Graffiti is a type of deliberately inscribed marking
made by humans on surfaces, both private and public. It can take
the form of art, drawings or words. When done without a property
owner's consent it constitutes illegal vandalism. Graffiti has existed
at least since the days of ancient civilizations such as classical
Greece and the Roman Empire.
The word "graffiti" expresses the plural
of "graffito", although the singular form has become obscure
and has largely fallen into disuse. Both of these English words
come from the Italian language, most likely descending from "graffiato",
the past participle of "graffiare" (to scratch); ancient
graffitists scratched their work into walls before the advent of
spray-paint. These words derive in their turn from the Greek ??afe??
(graphein), meaning "to write". Historians continue to
speculate over the vexed question as to where the term "graffiti"
first referred to this form of marking.
History of graffiti : Ancient
The ordinary people of the Roman Empire used the language known
as Vulgar Latin rather than the Classical Latin of literature,
as in this political graffiti at PompeiiHistorically, the term
graffiti originally referred to the inscriptions, figure drawings,
etc., found on the walls of ancient sepulchers or ruins, as in
the Catacombs of Rome or at Pompeii. Usage of the word has evolved
to include any decorations (inscribed on any surface) that one
can regard as vandalism; or to cover pictures or writing placed
on surfaces, usually external walls and sidewalks, without the
permission of an owner. Thus, inscriptions made by the authors
of a monument are not classed as graffiti.
The first known example of "modern style"
graffiti survives in the ancient Greek city of Ephesus (in modern-day
Turkey) and appears to advertise prostitution, according to the
tour guides of the city. It stands near the long mosaic and stone
walkway and consists of a handprint, a vaguely heart-like shape,
a footprint and a number. This purportedly indicates how many steps
one would have to take to find a lover, with the handprint indicating
Ancient Pompeiian graffiti caricature of a politician.The
Romans carved graffiti into their own walls and monuments, and examples
of their work also exist in Egypt. The eruption of Vesuvius preserved
graffiti carved on the walls of Pompeii, and they offer us a direct
insight into street life: everyday Latin, insults, magic, love declarations,
political consigns. Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli also has several examples.
One example has even survived that warns: "Cave Canem",
which translates as "Beware of the dog," next to a picture
of the dog in question.
However not only Greeks and Romans produced graffiti:
the Mayan site of Tikal in Guatemala, also contains ancient examples.
Viking graffiti survive in Rome and at Newgrange Mound in Ireland,
and Varangians carved their runes in Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.
The ancient Irish inscribed stones with an alphabet called Ogham
-- this standard mode of writing may not fall into the category
Later, French soldiers carved their names on monuments
during the Napoleonic campaign of Egypt in the 1790s.
Art forms like frescoes and murals involve leaving
images and writing on wall surfaces. Like the prehistoric wall paintings
created by cave dwellers, they do not comprise graffiti, as the
artists generally produce them with the explicit permission (and
usually support) of the owner or occupier of the walls.
A graffiti artist at work with spray paint at a graffiti competition
in Spitalfields market London.In the 20th century, especially
during World War II, 'Kilroy was here' became a famous graffito,
along with Mr. Chad, a face with only the eyes and a nose hanging
over the wall, saying "What No [scarce commodity]…?"
during the time of rationing. Twentieth century warfare saw the
advent of many new aviation technologies, closely followed by the
advent of airplane graffiti, including the nose art made famous
during World War II.
Starting with the large-scale urbanization of many
areas in the post-war half of the 20th century, urban gangs would
mark walls and other pieces of public property with the name of
their gang (a "tag") in order to mark the gang's territory.
Near the end of the 20th century, non-gang-related tagging became
more common, practised for its own sake. Graffiti artists would
sign their "tags" for the sake of doing so and sometimes
to increase their reputation and prestige as a "writer"
or a graffiti artist.
Taggers sometimes select tags, like screennames,
to reflect some personal qualities. Some tags also contain subtle
and often cryptic messages. The year in which the piece was created,
and in some cases the writer's initials or other letters, sometimes
become a part of the tag. In some cases, "writers" dedicate
or create tags or graffiti in memory of a deceased friend, for example:
"DIVA Peekrevs R.I.P. JTL '99".
In some cases, taggers have achieved such elaborate
graffiti (especially those done in memory of a deceased person)
on storefront gates that shopkeepers have hesitated to clean them
off. In the Bronx after the death of rapper Big Pun, several murals
dedicated to his life appeared virtually overnight; similar outpourings
occurred after the deaths of The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur.
BerzerkerOther works covering otherwise unadorned fences or walls
may likewise become so highly elaborate that property-owners or
the government may choose to keep them rather than cleaning them
off. The wall in front of Abbey Road Studios in London became a
favorite spot for Beatles-related graffiti once the band had recorded
there in the 1960s: visitors from all over the world have left inscriptions
in various languages. The studio makes no attempt to stop this graffiti;
it has the wall repainted regularly, but only to provide a fresh
surface for inscriptions.
