History of Graffiti
From the British Council webite "The History of Graffiti" The first drawings on walls appeared in caves thousands of years ago. Later the Ancient Romans and Greeks wrote their names and protest poems on buildings. Modern graffiti seems to have appeared in Philadelphia in the early 1960s, and by the late sixties it had reached New York. The new art form really took off in the 1970s, when people began writing their names, or ‘tags’, on buildings all over the city. In the mid seventies it was sometimes hard to see out of a subway car window, because the trains were completely covered in spray paintings known as ‘masterpieces’.
In the early days, the ‘taggers’ were part of street gangs who were concerned with marking their territory. They worked in groups called ‘crews’, and called what they did ‘writing’ – the term ‘graffiti’ was first used by The New York Times and the novelist Norman Mailer. Art galleries in New York began buying graffiti in the early seventies. But at the same time that it began to be regarded as an art form, John Lindsay, the then mayor of New York, declared the first war on graffiti. By the 1980s it became much harder to write on subway trains without being caught, and instead many of the more established graffiti artists began using roofs of buildings or canvases.
The debate over whether graffiti is art or vandalism is still going on. Peter Vallone, a New York city councillor, thinks that graffiti done with permission can be art, but if it is on someone else’s property it becomes a crime. ‘I have a message for the graffiti vandals out there,’ he said recently. ‘Your freedom of expression ends where my property begins.’ On the other hand, Felix, a member of the Berlin-based group Reclaim Your City, says that artists are reclaiming cities for the public from advertisers, and that graffiti represents freedom and makes cities more vibrant.
For decades graffiti has been a springboard to international fame for a few. Jean-Michel Basquiat began spraying on the street in the 1970s before becoming a respected artist in the ’80s. The Frenchman Blek le Rat and the British artist Banksy have achieved international fame by producing complex works with stencils, often making political or humorous points. Works by Banksy have been sold for over £100,000. Graffiti is now sometimes big business.
More Graffiti History
Excerpts from THE VINTAGE NEWS
"The history of graffiti from ancient times to modern days. The word graffiti comes from the Italian language and it is the plural of the word “graffito.” ... The earliest graffiti was created prior to written language and the
first drawings on walls appeared in caves thousands of years ago. “Cueva de las Manos” (The Cave of Hands), located in Santa Cruz, Argentina, offers one of
the first fascinating ancient graffiti. Some of these 'paintings' date from 13,000
to 9,000 BCE...In the ancient Greek city of Ephesus (located in modern day Turkey) the first known example of “modern style” graffiti can be found. It includes the drawing of a foot, a hand, a heart, and a number and local guides say it is an advertisement for prostitution..."
Excerpts from PBS NEWS HOUR
"Since its explosion onto city walls and subway cars in the 1970s, the increasing popularity of graffiti as an art form has won commercial success for its artists and a regular presence in pop culture and the contemporary art world.
A new book, ‘The History of American Graffiti,’ comprehensively documents the evolution of this often controversial art movement across the United States. As kids, authors Roger Gastman and Caleb Neelon tagged city walls...
Today, Gastman is a gatekeeper between the underground artists who work on the street and the mainstream world of galleries; Neelon, a Harvard grad, is a graffiti artist and educator. For “The History of American Graffiti,” they tracked down thousands of photographs, from freight trains to city streets, and conducted hundreds of interviews with graffiti artists, ranging from pioneers to the biggest stars. Young people were the key players in shaping the contemporary graffiti movement, says Neelon. The first modern graffiti writer is widely considered to be Cornbread, a high school student from Philadelphia, who in 1967 started tagging city walls to get the attention of a girl. But it was only in the 1980s that galleries began to showcase graffiti as artwork..."