Hey, hola, how are things going? Yaayy I know, I know, it’s been a loooooooong time but I was just out for a small vacation 😉 Ha! I am sure ya’ll missed me. Don’t you deny, please. I’ll be sad and then come there and paint your wall in all colours I got. Oomph…I think ya’ll got the buzz of our today’s topic. Yes, we’re here to talk about the next element & that would be – Chronicles of Graffiti Writing.
Ancient origins of Graffiti
Now now, don’t think of this beautiful subculture to have evolved in our modern era. Graffiti as an expressive art form has a long and proud history dating back to Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. The word Graffiti has evolved from the word from the Greek word – graphien (to write). But it is also said that Graffito is the plural for Graffiti; and that both originate form the Italian word Graffiato (scratched). Archaeologically, graffiti is a deliberate mark made by scratching or engraving on a large surface such as a wall. Such techniques were used by potters who would glaze their wares and then scratch a design into it. In ancient times graffiti were carved on walls with chalk, coal or some sharp object. The first drawings on walls appeared in caves thousands of years ago. Later the Romans and Greeks wrote their names and protest poems on ancient ruins like Catacombs, monuments, etc. Ancient graf writing displayed phrases of love declarations, political slogans, simple words of thought, quotes, spells and curses, for example – Lovers, like bees, lead a honey-sweet life. There were a lot of writing and drawings made in public places to tell something to the whole society. Thus the chroncicles of graffiti dated back to twentieth century.
Graf & Punk Rock
After the experimental invention of aerosol paint by Edward Seymour, graf writing evolved more and more. It appeared in Philadelphia in the early 1960s, which was actually used by the political activists and gangs marking their territory. Later, by 70s it had reached New York. Graffiti was associated with the punk rock movement in early 1970s. Bands such as Black Flag and Crass (and their followers) widely tagged their names and logos, while many punk night clubs, squats, and hangouts are famous for their graffiti. In late 1980s, the upside down Martini glass that was the tag for punk band Missing Foundation was copied by hard core punk fans throughout the US and West Germany.
Graffiti thus existed way before it got submerged into hip hop. Infact, the king graf writers like Coco 144, Fuzz One, Phase 2, Blade, Lady Pink and even Grandmaster Flash agree that graffiti did not emerge from hip hop. It just existed years before hip hop was even formed. The writers then used to listen to latin, funk, jazz and rock n roll. There was no hip hop. Though this has been a subject of debate, I personally feel that every element’s history goes way back before hip hop and it’s a good thing as each element owns its individuality under the family called Hip Hop.
Cornbread – The Father of Modern Graffiti
There have been countless writers who have actively contributed to this subculture. Graf history would be meaningless without Darryl McCray aka Cornbread who went along writing Cornbread Loves Cynthia all over the local area to win Cynthia’s affection for himself. He thoroughly enjoyed this and so continued to tag Philadelphia with his name, including the jet plane that belonged to the Jackson 5 and on an elephant in the local zoo which resulted in an arrest! Oomph! Such a crazy dude. Cornbread is known as the Father of Modern Graffiti. Talking about tagging, we can’t miss Taki 183. This person used to go randomly, tagging his name and address all over NYC in late 60s and early 70s. The kids got inspired by the article called Taki 183 Spawns Pen Pals and competitively started tagging in their boroughs. The more one tagged, the more fame he/she gained. Though Taki 183 wasn’t the first one to tag, but he really got famous.
The Chronicles of Graffiti
Graffiti has been described as the voice of the people. The public canvas allows for a mass audience so the artwork had big letters and drawings which gave rise to various styles. The most famous style is the Bubble Writing by Phase 2 in 1970s. He was a b-boy, sometimes DJ at hip-hop events and even went on to release a couple of rap singles, while he himself has often been referenced in songs. The influence of his distinctive bubble style writing can be seen today in the works of many graffiti artists. It serves as the foundation. Phase 2 has immensely contributed to graf writing.
A writer I personally like is SAMO aka Jean-Michel Basquiat from Manhattan, NYC. He used to write along with his high school friends Al Diaz and Shannon Dawson for a comic. The graffiti took the form of short phrases, usually poetic or sarcastic and soon gained popularity. Their era started from 1977 to 1980. Basquiat killed off the graffiti with a final SAMO IS DEAD in 1980 as his career in the art world began to take off.
In 1981, Blek le Rat, the Father of Stencil Graffiti, popularized a new kind of graffiti writing. He went around painting stencils of rats on the streets of Paris, using rat as an anagram of art. Banksy was heavily influenced by the work of Blek le Rat, who shares a similar style. Banksy turned from a freestyle writer to a stencil writer and marked his place in this world of graffiti. But in 2009, Banksy attacked legendary late King Robbo’s work which led to a graf war online as well as offline. The whole feud was the subject of a TV documentary titled Graffiti Wars earning the pair an extra place in graffiti history. Also, 1983 saw the release of the documentary film called Style Wars. The film was about hip-hop with a heavy focus on the graffiti scene. It featured many names synonymous with the graffiti scene of the time, including legends such as Futura, Dondi, Seen, Kase2, Zephyr, TAKI 183 among the many names. Style Wars captured the graffiti artists expressing themselves through their street art along with opposing views on the subject of graffiti. A true piece of graffiti history!
Graffiti holding onto its individuality, got emerged into hip hop step by step. The breakers, rappers and djs got attracted to this art. They all played a big role in fusing graf writing to hip hop. Martha Cooper has briefly discussed about them in her book Subway Art by Martha Cooper. Controversies surrounding graffiti continue to create disagreement amongst city officials, law enforcement, and writers who wish to display and appreciate work in public locations. There are many different types and styles of graffiti; it is a rapidly developing art form whose value is highly contested and reviled by many authorities while also subject to protection, sometimes within the same jurisdiction. Graffiti is now taking shape of a big business. So controversial or not, it is growing and being liked by all and is incorporating additional arts and technologies.
These art forms are spotted on walls, exterior of trains and buses because they travel throughout cities, allowing for maximum exposure. Also, it can be seen adorning the album covers of some rap artists, on sides of buildings, on busses, on clothing, and various imaginative places where you sometimes have to stop and wonder, “how in the world did they manage to get up there?” Also I consider this specific element to be a single art in different forms because it started from carvings to paintings, murals to big work pieces to limitless pieces of colors.It is an amazing art which gives a poor inner-city kid the feeling of importance by having his “piece” up for all to see. Graffiti is the artistic rebellion of the commoners portraying their socio-political feelings and messages. Some people consider it art while some consider it a vandal. Anyhow they make a person feel important and loved. I like what Lady Pink says about it –
“I think graffiti writing is a way of defining what our generation is like. Excuse the French, we’re not a bunch of p—- artists. Traditionally artists have been considered soft and mellow people, a little bit kooky. Maybe we’re a little bit more like pirates that way. We defend our territory, whatever space we steal to paint on, we defend it fiercely.”
Graffiti and Hip Hop together serve the way of human communication. It is considered highly educational, transformational and creative. There are artists doing it legally as well as illegally. Both have equal importance as graffiti itself holds the ability to change the mankind for the better.
Thanks to all our brothers and mothers and sisters and fathers who worked off hard to give us such a beautiful art in different forms.
Until next time. Do your research & respect your roots.
Stay tuned for more.