Some graffiti has local or regional resonance,
such as wall and street sign tagging in Southern California by gangs
such as the Bloods and the Crips. The name Cool "Disco"
Dan (including the quotation marks) occurs commonly in the Washington,
D.C. area. One famous graffito in the DC Metro area appeared on
the outer loop of the beltway on a railroad bridge near the Mormon
temple as seen here. Its simple scrawl "Surrender Dorothy"
summoned visions of the Emerald City of Oz and has remained on the
bridge for nearly 30 years off and on beginning in late 1973. Pressure
from the Temple saw it removed, only to reappear. This "giraffiti"
became so well known among the Mormon community that their newsletters
often mentioned it as a specific example demonstrating misunderstanding.
(See "In View of Temple, Graffiti Again Seeks Dorothy's Surrender"
and "Landmark to most, temple is sanctuary for area's Mormons"
in Mormons Today.)
Theories on and the use of graffiti by avant-garde
artists have a history dating back at least to the Scandinavian
Institute of Comparative Vandalism of 1961.
Some of those who practise graffiti art wish to
distance themselves from gang graffiti. Differences in both form
and intent exist: graffiti art (its practioners claim) aims at self-expression
and creativity, and may involve highly stylized letter-forms drawn
with markers, or cryptic and colorful spray paint murals on walls,
buildings, and even freight trains. Graffiti artists strive to improve
their art, which constantly changes and progresses. Gang graffiti,
on the other hand, functions to mark territorial boundaries, and
therefore does not transcend a gang's neighborhood; it does not
(in the eyes of lovers of graffiti-art) presuppose artistic intent.
The designs, while chosen to appear distinctive
and recognizable, are more likely to be influenced by the speed
with which a tagger can execute them (thus minimizing the chance
of that tagger getting caught). Those who distinguish between tagging
and graffiti generally accept tagging as gang-motivated or meant
as vandalism (illegal) or viewed as too vulgar or controversial
to have public value, while they can view graffiti as creative expression,
whether charged with political meaning or not.
Many contemporary analysts and even art critics
have begun to see artistic value in some graffiti and to recognize
it as a form of public art. According to many art researchers, particularly
in the Netherlands and in Los Angeles, that type of public art is,
in fact an effective tool of social emancipation or in the achievement
of a political goal.
The murals of Belfast and of Los Angeles offer
another example of official recognition. In times of conflict, such
murals have offered a means of communication and self-expression
for members of these socially, ethnically and/or racially divided
communities, and have proven themselves as effective tools in establishing
dialog and thus of addressing cleavages in the long run.
A "tagged" construction scaffolding.
A number of words and phrases have come to describe different styles
and aspects of graffiti:
tag - a stylized signature; the terms tagger and
writer refer to a person who "tags"
piece (from "masterpiece") - a large image, often with
3-D effects, arrows giving flow and direction, many colours and
colour-transitions and various other effects. A piece needs more
time than a throw-up. If placed in a difficult location and well
executed it will earn the writer more respect
throw-up - not a piece, but more of a large tag. It often has an
outline (like black) and a fill-colour (like silver). Easy-to-paint
bubble-shapes often form the letters
bombing (as in the phrases to bomb or to hit) has no connection
with terrorism, but describes painting many surfaces. Throw-ups
often serve for this, since they don't require much time to execute
crew or cru has become the standard collective noun for a group
of writers or graffiti-artists, which can but are not limited to
be part of gangs or can be associated with them for funding for
materials, and sometimes protection from police and people who might
not want graffiti on a certain wall while doing the piece. It is
a common misconception that crews are gangs, since they are groups
which break the law. However, crews can be founded in order to not
be associated with gangs.
writers become up when their work becomes widespread and well-known.
To "get up" in a city involves both tagging, bombing and
making good pieces
to slash somebody's tag (to put a line through, or tag over it)
counts as a deep insult.
Graffiti on the Berlin Wallthe phrase back to back refers to a graffiti
that covers a wall from end to end, as seen on some parts of the
West-Berlin side of the Berlin Wall. Similarly, trains sometimes
receive end to end painting.
window-down and top-to-bottom pieces on subway trains cover the
bottom half, or the whole height, respectively, of the car. A top-to-bottom,
end-to-end production is called a whole-car. A production with several
writers might cover a whole-train.
burner - typically a large, elaborate piece, more elaborate than
a normal piece. It refers to the piece "burning" out of
the wall or trainside. Burners often originate legally, because
of the time and effort put into them, but the great early writers
of New York also did burners illegally on trains.
insides are tags or bombs done inside trains, trams, or buses. In
1970s New York, there was as much graffiti inside the subway trains
as outside, and the same is true of some cities today (like Rome,
Italy and Melbourne, Australia). While prolific, insides are often
less artistic and are seldom documented.
