What is graffiti and where does it come from?
Graffiti can be seen in all forms, from subway trains to t-shirts. The style and provocative themes have a history rooted in self-expression and social resistance. In the seventies, DJ Afrika Bambaataa of the hip hop collective Zulu Nation outlined the pillars of hip hop culture: MCing (oral), DJing (aural), b-boying (physical), and finally, graffiti art (visual). The four forms of expression have a history that is deeply intertwined; though graffiti is arguably the most well-recognized and pervasive in popular culture.
Graffiti has been around since ancient Rome, but the art form as we know it now came into the social consciousness in the late 1960s. Taki 183 was a messenger who travelled all throughout New York City for work. He would use a marker to write his name wherever he went on the subway cars. People began to notice and emulate Taki 183, tagging their names all over the city to gain notoriety. Thus, modern graffiti was born on the New York City subway.
Eventually permanent markers changed to spray paint. Kids started using the art form to express their creativity and resistance in a society that refused to recognize their value. Writers, as they came to be called, came from every ethnicity and demographic. Graffiti was, and is, an inclusive art form. Although it has exploded in prevalence all over the world, it is still used to push boundaries, challenge the status-quo, and create spaces for expression.
Graffiti has a rich and diverse history, so much so that it’s difficult to summarize the entire experience of the art form in one blog. So we’ve compiled a list of a few important moments in graffiti history to get you started:
- Phase 2 is considered to be the person who developed the popular style of graffiti, bubble writing, or softies, during the 1970’s.
- Blek le Rat was a French graffiti artist who has become known as the father of stencil graffiti. His stencils often had themes of social consciousness. Popular opinion is that Banksy was heavily influenced by his work.
- The Style Wars Graffiti Documentary film was released in 1983. The film was directed by Tony Silver and produced in collaboration with Henry Chalfant. It featured a host of names synonymous with the graffiti scene of the time, including legends such as Futura, Dondi, Seen, Kase2, Zephyr, TAKI 183.
- Shepard Fairey created his iconic Andre the Giant has a Possee sticker in 1989. The OBEY Giant became one of the most recognisable images of the 20th century, allowing Fairey to take his graffiti and design skills into many different visual mediums.