Tuesday, January 11, 2011
"Vice Pioneers" : Graffiti
World War II "Kilroy Was Here" Graffiti
Jean-Michel Basquiet: from SAMO to mainstream
Lee Quinones: NYC graffiti pioneer
Ephesus (modern-day Turkey): Prostitution mark is first known modern-style graffiti example
Graffiti is usually associated with hip hop subculture, b-boying, and law breaking, but behind it lies a history as in-depth and complex as any other artform. The artform dates back to ancient times and has produced superstars in the field. On top of that, it has had a huge impact on more mainstream genres of art--most notably music and has even permeated into fine art. Here is some info on the nonconforming artform that is graffiti:
Graffiti and graffito are from the Italian word graffiato ("scratched"). "Graffiti" is applied in art history to works of art produced by scratching a design into a surface. A related term is "graffito", which involves scratching through one layer of pigment to reveal another beneath it. This technique was primarily used by potters who would glaze their wares and then scratch a design into it. In ancient times graffiti was carved on walls with a sharp object, although sometimes chalk or coal were used. The word originates from Greek γράφειν — graphein — meaning "to write."
The term graffiti referred to the inscriptions, figure drawings, etc., found on the walls of ancient sepulchers or ruins, as in the Catacombs of Rome or at Pompeii. Usage of the word has evolved to include any graphics applied to surfaces in a manner that constitutes vandalism.
The earliest forms of graffiti date back to 30,000 BCE in the form of prehistoric cave paintings and pictographs using tools such as animal bones and pigments. These illustrations were often placed in ceremonial and sacred locations inside of the caves. The images drawn on the walls showed scenes of animal wildlife and hunting expeditions in most circumstances. This form of graffiti is subject to disagreement considering it is likely that members of prehistoric society endorsed the creation of these illustrations.
The only known source of the Safaitic language, a form of proto-Arabic, is from graffiti: inscriptions scratched on to the surface of rocks and boulders in the predominantly basalt desert of southern Syria, eastern Jordan and northern Saudi Arabia. Safaitic dates from the 1st century BCE to the 4th century CE.
The first known example of "modern style" graffiti survives in the ancient Greek city of Ephesus (in modern-day Turkey). Local guides say it is an advertisement for prostitution. Located near a mosaic and stone walkway, the graffiti shows a handprint that vaguely resembles a heart, along with a footprint and a number. This is believed to indicate that a brothel was nearby, with the handprint symbolizing payment.
The ancient Romans carved graffiti on walls and monuments, examples of which also survive in Egypt. Graffiti in the classical world had different connotations than it carries in today's society concerning content. Ancient graffiti displayed phrases of love declarations, political rhetoric, and simple words of thought compared to today's popular messages of social and political ideals. The eruption of Vesuvius preserved graffiti in Pompeii, including Latin curses, magic spells, declarations of love, alphabets, political slogans and famous literary quotes, providing insight into ancient Roman street life. One inscription gives the address of a woman named Novellia Primigenia of Nuceria, a prostitute, apparently of great beauty, whose services were much in demand. Another shows a phallus accompanied by the text, 'mansueta tene': "Handle with care".
Historic forms of graffiti have helped gain understanding into the lifestyles and languages of past cultures. Errors in spelling and grammar in this graffiti offer insight into the degree of literacy in Roman times and provide clues on the pronunciation of spoken Latin. Examples are CIL IV, 7838: Vettium Firmum / aed[ilem] quactiliar[ii] [sic] rog[ant]. Here, "qu" is pronounced "co." The 83 pieces of graffiti found at CIL IV, 4706-85 are evidence of the ability to read and write at levels of society where literacy might not be expected. The graffiti appear on a peristyle which was being remodeled at the time of the eruption of Vesuvius by the architect Crescens. The graffiti was left by both the foreman and his workers. The brothel at CIL VII, 12, 18-20 contains over 120 pieces of graffiti, some of which were the work of the prostitutes and their clients. The gladiatorial academy at CIL IV, 4397 was scrawled with graffiti left by the gladiator Celadus Crescens (Suspirium puellarum Celadus thraex: "Celadus the Thracian makes the girls sigh.")
