Graffiti is thought to be around since the 70s, first appearing in New York subways and streets. The graffiti culture has spread with the rise of hip-hop in the 1980s; however, the graffitists remained anonymous, using tag names. They were talented teenagers from the streets of Bronx and Brooklyn.
However, if we think of graffiti as the action of writing on the walls, then it has been around for millions of years, as cave men drew illustrations on the cave walls and Romans used to write on the walls of conquered buildings.
At first, graffiti consisted of drawings scratched into the surface of walls (mainly tag names) and it was first seen as an act of vandalism, being associated with gang activity. However, when the youth started to seek some new ways to express themselves, graffiti became more than tag names and addresses. The graffitists started to experiment different styles, colors, and paintings, passing from etchings on street furniture to spray paints covering an entire wall.
There are several types of graffiti, each with its own definition: tags, slap tag, throw up, bomb, piece, blockbuster, wild style, productions.Tag is the most basic form of graffiti and it represents a writer’s stylized signature. Slap tag is also called sticker tag. As the name suggests, the art is done in the security of graffitists home, and then put up quickly with the aid of stickers.
A throw up, or outline consists of bubble letters of any kind, not necessarily filled. This type of graffiti has one or two colors, and it is the second most common form throughout the United States. The bomb is covering an area with your tags and throw ups. Writers will often go on “bombing” runs or missions, attempting to put their name up in as many places as they can within a given night or time period.
A piece has at least three colors and it takes planning and preparation as well as strategic thought about location and timing in order to do such a painting. A piece will nearly always have the writers tag and crew included as signatures to the piece. Writers who develop to the level of producing pieces are usually quite talented and very skilled with spray paint.
A blockbuster consists of big, square letters that can be seen from a long distance due to their big size. Because of their size, they are often applied with bucket paints, and not with cans.Wild style is considered to be one of the hardest styles to master. This type of graffiti is a complicated construction of interlocking letters, being nearly impossible to read for an uninformed viewer.
Productions are large pieces done by a group of artists. Productions are not done illegally, and they are often part of a community project.
Ten years ago, graffiti art was an underground activity. Today, it represents a contemporary art form, and it is no longer restricted to gangs. In Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) organized an exhibit celebrating urban graffiti on walls, subways and buses; and it proved to be a successful show.
The exhibition traces the development of graffiti art from the 70s to the international movement it has become today. Another prestigious exhibition is ‘Born in the Streets’, at the Fondation Center in Paris, France.
Jean-Michel Basquiat was among the few graffiti artists who made the jump from the streets to the galleries. Basquiat began his career as a graffiti artist in New York City, before jumping into fine arts. He is considered to be one of the most influential artists in the 21st century. Basquiat’s graffiti works had political overtones.
He used the pseudonym ‘SAMO’ as a graffiti artist, and often drew on random surfaces and objects. Nowadays, graffiti is appreciated as true art and the community even provides graffitists with special surfaces for their masterpieces.