singapore, the court sentenced him to four months in jail, a fine of 3,500 Singaporean dollars (US $2,233 or GB £1,450), and a caning. The New York Times ran several editorials and op-eds that condemned the punishment and called on the American public to flood the Singaporean embassy with protests. Although the Singapore government received many calls for clemency, Fay's caning took place in Singapore on May 5, 1994. Fay had originally received a sentence of six lashes of the cane, but the then President of Singapore Ong Teng Cheong agreed to reduce his caning sentence to four lashes.

Documentaries and films

  • 80 Blocks from Tiffany's (1979), A rare glimpse into late '70s New York towards the end of the infamous South Bronx Gangs. The documentary shows many sides of the mainly Puerto Rican community of the South Bronx including. reformed gang members, current gang members, the police, and the community leaders who try and reach out to them.
  • Stations of the Elevated (1980), the earliest documentary about subway graffiti in New York City, with music by Charles Mingus
  • Wild Style (1983), a drama about hip hop and graffiti culture in New York City
  • Style Wars (1983), an early documentary on hip hop culture, made in New York City
  • Quality of Life (2004) a graffiti drama shot in the Mission District of San Francisco, starring/co-written by a retired graffiti writer.
  • Piece by Piece (2005), a feature length documentary on the history of San Francisco graffiti from the early 1980s until the present day.
  • Infamy (2005), A feature-length documentary about graffiti culture as told through the experiences of six well-known graffiti writers and a graffiti buffer.
  • NEXT: A Primer on Urban Painting (2005), a documentary about global graffiti culture
  • RASH (film) (2005), a feature documentary about Melbourne, Australia and the artists who make it a living host for illegal artwork called street art.
  • Bomb the System (2006), a drama about a crew of graffiti artists in modern day New York City
  • BOMB IT (2007), a graffiti and street art documentary filmed on 5 continents.
  • Jisoe (2007), a glimpse into the life of a Melbourne (AUS) graffiti writer. Shows the audience an example of graffiti in struggling Melbourne areas

See also

References

External links

Search another word or see taking noticeon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2014 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature