Art Crimes: Philly Wickeds

Thanks to, District of Damage, writers and and anonymous contributors for allowing us to republish their photos. Thanks also to Animal for bugging us to do this article, finally, on one of graffiti's most distinctive local styles. If any flix are from other sites, or if you want to correct some info or send us your wicked photo, please email Susan.

Don't try this at home. Wickeds are an aerobatic Philadelphia phenomenon, so we went to our favorite Philly expert for an explanation: Buford Youthward. This is what he said:

Wicked Ways

Attention. Beware. This is the graffiti your mother warned you about. This is the graffiti that hides in alleyways, sneaks up on citizens, screams from behind dark corners, lies in the shadow faking possum-like. This is the stuff graffiti abatement programs have wet dreams about.

Wickeds (or "Wickets") are true DNA. Those that know Wickeds well, easily can spot out and decipher the handiwork of fellow suspects and culprits. "Wicked" is one of those words that acts both as an adjective and a noun. In fact, the origins of the word in its noun form evolved from its descriptive nature. In short, these are the exaggerated, cryptic, often elongated versions of the graffiti writer's tag.

Historically, the Wicked is a phenomenon of Philadelphia. Well versed in the "print" style of tags, the Philadelphia graffiti writer developed this radical style in the early-to-mid 1970s, probably in the interest of oneupmanship. It was a full-blown, mature style by the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Wickeds showcase the basic elements of hand and can. It's a marriage between technique and emotion. Wickeds require the adept skill and understanding of paint, caps, wind and surface. They also need to feed off of an energy (usually of the nervous, anxious nature). Some Wickeds laugh out loud, some explode, implode, some fade at the top, some at the bottom (in fact some writers even refer to Wickeds as Top-to-Bottoms). Others stab you in the back, spit in your face, loot the environment and have the capacity to make toxic waste look like Better Homes and Gardens' centerfolds.

Wickeds are like electric whipped barbed wire streaks. Some are closed with happy smiley faces, some with evil faces and some with cannibalistic masks. Ironically, some are closed with the traditional peace sign. What precedes this gesture is far from peaceful. The preceding is violent, razor-ribbon-lined cries of war. Wars within, wars without.

Most graffiti curators and so-called connoisseurs would argue that Wickeds give graffiti a bad name. That the validity in graffiti lies in its more artistic counterparts. This is the criticism of sheep. This is an argument against individualism; true spirit is not captured in 30-can orgies (on legal walls no less). Truth is in the hands of the fast-paced, anxious heart of the individual with few means, but with lots of cunning and desire. The Wicked should be the graffiti of the future and the writer that can conduct successive, successful executions of a variety of Wicked styles should be held in utmost awe.

phillywicked34x.jpg Kad & Boza
phillywicked39x.jpg Caem.KMD with KG.WP
phillywicked40x.jpg Rakan.KMD
phillywicked41x.jpg Curve
phillywicked43x.jpg  "Pekaske" by Peka.ESC
tone_wickx.jpg Tone
naw_westphilly.jpg Naw (* not Naw.UTS)
hw-psn-pasanx.jpg Pasan (PSN)

Byline by Buford Youthward | Graffiti Glossary | Interviews, Articles and Research

Art Crimes Front Page