Graffiti was used primarily by political activists to make statements and street gangs to mark territory
Graffiti was used primarily by political activists to make statements and street gangs tomark territory. Though graffiti movements such as the Cholos of Los Angeles in the1930s and the hobo signatures on freight trains predate the New York School, it wasnttill the late 1960s that writings current identity started to form.The history of the underground art movement known by many names, most commonlytermed graffiti begins in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the mid to late 60s and isrooted in bombing. (writing as much as possible)The writers who are credited with thefirst conscious bombing effort are CORNBREAD and COOL EARL. They wrote theirnames all over the city gaining attention from the community and local press. It is unclearwhether this concept made its way to New York City via deliberate efforts or if was aspontaneous occurrence.PIONEERING 1971-74Shortly after CORNBREAD, the Washington Heights section of Manhattan was givingbirth to writers. In 1971 The New York Times published an article on one of these writers.TAKI 183 was the alias of a kid from Washington Heights. TAKI was the nickname forhis given name Demetrius and 183 was the number of the street where he lived. He wasemployed as a foot messenger, so he was on the subway frequently and took advantage ofit, doing motion tags. The appearance of this unusual name and numeral sparked publiccuriosity prompting the Times article. He was by no means the first writer or even thefirst king. He was however the first to be recognized outside the newly formedsubculture. Most widely credited, as being one of the first writers of significance isJULIO 204. FRANK 207 and JOE 136 were also early writers.On the streets of Brooklyn a movement was growing as well. Scores of writers wereactive. FRIENDLY FREDDIE was an early Brooklyn writer to gain fame. The subwaysystem proved to be a line of communication and a unifying element for all these separatemovements. People in all the five boroughs became aware of each others efforts. Thisestablished the foundation of inter-borough competition.Tag StyleAfter a while there were so many people writing so much that writers needed a new wayto gain fame. The first way was to make your tag unique. Many script and calligraphicstyles were developed. Writers enhanced their tags with flourishes, stars and otherdesigns. Some designs were strictly for visual appeal while others had meaning. Forinstance, crowns were used by writers who proclaimed themselves king. Probably themost famous tag in the cultures history was STAY HIGH 149. He used a smoking jointas the cross bar for his "H" and a stick figure from the television series The Saint.
Lay-upWriting started moving from the streets to the subways and quickly became competitive.At this point writing consisted of mostly tags and the goal was to have as many aspossible. Writers would ride the trains hitting as many subway cars as possible. It wasntlong before writers discovered that in a train yard or LAY-UP A single or double trackwhere trains are parked during off-peak hours.) they could hit many more subway cars inmuch less time and with less chance of getting caught. The concept and method ofbombing had been established.Tag ScaleThe next development was scale. Writers started to render their tags in larger scale. Thestandard nozzle width of a spray paint can is narrow so these larger tags while drawingmore attention than a standard tag, did not have much visual weight. Writers began toincrease the thickness of the letters and would also outline them with an additional color.Writers discovered that caps from other aerosol products could provide a larger width ofspray. This led to the development of the masterpiece. It is difficult to say who did thefirst masterpiece, but it is commonly credited to SUPER KOOL 223 of the Bronx andWAP of Brooklyn. The thicker letters provided the opportunity to further enhance thename. Writers decorated the interior of the letters with what are termed "designs." Firstwith simple polka dots, later with crosshatches, stars, checkerboards. Designs werelimited only by an artists imagination.Competitive developmentThe competitive atmosphere led to the development of actual styles, which would departfrom the tag styled pieces. These letters would evolve in to block letters, leaning letters,and blockbusters. PHASE 2 later developed Softie letters, more commonly referred to asBubble letters. Bubble letters and Broadway style were the earliest forms of actual piecesand therefore the foundation of many styles. Soon arrows, curls, connections and twistsadorned letters. These additions became increasing complex and would become the basisfor Mechanical or Wild style lettering.This early period of creativity did not go unrecognized. Hugo Martinez, a sociologymajor at City College in New York took notice of the legitimate artistic potential of thisgeneration. Martinez went on to found United Graffiti Artists. UGA selected top subwayartists from all around the city and presented their work in the formal context of an art
gallery. UGA provided opportunities once inaccessible to these artists. The Razor Gallerywas a successful effort of Mr. Martinez and the artists he representedTHE PEAK 75-77For the most part innovation in writing hit a plateau after 1974. All the standards hadbeen set and a new school was about to reap the benefits of the artistic foundationsestablished by prior generations and a city in the midst of a fiscal crisis. New York Citywas broke and therefore the transit system was poorly maintained. This led to theheaviest bombing in history.At this time bombing and style began to further distinguish themselves. Whole carsbecame a standard practice rather than an event, and the definitive form of bombingbecame the throw up. The throw up is a piecing style derived from the bubble letter. Thethrow up is hastily rendered piece consisting of a simple outline and is barely filled in.That is what you see mostly around the city.Female writersFemales to gain attention during the early 1970s were writers like Brooklyns COWBOY.GRAPE and CHARMINE were also early female writers. Probably the most prolific ofthe time period were Manhattans BARBARA 62 and EVA 62. These women hit streets,public parks and subway stations with as much vigor as their male counter parts. KIVU,POONIE 1 and SUKI were also active around this time.In aerosol art culture women face many obstacles not encountered by men. The late hoursand desolate locations in which most writing is done can be particularly dangerous forwomen. As with many male-dominated fields the social atmosphere can be extremelyharsh. Female writers are often subjected to all kinds of harassment. They are frequentlythe subjects of rumors such as "She sleeps around to get style." or "Her boyfriend writesfor her". In general women have to struggle for respect for their accomplishments.Another barrier frequently encountered was possessive boyfriends who discouragedparticipation in a male-dominated field.In 1979 PINK also known as LADY PINK came into prominence. She would become themost enduring and accomplished female figure in the history of writing to date. Since thattime PINK has been an ever-present creative force in aerosol art.SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST 1982-1985During the early to mid 1980s the writing culture deteriorated dramatically due to severalfactors. Some related directly to the graffiti culture itself and others to the greater society