Informal competition sometimes exists between taggers as to who
can put up the most, or the most visible or artistic tags (see the
section below titled Graffiti art battle). Writers with the most
tags up tend to gain respect among other graffiti artists, although
they will also incur a greater risk if caught by authorities.
TAF rooftop, Phoenix ArizonaTo gain notoriety, and make pieces difficult
to remove, graffiti artists will sometimes paint hard-to-reach spots
such as rooftops. Such heavens pieces (also commonly known as giraffiti),
by the nature of the spot often pose dangerous challenges to execute.
Another technique sometimes referred to as "scratchitti"
involves making purposely hard-to-remove graffiti by scratching
or etching a tag into an object, generally using a key or another
sharp object such as a knife, stone, ceramic drill bit, or diamond
tipped Dremel bit. The Mohs scale of Mineral Hardness determines
which stones or other objects will scratch what surfaces.
"Etch" can also refer to the use of acid
solutions intended for creating frosted glass to write on windows.
Illegal graffiti can be elaborate, but may be seen as a nuisanceGraffiti
is subject to different societal pressures from popularly-recognized
art forms, since graffiti appears on walls, freeways, buildings,
trains or any accessible surfaces that are not owned by the person
who applies the graffiti. This means that graffiti forms incorporate
elements rarely seen elsewhere. Spray paint and broad permanent
markers are commonly used, and the organizational structure of the
art is sometimes influenced by the need to apply the art quickly
before it is noticed by authorities.
In an effort to reduce vandalism, many cities have
designated walls or areas exclusively for use by graffiti artists.
Some have suggested that this discourages petty vandalism yet encourages
artists to take their time and produce great art, without worry
of being caught or arrested for vandalism or trespassing. Others
disagree with this approach, arguing that the presence of legal
graffiti walls does not demonstrably reduce illegal graffiti elsewhere.
Many people regard graffiti as an unwanted nuisance,
or as expensive vandalism requiring repair of the vandalised property.
One can view graffiti as a 'quality of life' issue, and many people
suggest that the presence of graffiti contributes to a general sense
of squalor and a heightened fear of crime. Advocates of the "broken
window theory" believe that this sense of decay encourages
further vandalism and promotes an environment leading to the committing
of more serious offences. Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani's
subscription to the broken window theory promoted an aggressive
anti-graffiti campaign in New York. But throughout the world, authorities
often - but not always - treat graffiti as a minor nuisance crime,
though with widely varying penalties.
Community cleaning squads have responded to graffiti.
In France, the Protestant youth group Éclaireurs de France
took their graffiti-scrubbing into the Meyrieres Cave near the French
village of Bruniquel in Tarn-et-Garonne, where they carefully erased
the ancient paintings from the walls, earning them the 1992 Ig Nobel
Prize in archaeology.
Computer generated graffiti No Guts, No Fame by
RaD Man and madASScow, its noticeable "anti-police" theme
shows both its subject's and its creator's frustration with the
perceived illegal threat of graffiti, and the belief that the possible
fame is worth the likely penalty.Graffiti made the news in 1993,
over an incident in Singapore involving several expensive cars found
spray-painted. The police arrested a student from Singapore American
School, Michael P. Fay, questioned him and subsequently charged
him with vandalism. Fay pleaded guilty for vandalizing the car in
addition to stealing road signs. Under the 1966 Singapore Vandalism
Act, originally passed to curb the spread of communist graffiti
in Singapore, the court sentenced him to four months in jail, a
fine of 3,500 Singaporean dollars (US $2,233 or 1,450 British pounds),
and a caning. The New York Times ran several editorials and op-eds
that condemned the punishment and called the American public to
flood the Singaporean embassy with protests. Although the Singapore
government received many calls for clemency, Fay's caning took place
in Singapore on May 5, 1994. (Fay originally received a sentence
of six lashes of the cane, but the then President of Singapore Ong
Teng Cheong finally agreed to reduce his caning-sentence to four
In 1995 Mayor Rudolph Giuliani of New York set
up the Anti-Graffiti Task Force, a multi-agency initiative to combat
the perceived problem of graffiti vandals in New York City. This
began a crackdown in "quality of life crimes" throughout
the city, and also one of the largest anti-graffiti campaigns in
US history. That same year Title 10-117 of the New York Administrative
Code banned the sale of aerosol spray-paint cans to children under
18. The law also requires that merchants who sell spray-paint must
lock it in a case or display cans behind a counter, out of reach
of potential shoplifters. Violations of the city's anti-graffiti
law carry fines of $350 per count. Both the full text of the law
and an opposing viewpoint written by famous NYC graffiti artist
Zephyr appear online.
The Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 became Britain's
latest anti-graffiti legislation.
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