Graffiti Q & A
© 1994 Susan Farrell & Art Crimes firstname.lastname@example.org -- en Español
Why is this called "graffiti" when that other, stupid stuff is also called graffiti...you know, the bathroom wall sayings and things?
Schmoo: Graffiti, to me, is writing on the wall. I trace what writers do today back to the Roman Empire, where the name graffiti first got applied to writing on a wall.
John: Here in Brazil, there is a special word for plain writing on the wall ("pichao"--untranslatable, but maybe "wall scribble" will do). Also we do a lot of figurative painting without words at all, which some have called "graffiti-murals." In general, any wall-painting done with little or no support, not vinculated to an institution, illegal or not, gets called a "graffiti." As the activity has expanded, new forms get lumped under the same word. Doesn't seem to be much point anymore in insisting on a definition. There're just too many possibilities. If a guy paints the same thing in the same place, for pay, that he would have done for free, should it get another name? What should one call a very poetic, or philosophic, statement written on the bathroom door? Isn't there a Bible story about some dude (Nebuchadnezzar?) reading the "writing on the wall?" [susan: It supposedly said: mene, mene, tekel upharsin -- measured, measured and found wanting] Graffiti? Hell, he got it into the Bible! Who knows what primitive graffitnik didn't get supper because he drew a lopsided bison in the family cave?
SaGe: All forms of public writing iz graffiti. Tha "art" iz actually a in result from bathroom writing (which nearly all writers know iz where they first started.....Tha bathroom wall).
What is a "toy"?
Schmoo: A novice, or unskilled writer. Anymore it's someone you don't like, also.
Kairos: A toy is, according to Subway Art , an inexperienced writer. It is usually used to describe a writer who does not have a genuine interest in the art. Defining "genuine interest" is not easy, but someone who is "really" into the art will take the time to learn not only the ethics of graffiti but also the skills involved. Graffiti is an art, and just like any other art, it requires tons of practice and work.
What is a "burner"?
Schmoo: Originally referring to trains, a burner was a well-executed piece, on a train. Today I hear it used in reference to any nice piece.
Kairos: Just what the name implies. Usually this refers to pieces whose colors leak emotion and vibes, but it is important to note even a piece in two colors can burn if the colors are used skillfully.
What is a "crew"?
Schmoo: A group of writers that feel some sort of cohesion. The people you get up with. Something like a club of writers. In its original form it was the the writers that got up together. Anymore with crews that have members across the country or even world, your crew has become your status symbol as much as anything else.
Kairos: In its most literal sense, it is a group of people who like to go writing together. While a writer can be "down" with many crews, they usually only explicitly write with a very select few. Crews are often composed of people who have a great deal of mutual respect and trust in one another and work towards some common goal. The benefits of a crew are clear: protection, the pooling of ideas and supplies, and an identity. Crews are often national or international and as a result they can become a status symbol. Crews like TWK, CBS, FC, and so forth, are all pretty well known in the graffiti underground, and writers who are down with them get a lot of respect and props.
Celtic: A crew is supposed to be a group of people who are supposed to help each other out. I guess you could compare it to a club where the members are all supposed to respect and share secrets etc. with the other members -- of course it doesn't always work like that.
Why are painters called "writers"?
Schmoo: Not all graffiti is done with paint. In the early years, especially, graffiti was done with all kinds of things: Pilot Markers, home made markers, mean streaks, etc. At its roots, modern graffiti is still about words and writing words on surfaces. Therefore, all graffiti writers are just that, writers. Not all writers are artists or painters, that's why we call ourselves writers.
Kairos: Because that's what we do. The term "painter", by the way, is also fairly common. Any word that describes the activity is appropriate, "writer" just happens to be one of the most common and most logical.
For more on terms and language, see the graffiti glossary
Who is doing this graffiti?
Schmoo: All kinds of people are doing it. It's always been that way. There is no race that does it more than another, no age group can really be credited with graf, and no socio-economic group is responsible, either. Graffiti is one of the few movements that I have been involved in that includes people from all backgrounds, with one goal in mind...Getting Up!
Do women paint graffiti too?
Schmoo: Definitely. There have been prolific female writers throughout modern graffiti history, but not very many of them---come on women, express yourselves.
