Graffiti and Street Art

464 artworks, 104 artists
Graffiti (it. graffiato — “scratched”) and street art are trends in contemporary urban art, which are common in places of public presence. Both of them are used in order to acquaint the general population with certain social or political ideas, views, comments. Many people get graffiti and street art confused, but they are distinguishable very easily: graffiti artists are focused on the written art, while street artists mainly lean toward the visual art. If you see only letters, it’s graffiti. If you see a picture, this is street art. Moreover, not all street art is all about drawing. It may include a number of other visual solutions, for example, knitting “clothes” for trees, drawing images using stencils, chalk 3D drawings on sidewalks, performances, “living” sculptures.

If we delve a little deeper into the topic, we can note the following: artists who paint graffiti do it in order to present a kind of message to the same graffiti artists, to mark the urban area. For example, street groups often use graffiti to mark their areas of influence. In contrast to this highly utilitarian approach, street artists expect their work to be appreciated by the general public, to be reacted, discussed one way or another. Graffiti and street art are certainly related, at least because street art uses elements of graffiti. Both forms of public expression are generally condemned by the public, since none of the artists asks permission from the owners of the walls, bridges and towers on which their drawings appear.

People have been painting on the walls of their homes for thousands of years. One of the brightest archaeological finds associated with graffiti is the Argentinean Cueva de las Manos, the Cave of the Hands. On its walls, there are thousands of hands stenciled with paint. Graffiti was found during excavations and restoration of the ancient Roman and Greek cities; on one of the galleries of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, inscriptions like “X was here” were found, made in runic symbols — the Vikings had a peculiar sense of humour.

The ancestor of modern graffiti is believed to be an Austrian named Joseph Kyselak (1799—1831). This humble treasury official and amateur climber once argued with friends that his name would be known throughout Austria-Hungary within three years. He scribbled his name wherever he appeared as often as possible. Kyselak won the bet, but he couldn’t stop and left his mark on any surfaces. They say that after he “marked” the palace of the Austrian emperor, Francis I called the would-be graffiti artist and swore him to stop damaging the walls. Kyselak made his promise, but after he left, his “tag” and the date were found on the emperor’s desk.

Another famous character from the history of graffiti is the Australian Arthur Stace (1884—1967). The alcoholic who believed in God spread his faith in a very original way: from 1930 to 1956, he chalked the Eternity word every day — on walls, fences and sidewalks of his native Sydney. For many years, the authorities fought this “vandal”, but, in the end, the Eternity word in very elegant and recognizable letters became one of the symbols of the city and even adorned the Olympics.

In 1949, Edward Seymour invented spray paint, and twenty years later, the same spray paint became the main tool of graffiti artists in Philadelphia and New York. This was fast, bright, and reliable. The first recognized graffiti artist was a Philadelphia artist nicknamed Cornbread (Darryl McCray), who tagged his name around the city with a group of friends who did the same. This movement soon spread to New York and became the graffiti we know today. The peak of its popularity in the United States ended in the early 1980s, after which graffiti started conquering European countries and then the whole world. The city walls became a free gallery, which regularly featured artistic and highly social statements from representatives of various subcultures. The technique of drawing became more complicated, the artists moved from letters to the application of complex stencil images, customers appeared who wanted to see colourful murals on the walls of their buildings. Street art, born out of graffiti, has become a completely legal and very profitable way of earning money for some artists and brought them worldwide fame.

Famous graffiti and street artists:
Cornbread (Darryl McCray), TAKI 183, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Blek le Rat (Xavier Prou), Chris “Daze” Ellis, John "Crash" Matos, Lady Pink (Sandra Fabara), Frank Shepard Fairey, Banksy, Kenny Scharf, Barry McGee.