How it started, how today it has become an accepted form of art.
The earliest forms of graffiti date back to the pre-historic era when written language was non-existent, and pictures were all that was available to tell tales.
Graffiti started simple and evolved over time. The earliest paints were made from chokeberries, grinded leaves, and animal waste to make natural colours. And those who did not have access to colours, expressed themselves by carving stones.
So, how did this popular phenomenon of the pre-historic era become an illegal form of art today?
The graffiti that we know today originated in and around the streets of New York City. Back in the early nineteen eighties, graffiti artists began to use stencils as an art medium. The stencils were scrawled on the sides of buildings and in the street to depict political messages, images of celebrities, and other street art pieces. As this form of public art became more popular, it was often discovered in public places such as subways, public bathrooms, and parking lots.
Some of the earliest manifestations of street art were the tats that began appearing on walls and train tracks. This was the work of groups called graffiti artists who often acted out as representatives of political parties or religious groups - others simply used it to express their love for another.
Around 1967, Darrel McCray, AKA Cornbread, began using ‘tagging’ to display his name around his neighbourhood in Philadelphia. McCray stated that he only started ‘tagging’ to impress the girl he loved. However, his taggings became far more popular than he ever imagined, and that by the 9070’s, Cornbread was known for tagging things unreachable to most people, like the personal jet owned by the Jackson 5.
While in the 90’s it was vandalism. Graffiti is praised today for its positive use as an effective form of social protest.
Recent graffiti has brought light to the fight against racism, exposed crooked politicians, raised awareness about countries living through wars, and, most importantly, educated the public on such topics.
England-based street artist Banksy uses graffiti to raise awareness about global issues while promoting activism. His bold and blunt approach to such matters creates discussion within the public. And with discussion comes change. With graffiti, he brought attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by showcasing more than 20 of his graffiti pieces in Palestine, resulting in an increase in tourism in Bethlehem. In addition, three of his pieces were auctioned in London, and the £2.2m proceeds went to a hospital in Bethlehem.
While Banksy used graffiti for activism and Cornbread used it as a rebellious act to seek attention. Jean-Michel Basquiat used it for both.
Jean-Michel Basquiat was a broke graffiti artist from New York city who evolved into a self-taught Neo-expressionist painter during the 80s. He started using tagging to share personal statements to catch the public’s attention. And used his paintings to celebrate black people and inspired other artists to fight racism using art.
So, who decides what is vandalism and what is art? To every one of us, art means something different. Art is abstract. Hence, to me, graffiti is art - an artform powerful enough to change minds and create change. And that is what the world needs and why graffiti will never die.
“After pop art, graffiti is probably the biggest art movement in recent history to have such an impact on culture.” - Jeffrey Deitch.