It was not only the Greeks and Romans that produced graffiti: the Mayan site of Tikal in Guatemala also contains ancient examples. Viking graffiti survive in Rome and at Newgrange Mound in Ireland, and a Varangian scratched his name (Halvdan) in runes on a banister in the Hagia Sophia at Constantinople.These early forms of graffiti have contributed to the understanding of lifestyles and languages of past cultures.
Graffiti, known as Tacherons, were frequently scratched on Romanesque Scandinavian church walls.
When Renaissance artists such as Pinturicchio, Raphael, Michelangelo, Ghirlandaio or Filippino Lippi descended into the ruins of Nero's Domus Aurea, they carved or painted their names and returned with the grottesche style of decoration. There are also examples of graffiti occurring in American history, such as Signature Rock, a national landmark along the Oregon Trail.
Later, French soldiers carved their names on monuments during the Napoleonic campaign of Egypt in the 1790s. Lord Byron's survives on one of the columns of the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion in Attica, Greece.
Graffiti is often seen as having become intertwined with hip hop culture and the myriad international styles derived from New York City Subway graffiti. However, there are many other instances of notable graffiti this century. Graffiti has long appeared on railroad boxcars and subways. The one with the longest history, dating back to the 1920s and continuing into the present day, is Texino. During World War II and for decades after, the phrase "Kilroy was here" with accompanying illustration was widespread throughout the world, due to its use by American troops and its filtering into American popular culture. Shortly after the death of Charlie Parker (nicknamed "Yardbird" or "Bird"), graffiti began appearing around New York with the words "Bird Lives". The student protests and general strike of May 1968 saw Paris bedecked in revolutionary, anarchist, and situationist slogans such as L'ennui est contre-révolutionnaire ("Boredom is counterrevolutionary") expressed in painted graffiti, poster art, and stencil art. In the U.S. at the time other political phrases (such as "Free Huey" about Black Panther Huey Newton) became briefly popular as graffiti in limited areas, only to be forgotten. A popular graffito of the 1970s was the legend "Dick Nixon Before He Dicks You", reflecting the hostility of the youth culture to that U.S. president.
Rock and roll graffiti is a significant sub genre. A famous graffito of the 20th century was the inscription in the London subway reading "Clapton is God". The phrase was spray-painted by an admirer on a wall in an Islington Underground station in the autumn of 1967. The graffiti was captured in a photograph, in which a dog is urinating on the wall. Graffiti also became associated with the anti-establishment punk rock movement beginning in the 1970s. Bands such as Black Flag and Crass (and their followers) widely stenciled their names and logos, while many punk night clubs, squats and hangouts are famous for their graffiti. In the late 1980s the upside down Martini glass that was the tag for punk band Missing Foundation was the most ubiquitous graffito in lower Manhattan, and copied by hard core punk fans throughout the U.S. and West Germany.
Along similar lines was the legend "Frodo Lives", referring to the protagonist of The Lord of the Rings.
Spread of graffiti culture
In 1979, graffiti artist Lee Quinones and Fab 5 Freddy were given a gallery opening in Rome by art dealer Claudio Bruni. For many outside of New York, it was their first encounter with the art form. Fab 5 Freddy's friendship with Debbie Harry influenced Blondie's single "Rapture" (Chrysalis, 1981), the video of which featured Jean-Michel Basquiat of the SAMO© Graffiti, and offered many their first glimpse of a depiction of elements of graffiti in hip hop culture. More important here was Charlie Ahearn's independently released fiction film Wild Style (Wild Style, 1982), and the early PBS documentary Style Wars (1983). Hit songs such as "The Message" and "Planet Rock" and their accompanying music videos (both 1982) contributed to a growing interest outside New York in all aspects of hip hop. Style Wars depicted not only famous graffiti artists such as Skeme, Dondi, MinOne and Zephyr, but also reinforced graffiti's role within New York's emerging hip hop culture by incorporating famous early break dancing groups such as Rock Steady Crew into the film which also features a solely rap soundtrack. Style Wars is still recognized as the most prolific film representation of what was going on within the young hip hop culture of the early 1980s. Fab 5 Freddy and Futura 2000 took hip hop graffiti to Paris and London as part of the New York City Rap Tour in 1983. Hollywood also paid attention, consulting writers like PHASE 2 as it depicted the culture and gave it international exposure in movies like Beat Street (Orion, 1984).