Kairos: Yes, but they are admittedly rare. While there is no consensus on why women do not play a larger role in the graffiti underground, the most accepted explanation is the "danger factor": graffiti often involves going into delapidated parts of the city at 3 or 4 in the morning. Also, many female potential writers are scared away by the idea that most graffiti is done by gangs and other misconceptions that lead them to believe that the culture as a whole is a dangerous. (ha!)
Celtic: There are a number of women writers that I know personally and I'm sure that there are many I have never met. So basically there are enough in my city.
SaGe: Hells yeah. They's got pretty flava in their pieces (you know a piece iz dun by a girl when tha piece iz all pink with hearts an' all luvey lookin') ....Much skillz ta LADY PINK!!!
Do younger graffiti writers' parents know what they're doing?
Schmoo: In my case they didn't and don't know everything about what I do. I have shown them legal pieces that I have done, and illegal things my friends have done. I can't imagine that they don't know about it, but I don't think they want to talk about it. Style Wars shows good examples of both types of writers, those who tell their parents everything, and those who don't.
Why are some of the graffiti paintings in Europe written in English? Is it an American invasion?
Schmoo: A lot of the original NYC subway writers got to go over to Europe early in modern graffiti's inception. They took the established styles to Europe, which included the use of English words. Modern graffiti comes from America, so naturally if someone is going to start doing an American art form, they are going to take a lot from what has already been done, which includes the use of English words.
Why are so many of the faces so unhappy looking?
Schmoo: Most graffiti is done in the city. The city isn't the happiest environment for an artist, especially if you have to sneak around to express yourself and face fines and jail time for doing it.
Celtic: It really is up to the artist who is doing the character at that time. See if a writer is mad at something or happy for some reason chances are it will come out in his art.
What is the deal with all the big words?
Schmoo: This gets tied back to our influences. Graf as we know it today started by writing your name. As competition started getting fierce in New York back in the early 70s a need to make your name bigger and bolder emerged. Once everyone figured out that anyone could make their name big, style started taking over. Another influence on graf, because it's in the city, is billboards and store fronts. In many ways graffiti is just like advertising, and what do you see in advertising?...big words. An even earlier influence is that of illuminated manuscripts. The most prominent feature of those works are the biggest and most detailed letters.
Celtic: It happens because if someone does a nice piece that says say "arc" someone else is going to want to show him or her up by doing a piece that says "revoloution" or something like that. It's like I can do it bigger and therefore better than you.
There's this big mural thing on the wall by my house. Is that graffiti? I don't think it was done illegally...What makes a piece graffiti? Style? Who did it? Legality? Technique? Placement? Content?
Schmoo: I don't personally consider legal murals pieces of graffiti. Legality becomes an issue here for me. But I do consider legal yards places where graffiti exists. Style doesn't necesarily mean that something is or isn't graf. There are many writers who draw from all different styles of art in their pieces on walls, who still write graf.
Celtic: Can't say. If a writer thinks it's graf then it's graf. Like to me a picture done in spray paint of say Andy Warhol isn't graffiti. I don't think I could really describe what makes something graffiti but it just has to have that flavor. I could tell you in a second if something is graffiti or not, no problem.
Cabal: I wouldn't call it graffiti, but I would rather see things like seascapes or paintings of famous people, than have to look at a bare brick wall.
Is graffiti really illegal?
Schmoo: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. There are many legal yards in all major cities. Some cities tolerate it more than others.
Kairos: By and large, yes. In the United States, graffiti is an illegal act but there are still "legal walls" -- places where writers can go to do murals without fear of being arrested. The limited number of legal walls leads to writers constantly having to go over one another for space. This drives the better writers away because they do not want to see their time-consuming works trashed in only a matter of days.
Laws vary in other countries. In general, it is illegal most everywhere, although in Australia, graffiti is seen as a sport, of sorts, and there are competitions sponsored by big-name companies. Please note that without the permission of the wall's owner, it is illegal in Australia as well.
Celtic: Yeah very illegal in most places, heavy fines, jail time etc... Especially in major cities that think they have a graffiti problem.
