(Beginning in 1970s)
GRAFFITY is a type of deliberate marking on property, both private and public. It can take the form of pictures, drawings, words, or any decorations inscribed on any surface usually outside walls and sidewalks. When done without the property owner’s consent, it constitutes illegal vandalism.
Graffiti has existed at least since the days of ancient civilizations. Graffiti originally was the term used for inscriptions, figure drawings, etc., found on the walls of ancient sepulchers or ruins, as in the Catacombs, or at Pompeii.
In the modern era, in early 1970s young New Yorkers, belonging to the black and Puerto Rican communities, started to adopt tags – signatures and signs made with aerosol sprays and markers in public places. Tags started to cover the city’s walls, buses and, above all, subway trains, with spectacular “whole car” works covering entire trains. Tags, like screen names, are sometimes chosen to reflect some qualities of the writer. Some tags also contain subtle and often cryptic messages.
The first modern identified tagger in New York was Taki. The Greek-American artist signed himself Taki 183 (probably the number of his apartment block). At the same time the “grafs” also made their appearance. These were real urban frescoes painted with spray-paint. Futura 2000, Dust and Pink all earned recognition and fame, although their celebrity was limited to the hip-hop culture and its circles.
Basquiat and Haring also started to work in the street and the subway, but the renown and repute of their work would very swiftly spread beyond the works of graffiti. Their works won instant critical acclaim and attracted the attention of influential art dealers. In no time they were in great demand. Their art was one of the rare forms to circulate freely through all social strata and attract enthusiasm from all sorts of people who were usually marked more by the abysses between them.
The difference between tagging and graffiti is arguable, but some say it’s a clear one: tagging is gang-motivated and/or meant as vandalism (illegal) or viewed as too vulgar or controversial to have public value; while graffiti can be viewed as creative expression, whether charged with political meaning or not.