This period also saw the emergence of the new stencil graffiti genre. Some of the first examples were created ca 1981 by graffiti artist Blek le Rat in Paris; by 1985 stencils had appeared in other cities including New York City, Sydney and Melbourne, where they were documented by American photographer Charles Gatewood and Australian photographer Rennie Ellis.
Commercialization and entrance into mainstream pop culture
With the popularity and legitimization of graffiti has come a level of commercialization. In 2001, computer giant IBM launched an advertising campaign in Chicago and San Francisco which involved people 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, and IBM was fined more than US$120,000 for punitive and clean-up costs.
In 2005, a similar ad campaign was launched by Sony and executed by TATS CRU in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Miami to market its handheld PSP gaming system. In this campaign, taking notice of the legal problems of the IBM campaign, Sony paid building owners for the rights to paint on their buildings "a collection of dizzy-eyed urban kids playing with the PSP as if it were a skateboard, a paddle or a rocking horse."
Along with the commercial growth has come the rise of video games also depicting graffiti, usually in a positive aspect – for example, the Jet Set Radio series (2000–2003) tells the story of a group of teens fighting the oppression of a totalitarian police force that attempts to limit the graffiti artists' freedom of speech. In plotlines mirroring the negative reaction of non-commercial artists to the commercialization of the artform by companies like IBM (and, later, Sony itself) the Rakugaki Ōkoku series (2003–2005) for Sony's PlayStation 2 revolves around an anonymous hero and his magically imbued-with-life graffiti creations as they struggle against an evil king who only allows art to be produced which can benefit him. Following the original roots of modern graffiti as a political force came another game title, Marc Eckō's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure (2006), featuring a story line involving fighting against a corrupt city and its oppression of free speech, as in the Jet Set Radio series.
Other games which feature graffiti include Bomb the World (2004), an online graffiti simulation created by graffiti artist Klark Kent where users can virtually paint trains at 20 locations worldwide, and Super Mario Sunshine (2002), in which the hero, Mario must clean the city of graffiti left by the villain, Bowser Jr. in a plotline which evokes the successes of the Anti-Graffiti Task Force of New York's Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (a manifestation of "broken window theory") or those of the "Graffiti Blasters" of Chicago's Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Numerous other non-graffiti-centric video games allow the player to produce graffiti (such as the Half-Life series, the Tony Hawk's series, The Urbz: Sims in the City, Rolling and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas). Counter-Strike which is a Half-Life mod allows user to create their own and tag in game. Many other titles contain in-game depictions of graffiti (such as The Darkness, Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone, NetHack, Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked, The World Ends With You, The Warriors, Just Cause, Portal, various examples of Virtual Graffiti, etc.). There also exist a host of games where the term "graffiti" is used as a synonym for "drawing" (such as Yahoo! Graffiti, Graffiti, etc.).
Marc Ecko, an urban clothing designer, has been an advocate of graffiti as an art form during this period, stating that "Graffiti is without question the most powerful art movement in recent history and has been a driving inspiration throughout my career."
Keith Haring was another well-known graffiti artist who brought Pop Art and graffiti to the commercial mainstream. In the 1980s, Haring opened his first Pop Shop: a store that offered everyone access to his works—which until then could only be found spray-painted on city walls. Pop Shop offered commodities like bags and t-shirts. Haring explained that, "The Pop Shop makes my work accessible. It's about participation on a big level, the point was that we didn't want to produce things that would cheapen the art. In other words, this was still art as statement".
Graffiti has become a common stepping stone for many members of both the art and design community in North America and abroad. Within the United States Graffiti Artists such as Mike Giant, Pursue, Rime, Noah and countless others have made careers in skateboard, apparel and shoe design for companies such as DC Shoes, Adidas, Rebel8 Osiris or Circa. Meanwhile there are many others such as DZINE, Daze, Blade, The Mac that have made the switch to gallery artists often times not even using their initial medium, spray paint.
But perhaps the greatest example of graffiti artists infiltrating mainstream pop culture is by the French crew, 123Klan. 123Klan founded as a graffiti crew in 1989 by Scien and Klor, have gradually turned their hands to illustration and design while still maintaining their graffiti practice and style. In doing so they have designed and produced, logos and illustrations, shoes, and fashion for the likes of Nike, Adidas, Lamborghini, Coca Cola, Stussy, Sony, Nasdaq and more.