Why do officials paint over graffiti when all that does is make the wall clean and ready for more? Isn't this an enormous waste of time and money?
Schmoo: This is a question that needs to be asked of the officials. To a graffiti writer, a blank wall in the city represents many more bad things than any writing on it could. Blank walls are ugly and repressive. I think this is one of the reasons that graffiti is so much more prevalant in the inner city than in the suburbs or rural areas.
Kairos: It depends. If the painting over is done repeatedly and only a day or two after the graffiti went up, it tends to drive writers away. Writers would rather have a spot that has a good payback for their risk, money and time. On the other hand, if the painting over is sporadic and spaced-out, writers will not be deterred.
Celtic: They do it so as to keep the public happy. Many mayors think that by doing this they are cleaning up the town. Looks real good on TV to see a truck painting over graffiti but its just a PR stunt. The streets aren't any safer because the walls are clean, it just looks that way.
Isn't all that name writing in my neighborhood gang turf markings?
Schmoo: Anymore, I would say that very little of it is.
Kairos: No. While graffiti crews could be considered gangs, they are not the kind that sell crack to 8-year olds and walk around with uzis. In large cities there is probably a fair amount (maybe 10%) of "graffiti" that is done by gangs, but it is very different in style (i.e., it has none) and in message from the graffiti we speak of here. Gang graffiti is usually done in poorer taste, and done strictly for marking terrain.
Celtic: You just hit on probably the number one misconception.
I like the art, but why do graffiti writers tag things all over town? Why don't they just quit doing that since police and property owners hate it so much?
Schmoo: Many people have the urge to write their names places to commemorate being there. People don't get upset when they hear stories of "Kilroy was Here" or kids scratching in Janet + Joe on a tree. But somehow when writing gets associated with the city, and kids from all races and backgrounds get together to express themselves in some rebellious way right in the face of everyone, it gets associated with evil. Then officials feel the need to go over graffiti with plain flat paint. The thing that they don't understand is that they are expressing themselves just as much as we are when we put our name or crew up. Unfortunately they don't have the creativity that we do.
Celtic: We do it to so we can get respect from other graf writers. Usually it's the newer writers who tag all over. This is because they only know how to write up and they are still learning how to write with skills -- it just takes a while for the kids to learn, that's all.
Why are they putting such good art on walls? Why don't they paint on canvas like other painters? If I brought them canvas, would they paint on it?
Schmoo: Graffiti is meant to be a public display. When it is illegal it is a political statement, whether the kid knows it who's doing it or not. I only do canvases for people who ask me to and for friends. Graffiti has been put on canvas for years, since the 70s.
Celtic: We put it on the walls so we can see it all the time, on our way to a friend's house or school, whatever. I know that there are many writers who would put it on canvas for you, just gots to provide the means.
How can graffiti artists stand to have their masterpieces painted over? Why do they paint over someone else?
Schmoo: When you become a writer, you know that your stuff won't last forever. It is just accepted that either society won't allow it, or other writers won't. Battling and competition have been a part of graf since its inception. The biggest part of graf is in the doing of it. The action of putting your expression on a wall for other people to see is what writing is all about. On the same note, graffiti is a temporary art form, like improvisational theatre. You take pictures of your pieces to remember them, and share them with other writers, but you know that your piece soon will be gone.
Kairos: It is an unfortunate fact of life. It is tolerated because there is no choice but to tolerate it. Thankfully, most artists take pictures of their finer works, so they are gone but not lost forever. There are many reasons writers paint over each other, with varying levels of legitimacy. In short, ideally this should never happen, but the world is far from ideal. In general, writers go over other writers because of an ongoing feud, either between writers or between rivaling crews. Most "serious" writers see this as childish and make many efforts to distance themselves and their work from this self-defeating activity. Other common reasons are far less idiotic; sometimes the original artist feels that the work is embarrassing and detrimental to his image, or often there just isn't enough space on a highly visible or very popular wall.
Celtic: WE HATE IT SO MUCH. So much trouble happens or has the propensity to happen if someone paints over another person. People have been beat up, beaten with bats, had houses broken into, gotten hit by cars, well you get the idea. Writers hate getting written over -- it's the worst thing to have someone write over you -- it means they didn't respect your art. I'd say writing over someone else is the biggest cause of conflict in the graffiti community.
