Masood Ahmed, graffiti artist turned graphic designer, gave a lecture on the History of Graffiti, and its influence on his work as a graphic designer. He spoke of the natural progression from graffiti into graphic design, pointing out that graffiti is manipulation of letter-forms, and in graphic design, we call that typography.
Here are some of my notes! The beginning of graffiti started in “gang graffiti” in the late 1960’s as an early attempt of gang members to mark who owned which neighborhood. In the example below, the gang called the Savage Skulls marked neighborhoods in the Bronx:
Darryl McCray, referred to as “Cornbread”, is a graffiti artist from Philadelphia. Starting in 1967, he is regarded as “father of modern graffiti”. His first efforts in graffiti were based upon his love interest for a girl.
In the 1970’s graffiti was mostly found in Spanish Harlem in the form known as tagging, which was the simple mark of the person’s name and street number. However, the work of an artist named Warlock, shown below, was an early masterpiece that shocked the graffiti art movement because it moved from tagging into painting:
Warlock’s “piece” inspired many graffiti artists, who started to look for inspiration in letterforms in advertising, sample ads, etc. The piece below by Robin was done in 1973, and demonstrates the emergence of the first style in graffiti art known as Bubble Letters:
By 1982 graffiti art became more sophisticated with certain defined style. The most prolific genre became a complex style known as “Wildstyle”, involving interlocking letters and connecting points. These pieces are often harder to read by non-graffiti artists as the letters merge into one another in an often undecipherable manner:
In the 1990’s, a new style based on tatoos was created by an artist named Saber, who called the stylized graffiti style, LA Style or LA Latino:
Finally, putting graffiti art in context with today’s visual culture, an example of graffiti art merging with graphic design can be seen in wheat pasted posters known as street art, in the works of artists like Bansky and Shepard Fairey:
I’m curious to get your input:
What are your thoughts about graffiti and its role in today’s visual culture?
How has street art informed the art world?
Many graffiti artists call graffiti in commercial work as “selling out”, what do you think?