Did you know that the word “graffiti” is actually the plural for the term? If one is talking about a singular piece, it is referred to as graffito. This makes sense when I think about the famous contemporary artist Speedy Graphito. Graffiti has been around since the Greco-Roman days. I was once on a dig in Israel when the conservator pointed out an area in a cave wherein a young Greek whippersnapper painted his name in “modern greek letters” across the wall of a family’s living room. Vandalism has been around for a long time. Graffiti and graffito are from the Italian word graffiato (“scratched”). The greek letters I saw in the cave in Israel were indeed chiseled or scratched.
Graffiti by Miss Van and Ciou in Barcelona, Spain
After hours of searching, I still cannot find this artist (but maybe that’s the point). Notice the panda’s hat is tagged in a tribute to famous graffiti artist/collective Space Invader.
This piece is entitled ‘Riot… My Way’ by D*Face, a London based artist – I love the pun in the name.
Jean Michel Basquiat‘s tag as a teenager, created with friends Al Diaz and Shannon Dawson. Standing for “Same Old Shit” appeared in New York City from 1977 to early 1980.
Today we think of graffiti as a related to “hip hop culture”, “b-boying“, “avant-garde ideals”, politics (ala Shepard Fairey), and youth culture. Often the messages are satirical, sardonic, or highly personal. Paris in 1968 was covered in revolutionary, anarchist, and situationist slogans such as L’ennui est contre-révolutionnaire (“Boredom is counterrevolutionary”) expressed in painted graffiti. In the U.S. other political phrases (such as “Free Huey” about Black Panther Huey Newton) became briefly popular, as well as in the 1970s U.S. “Dick Nixon Before He Dicks You”, reflected the hostility of the youth culture to the presidency. Graffiti is often found on controversial barriers – such as the Berlin Wall and now the West Bank Barrier. Mostly graffiti is delivered by the tagger via spray paint or marker pens. A tag is considered the artist’s name and is often delivered in the same style continuously. Sometimes artists sacrifice aesthetics for speed, for fear of getting caught by authorities – this style of painting is known as “throw-up” or “bombing”. Stenciling has also become increasingly popular thanks to underground, internationally reaching artists such as Banksy. Graffiti has always been considered an outsider art, steeped in vandalism, but it was elevated to “high art” in a 2006 exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum which 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. Continuing the art forms acceptance, between March and April 2009, 150 artists exhibited 300 pieces of graffiti at the Grand Palais in Paris. Terrance Lindall, executive director of the Williamsburg Art and Historic Center, said regarding graffiti:
“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.”
Showing the art form’s current widespread acceptance, a Graffiti Shop opened in Russia in 1992 in Tver City.
Whereas many cities partake in graffiti removal programs – opting for more pristine facades – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania employs the “Mural Arts Program“. The Mural Arts Program began in 1984 as a component of the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network, an effort spearheaded by then Mayor Wilson Goode to eradicate the graffiti crisis plaguing the city. The Anti-Graffiti Network hired muralist Jane Golden to reach out to graffiti writers and to redirect their energies from destructive graffiti writing to constructive mural painting. In 1996, Mayor Ed Rendell announced that the Anti-Graffiti Network would be reorganized into the Mural Arts Program. Since it began, the Mural Arts Program has produced over 3,000 murals which have become a cherished part of the civic landscape and a great source of inspiration to the millions of residents and visitors who encounter them each year. It seems there is a fine line between “acceptable artistic decoration” and “vandalism”. The murals are still performed in a style heavily influenced by ghetto culture. The program even employs incarcerated individuals but provides each with art education as a form of therapy. In this way, the murals decorating the cities walls become a celebration rather than a condemnation.
So how does this style translate into the home? Above all, graffiti is a unique, personal expression. It should not be easily replicable and there should not be any rules. Use any wall or object as your canvas for self expression.
Spray paint your furniture! (Here.)
The wonders of buying a cheap Ikea bed include the ability to repaint it and refinish it without feeling guilty! Created by the street artist Reyes. (Here.)
Found at New York City’s Surrey Hotel on the Upper East Side. (Here.)
Copenhagen gets it right, yet again. (Here.)
Not so keen on freely “destroying” your furniture or don’t have a artistic bug? Here are some store-bought options: