Graffiti has come a long way. From taking tags with shoe polish on the subways to the high-art it has become today. From Fab 5 Freddy to Banksy. It's a long journey.
Graffiti is now on exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum as a "contemporary 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.
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 1990's of a far more overtly politicised 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.
The current era in graffiti is characterised by a majority of graffiti artists moving from subway or train cars to "street galleries." The Clean Train Movement started in May of '89, 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 1980's with artists such as 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. Even Princess Diana and Mother Teresa were memorialised this way in New York City.
With the popularity and legitimisation of graffiti has come a level of commercialisation.
In 2001, computer giant IBM launched an advertising campaign which involved people in various states 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.
But the 13-year old tagger just doesn't get it.
I see him writing on peoples cars. I see him writing on the pristine white garage doors on the side streets of tree-lined streets in middle-class neighbourhoods.
Without rules there is no order.
When I got into graffiti there was a lot left unspoken. You didn't write on private property. You didn't write on peoples cars. You wouldn't where no one else had written.
If you wanted to get known, you had to diss some people and take tags where people would see it; on main thouroughfares and known graffiti spots.
I see tags on garage doors on Shore Road. Who the fuck is gonna see that? A 43-year old investment banker on his way to work? An old lady out walking her Bichon Frise?
I woke up one morning to see some punk had tagged up all over peoples cars down a pretty fancy block in Brooklyn. This is exactly the kind of shit you would NEVER do back in the day. One, because its someones private fucking property and it could get you killed and two because who the fuck is gonna see it? You have to take tags where other kids that tag are gonna see it; where other kids that tag know to look, otherwise, whats the point? You wanna get known with the old lady out walking her Bichon Frise? or maybe you wanna get well acquainted with the guy who's 2007 BMW you just tagged on?
There are rules and there are reasons for the rules.
These kids now are a bunch of clowns; spoiled punks with markers. No idea what graffiti is about. And I don't care if I sound like an old man. The feeling you get in your chest when someone comes up to you after school, someone older and bigger than you and says "Yo, you write?" that's what these kids need to feel. That fear. That rush. That thrill of getting your name out there. Not writing on walls that no one's gonna see.
Graffiti looks ugly when its all alone by itself and you look like a herb, a ham and egger for a taking a tag on a fresh clean wall of someones new house.
Without rules there is no order. Anarchy doesn't work. You'll be slaughtered. Trust me, I should know. I was on my neighbourhoods Most Wanted Vandals list for a while. It was heated.
Graffiti in Brooklyn on Flickr