in general. The crack cocaine epidemic was taking its toll on the inner city. Due to thedrug trade powerful firearms were readily available. The climate on the street becameincreasingly tense. Laws restricting the sale of paint to minors and requiring merchants toplace spray paint in locked cages made shoplifting more difficult. Legislation was in theworks to make penalties for graffiti more severe.The major change was the increase in the Metropolitan Transit Authoritys MTA anti-graffiti budget of $300,000, which equaled 80,000 hours of paid graffiti removal. Yardsand lay-ups were more closely guarded. Many favored painting areas became almostinaccessible. New more sophisticated fences were erected and were quickly repairedwhen damaged. Graffiti removal was stronger and more consistent than ever, making thelife span of many paintings months if not days. This frustrated many writers causing themto quit.Many others were not so easily discouraged, yet they were still affected. They perceivedthe new circumstances as a challenge; it reinforced their determination not to be defeatedby the MTA. Due to the lack or resources they became extremely territorial andaggressive, claiming ownership to yards and lay-ups. Claiming territory was nothing newin writing, but the difference at this time was that threats were enforced. If a writer wentto lay-up unarmed he could almost be guaranteed to be beaten and robbed of his paintingsupplies.At this point, physical strength and unity as in street gangs became a major part of thewriting experience. The One Tunnel and the Ghost yard were the back drops many forlegendary conflicts. In addition to the pressure from the MTA, cross out wars amongwriters broke outTHE DIE HARDS 1985-1989On certain subway lines graffiti removal significantly decreased because the carsservicing those lines were headed for the scrap yards. This provided a last shot forwriters.The last big surge on the 2 and 5 lines came from writers like WANE, WIPS, TKID,CAVS, and M KAY who hit the white 5s with burners (meaning a highly stylistic piecedone in bright colors). Marker tags that soaked through the paint often blemished theseburners. A trend had developed that was a definite step back for writing. Due to a lack ofpaint and courage to stay in a lay up for prolonged periods of time, many writers weretagging with markers on the outside of subway cars. These tags were generally poorartistic efforts. The days when writers took pride in their hand style (signature) were longgone. If it wasnt for the aforementioned writers and a few others, the art form in NewYork City could have officially been deemed dead.By mid 86 the MTA was gaining the upper hand. Many writers quit and the violencesubsided. Most lines were completely free of writing. The Ds, Bs, LLs, Js, Ms wereamong the last of the lines with running pieces. MAGOO, DOC TC5, DONDI, TRAK,
DOME and DC were all highly visible writers.Security was high and the Transit Polices new vandal squad was in full force. What wasleft was a handful of diehards. GHOST, SENTO, CAVS, KET, JA, VEN, REAS, SANE,SMITH were prominent figures and would keep transit writing alive.THE CLEAN TRAIN MOVEMENT 1989- presentOn May 12, 1989 the MTA declared a victory over graffiti. The MTA set in effect apolicy of removing all marked subway cars from service. The objective being no graffitiwill run. This was the birth of what is known as the Clean Train movement. There aremany writers who believe subway painting is the defining act in being a writer. Walls,freights, scraps, and canvas are for fake writers. These writers refuse to give up the battleagainst the MTA. Even though works do not run or only run for one trip many people stillwrite.Short list of clean train writers: COPE2, SENTO TFP, POEM, YES2FREIGHTS-The North American Movement*Hip Hop exploded in popularity the early 80s. Music videos featuring various aspects ofNYC street culture proved very appealing. Overnight every American teenager wanted tobe a New York City B Boy. MCs, breakers and writers were springing up all over theplace. Outside of New York City there arent many major urban transportation systems,but writers wanted to paint steel and have their name move. With accessibility andminimal security freight trains became a natural target. Currently writers from all over theUnited States and Canada bomb freight trains. The geographic roots of the freightmovement are difficult to pin point but are widely thought of as a West Coastphenomenon. Active NYC based freight writers are CAVS, SEIN 5, SENTO, CAVS,CASE2, ZEPHYR and MONETHE GLOBAL MOVEMENTDuring the early 80s American writers were touring European art galleries and Hip Hopwas gaining international popularity. European youth fell in love with New York Citystreet culture. Henry Chalfant and Martha Coopers book Subway Art and the films StyleWars by Tony Silver and Henry Chalfant and Wild Style by Charlie Ahearn became thefoundation for European ambition. The NYC culture was being mimicked and expandedupon. Henry Chalfant and James Prigoffs book Spray Can Art documented earlymovements across the globe. The book proved to be an additional catalyst for theexpansion of aerosol art world-wide.By the late 80s the European movement was long established and was in full force. Thesecond generation Europeans were forging friendships with their American idols. TheEuropeans thirsted to paint in the birthplace of the art. The Americans hosted
"Pilgrimages to Mecca". Many European writers bomb New York so effectively, thatpeople believe they are from New York.Many New York writers also went to Europe. Some European were so willing to cater toAmerican writers that they would provide airfare, accommodations, and paint. Thebragging rights for painting with an American were priceless. For some Americans goingto hit trains in Italy or Germany has become just like a trip form Brooklyn to the Bronx