Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Graffiti Art

Graffiti is like a fast growing child. It was born some vague time in the 1960s, rising out of the urban population. It used to be a curse. Youth desecrating walls that were supposed to be blank. It was rebellion and lawlessness. Unruly youth tagged spaces with their names and thereby claimed them as their turf, their wild doodle space.

Graffiti was truly a product of the 1960s when youth felt under threat by war and the draft. Divisions of poverty and race fueled seductive outrage. They used to say they couldn't trust anyone over 30. Young people protested. Led by teenagers, the country marched, broke windows and painted on blank walls or rail cars or subway cars in bright colors. Graffiti used to be a synonym for vandalism.

As graffiti artists grew older, the wall desecration became art. Just as youthful skateboarders became athletes. The culture curved around them, adapted, accepted them. Graffiti artists became more orderly, even organized. Commercial interests stepped in to sell them products and write books about them. Graffiti art became teachable in special schools or academia. Techniques hardened so they could be described. Graffiti became a style.

However, graffiti has always been about fun. The most careful, meticulous graffiti artist throws his letters, round and bouncy against his wall canvas. The colors are bright, sometimes almost lurid. Even though the themes can be serious, the figures are folksy and energetic. There is always a sense of joy.

The advice of one graffiti artist, as spoken on his You Tube video is never to tag walls. You should make a written contract with the wall owner, he says. You should make a detailed, even a colored-in sketch of what you intend to do and present it along with your written agreement for the owner's signature. But, the artist goes on to say, the sketch may not be what the wall really needs. You have to reserve the right to make it differently than planned.

Now you can buy books on how to make graffiti letters written by artists who have become expert enough to write books on their methods. You can even buy computer programs that generate graffiti for you. You can just copy the graffiti right onto your blank space. This is a sign of evolution. The methods of graffiti style have become so codified that a machine can show you how. You can buy kits of spray paint and other graffiti production materials openly on the web or in stores. Some cities still ban the sale of spray paint to any one under the age of majority. At the same time, many cities and towns have opened graffiti galleries and have exhibitions of graffiti artists widely attended by connoisseurs.

Graffiti is the sibling of hip-hop and rap music. These were born in the ghettos of New York and Los Angeles in bursts of rebellion during the 1960s. Graffiti shouted out the identity of the artists who felt nameless and hip hop expressed the outbursts of opinion from musicians who felt themselves oppressed. A lot of hip hop music actually came out of prisons and drug addiction facilities in the 1960s. After 50 years, some of those artists have international reputations and sell their crafts all over the earth.

Graffiti is still largely an art of writing signatures, like a kind of new calligraphy. The style of graffiti writing usually appears at first on the borders of school books and notebooks. The rounded letters are easy to draw for young hands. It's easy to animate them with cartoon eyes, noses and mouths and give them sarcastic expressions. The graffiti style lends itself to cartoon and caricature. Even now at the height of graffiti development, the forms are simple and open and the colors are pure, generated from flat planes of spray paint or magic markers. The shapes are formed by moving arms stretched full length like the legs of a compass. It's an art of big movements, designed to be seen from far away. It is produced quickly as it was during the time when it had to be done stealthily to dodge security guards or police. Graffiti is pure folk art, an art of those who shun training and who probably began to think of themselves as artists only now.


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