Would anybody still do graffiti if it were legalized, or if special legal walls were given to the artists to paint on?
Schmoo: Legal yards are often the most active yards in cities. Many of the more serious writers end up taking all of their writing to the legal yards and walls.
Kairos: Most of the serious writers would love for graffiti to be legalized. However, since this is not going to happen it is basically a moot point. There are a fair number of legal walls and they are used to death, so it is quite clear that legalizing graffiti will not change much.
Celtic: Yeah, just cause its fun to do. Well I know I would at least.
Cabal:That is definitely a yes! It would make it so much less nerve racking, you wouldn't have to worry about the man then. (of course a little adrenaline rush now and then doesn't hurt) =:)
Susan: Plenty of "hard core" graffiti writers think that graffiti is illegal by definition. They are not interested in having their work sanctioned by society, particularly if that would lead to commercial exploitation of the art form. It is nonetheless true that some of the most detailed and intricate pieces are done on legal walls, where writers can work undisturbed.
This stuff is great! Why aren't they selling it?
Schmoo: A lot of writers wouldn't sell their work. You don't get into graffiti to make money, in fact you know you are going to lose money in the long run (through paint, supplies and fines). But some writers sell their stuff all of the time. It's just a matter of hooking up with a writer that will do it.
Kairos: They are, kind of : -) Most of the stuff that has really been commercialized is not very good, because many writers feel that it is a breach of integrity to do this sort of stuff for profit. In recent years the media has been making the graffiti culture more and more in vogue and there has been an inundation of wanna-be graffiti artists who are often no more than comic-book artists with spare time. Graffiti is a highly individualistic thing. Having 2 billion shirts that all look the same really does not reflect the vibe of the culture very well. It is also important to note that graffiti is a large-scale artform that often does not shrink well onto a small workspace like a T-shirt or poster.
Celtic: I'll sell it, I mean I went through plenty of hard times for it why shouldn't I get rewarded eventually?
Susan: Many writers do sign painting and airbrush work on the side. Also, many go on to be fine artists, graphic designers, cartoonists, tattoo artists, architects, art teachers, animators, and so forth. Writers have skills that translate well into any kind of drawing and design work. Plenty have done canvases, prints, and sculpures and had art shows, all over the world.
How could I buy some if I wanted to?
Schmoo: Talk to me and my crew! : )
Kairos: Try skate shops (places where skateboarders get their equipment) or hip-hop stores. Be forewarned that it may not be very good.
Celtic: Just ask someone in the graffiti life. They had better be able to put you in touch with someone or they aren't worth much at all.
Do they paint in the dark?
Schmoo: Sometimes a certain piece requires the cover of darkness, but there are plenty of pieces done during the daylight hours.
Kairos: Most artists must paint in the "dark" to avoid being seen. However, there are exceptions. Some spots like underpasses are too dark at night, and then artists usually wait until just before dawn so they can see to do detail work later on in the piece.
Celtic: Its usually not that dark just because of streetlights or whatever else. If you live in the city you know it never really gets super dark.
Is it all done with spray paint?
Schmoo: Markers and enamel paint are used. Rollered throw-ups aren't uncommon. But tradition is a big part of graffiti. If you don't respect the roots of graffiti you are looked down upon. I think that's why the spray can has remained the tool to use in writing.
Kairos: In general, yes. There are artists who combine paint markers and brushes, but with very few exceptions it is all done with spray paint.
How do they do that with spray paint?
Schmoo: Practice, more than anything else, practice. There are specialized tips to put on the cans for wide or narrow spray that help. Writers get to know the brands of spray paint very well, which helps them determine what kind will work better in different situations.
Kairos: That is probably the single most important question : -) There is no definitive answer here; in essence, it is a combination of experience, tools and skill. Most artists have a large array of nozzles to use which give a wide variety of different line widths at an assortment of paint pressures. Acquiring these nozzles is a long and arduous task and is an art in itself. (No self-respecting artist would ever use the disgusting "black death" nozzle that comes native to a standard Krylon can!) Beyond that, acquiring long-since-discontinued colors and mixing colors are all tangible techniques artists use to differentiate themselves from the casual "wanna-be-hardcore" tagbangers who run rampant through the city streets. Like any art, there is no substitute for experience.. spray-painting takes incredibly good hand-eye coordination and fast decision making; one delay can cause a drip that can screw up hours of hard work.
Celtic: It's a secret. ; )
What about paint fumes? Is that why they work outdooors?
Schmoo: Many writers wear masks when they paint indoors.
Kairos: Paint fumes are always a problem. While I don't know of any major studies that have been done linking paint fumes to any serious illnesses, it is obvious that anything breathed repeatedly into the lungs, especially paint particles, should be avoided. Most artists do not spend enough time around paint for prolonged periods of time for this to really be a problem, but in situations where it is, most that I know wear masks (which can be purchased at most any hardware store). It is important to note that a lot of artists work indoors (either in their basements or inside abandoned buildings), but since it is unseen it is also unknown.
Celtic: We work outdoors because more people will see our stuff outdoors than inside. Also it would be a lot harder to sneak inside somplace to paint it. The paint fumes... well it's not uncommon to be sneezing purple (or whatever color) after really painting up an underground train stop.
Susan: And funny noses isn't all you can get from paint fumes. It's BRAIN DAMAGE you have to worry about. Respiratory conditions are also common among spraypaint artists of all kinds. Paint is often made of toxic or poisonous ingredients like heavy metals and dangerous solvents. Smart writers wear masks.
Do they use stencils?
Schmoo: This would be about the worst thing one could do. Once again tradition plays a big part in graffiti. Although one could get perfectly straight lines using a stencil, that writer would never gain any respect from the community as a whole for using one.
Kairos: In general, no. Stencils in graffiti art are analogous to tracing paper in pad+pen art, that is, if the artist is not good enough to make it on his own then he should practice some more before trying to impress. However, some artists certainly do use some aids like tape to keep lines neat and tight (I might add that I see this as a cop-out).
Celtic: Stencils are bad. If someone gets caught using stencils and it gets around, that writer loses a lot of respect in the graf community. It's like cheating.
How big are the paintings?
Schmoo: Most pieces are probably between 6 and 15 feet wide and as tall as the writer can reach or as the wall allows. Ladders are used on bigger pieces, which are as big as any mural that has been done.
Kairos: It varies. Usually about as big as space and time permits : -) Most pieces will range in size from around 10 x 10 feet to 60 x 60 feet. Larger pieces tend to be commissioned by the city.
How much paint does it take to do a big piece?
Schmoo: For a big piece, it can take 20-30 cans of spray paint. Supposedly it takes about 30 cans to do a top-to-bottom whole car on a New York subway line.
Kairos: Well, it really depends on what kind of piece is being done. Think of it this way: how many pieces of wood does it take to make a big chair? It depends how ornate its design is, how many possibilities there are for mistakes, the conditions when making it, and the tools available to the creator. In general, a standard piece (about 15 x 8 feet) will take 15-20 colors, so artists must get at least that many cans of paint, whether or not they're all used up when done. Also, basic colors like black and white tend to run out quickly, so most artists will bring 3-4 cans of each.
How much time does it take to do a big piece?
Schmoo: Some of the larger pieces that are done take days to complete. If it is an illegal piece that means sneaking back to the same spot night after night, which adds even more danger of being caught. On the other hand, I have been with writers who can bomb a wild style in about 20 minutes to a half-hour. Many large pieces take hours. Throw-ups take minutes, tags take seconds.
Kairos: Once again, it depends on the situation. In general, somewhere between 5-10 hours, although it's not rare for it to take days (nights) of work.
Celtic: Well a normal piece can be done by one person with a little help in about 3 hours. Most of the big pieces are done by more than one person, so it's a combined effort that cuts down on time.
Do graffiti artists paint alone or in groups?
Schmoo: It depends. Most of the time you paint with one person or a couple of people, when bombing. The more people you bring, the more likely it is that someone will get caught.
Kairos: Often, artists who are going to piece bring 1-3 people with them to keep them company and paint as well. Sometimes the other people will be brought along just to watch out for law enforcement or gang activity.
Celtic: Most writers go with one or 2 trusted people to help look out or fill in the piece. The biggest group I've ever painted with was about 8 people. I've also painted by myself but it's real nerve-wracking.
How do you join a crew? Is it a secret club with a special initiation?
Kairos: That is a complex and varied question. In short: yes, most crews are secret clubs; no, they do not have special initiations. Usually an artist gets admitted to a crew through luck and skill... that is, if someone of influence in that crew really likes whatever a certain artist is doing and thinks that the artist would be good to have his crew connected with, he will put the artist "down" with his crew. Crews are kind of like rankings... the underground knows all about which crews run the best shit and tend to have the best artists, so it's almost like a degree for graffiti.
Cabal: I've seen a few crews that do use an initiation, but it's usually nothing more than doing a good piece in a sketchy area (i.e., somewhere open or where you have to work to get to the spot).
How do big crews know who's in them?
Schmoo: Some of the biggest crews probably don't know everyone who is in them. But graffiti writers have thousands of names, tags and crews names stored in their heads.
Kairos: Often they don't. This is not usually a problem though, big crews (in terms of number of members) often let just about anyone in and hence have a limited amount of respect in the culture as a whole.
Celtic: It's just like a club. There can be sub-leaders or whatever you want to call them that control certain sections or keep the crew tight.
Does the paint pollute the ground when it washes off?
Schmoo: It doesn't get washed off, it gets painted over.
Kairos: As far as I know, it does not. No major brand of paint is toxic to people or animals, and since there is usually rampant plant growth around "piecing galleries" it would lead me to the conclusion that it really doesn't bother our chlorophyll friends either : -)
Isn't it hard to carry all that paint around?
Schmoo: That's why writers wear such baggy clothes and carry backpacks.
Kairos: Sometimes, yes. Courier bags (the bags mailmen use) tend to hold about 15-20 cans seated vertically so they don't rattle. While it is uncomfortable to wear, it is necessary. For larger productions, an artist may only bring the colors necessary to complete a step and then bring the rest another day.
Why don't I see any in my city? Where is it?
Schmoo: If you want to see more of it, set up a legal yard in your city; plenty of writers will come by. You have to find writers and get them to trust you to find out where graffiti is in your town...it is almost guaranteed there is some, wherever you live.
Susan: Always look out the window when you're riding trains. Also, warehouse districts and abandoned buildings are graffiti zones. If you just can't find it, ask some kids.
Why don't you put up maps on how to get to these places so other people can see the art in person?
Schmoo: The cops would be some of the first people to find out about a spot, which of course would screw everything up.
What is hip-hop?
Schmoo: Hip-hop is a movement based around Rap music, breaking and graffiti. It was started in NYC in the early 70s. Each of the art forms has different roots, coming from different cultures. The culture still exists today, it's just not in the mass media like it was during the 80s.
Who are some hip-hop artists?
Schmoo: Rappers: Run-DMC, Ice Cube, Public Enemy, KRS-One (Boogie Down Productions). Crazy Legs is the most famous breaker of all time. Naming the most famous writers would be impossible.
Who is Vaughn Bode?
Susan: Vaughn Bode (written with a long mark over the "e" and pronounced "bodee") was a comix artist who became famous in the 1960s. He created "Deadbone," "Junkwaffel," and "Cheech Wizard". His characters often appear in graffiti art. Several collections of his are available from:
His estate has original works for sale too:
Bode is best known for his Dead End Kid mysticism, social satire, sexual humor, licentious lizards, and buxom "broads" (female characters). See the Vaughn Bode site. His son, Mark Bode still does the comix called "Cobalt 60" and will publish a graphic novel soon called "The Lizard of Oz", featuring Cheech Wizard. He also does tattoos.
Ubik One: Bode was the fuggin man. He was one of the earliest underground comic artists and his work was highly influential on the use of characters and character styles (such as Cheech Wizard). If u cant find his books and comics in comic / head shops call Fantagraphics for a catalog [or check out their WWW site]. They rereleased Cheech Wizard in 3 vols., also rereleased Junkwaffle and Deadbone (less "popular" but still dope), as well as collections of his early sketches, and some other stuff. They also carry a lot of other good collections like Robert Wilson, R. Crumb and the like.
What is Japanese anime?
Celtic: Real trippy cartoons! They are usually real dark or involve some kind of super fighting. The cartoons are real weird especially since I can't understand what they are saying and all I can ever figure out is what girl is with what guy and who is beating up who.
Susan: Check out this Anime FAQ to find out more. Writers sometimes borrow characters (this one's by Keen in Atlanta) from Japanese animation, also known as "anime", and "manga", which is a Japanese artform with roots in Ukiyo-e wood prints and other traditional art, whose characters and styles are often used in anime. You can find out more by reading the newsgroups rec.arts.anime and rec.arts.manga on USENet and by looking at the Anime and Manga Resources List.
Isn't this kind of like comic-book art?
Celtic: Except it's on the walls and involves letters and words much more than any comic book.
Susan: Well, sometimes, yes. Writers borrow from a lot of artistic traditions. Like hip-hop, graffiti art "samples" all kinds of images and brings them together in new ways. There are strong echoes of advertising styles, tattoo art, and many other genres in graffiti, as well.
What are illuminated manuscripts? Do graffiti artists really know about that stuff?
Schmoo: Living in Los Angeles, I've had the chance to see one of the best private collections of illuminated manuscripts at the Getty Museum. Not all graffiti writers know that kind of history, but if you showed it to them, they would be able to see the correlation.
Susan: I've seen a gallery-issued book on graffiti art, written by Delta and others in Amsterdam. Delta explains at length the relationship among letter styles in graffiti writing and those in ancient manuscripts. Here's an exerpt, on the letter "S". Unfortunately it is not available.
Isn't this something that started on the trains in New York?
Schmoo: Kind of, kind of not. The use of spray cans to make large pieces on the sides of subway cars led to what we have today, but the roots go back much farther to all kinds of street art and political scribbles from around the world.
Celtic: I think that modern "artistic" graf did start in New York. I don't think I'm just scrawling my name somewhere like a kid with a crayon.
Susan: Most graffiti historians agree that the modern spraypaint graffiti began in Philadelphia. It is also true that Los Angeles and Chicago had gang graffiti that dates back to the middle of the 1900s, which influenced some of the later development of styles in those cities. Ancient graffiti has been found in Roman catacombs and in the ruins of Pompeii. I saw my first graffiti in the early 1960s on water towers and the backs of turtles. Most graffiti older than 1970 consists of names and dates carved or painted on surfaces without attention to style. And of course, Kilroy was here.
When did all this start happening?
Schmoo: New York City graffiti as we know it today started in the early 70s by a kid who wrote Taki 183. His story has been documented in many different places.
Graffiti on the Internet
Why put graffiti on the Internet at all?
Celtic: So people can see it! If you say it's not useful or something, then at the moment most of the Internet would be objectionable to you.
Susan: Graffiti art is something lots of people around the world never see, while some of us get to see it all the time. I thought it would be interesting to show what I've seen and have others contribute their photos too. Now we can compare styles while we preserve great art. Every few days graffiti masterpieces disappear under a fresh coat of paint. If no one preserves them with photos, they are gone forever. If those photos never get shown, or they deteriorate over time, they aren't doing their job very well as a documentary record.
Graffiti is a natural for the Internet. On the net, information wants to be free; on the walls, graffiti wants to be free. Graffiti tries to reach as many people as possible, we're just helping it out a little.
How do graffiti writers feel about you putting pictures of their work up on the net? How could you ask their permission if they're so hard to find?
Celtic: We like it cause more people can see what we've been doing.
Susan: So far, no complaints. When we can ask permission, we do. If anyone asks to have their work removed from the gallery, we will. No one is trying to capitalize on anyone else's art here, so we remain faithful to the graffiti philosophy that art can be free for everyone to make and enjoy.
Are there any books on graffiti? Videos?
Don't people steal the pictures from the WWW gallery? / Can I have some pictures?
Susan: The images in Art Crimes are free for your enjoyment, but you can't use them for commercial purposes. If you want to reprint something for any reason, or you're not sure if you need permission or not, please check with me or Brett first.
DESIGN NECK/CNS 4.97