To most people, graffiti has a negative connotation. It is often associated with vandalism and crime to those outside of hip-hop culture. It is probably the most misunderstood of the four elements. It is an element that often gets overlooked. It shouldn’t. It is significant and plays an important part in the history of hip-hop.
People have been writing on walls and surfaces since man first walked upright and used a stick to draw in the dirt. We have some great records of the way Ancient civilizations used and created art. Graffiti as we know it was created in New York in the 1960s.
I think that as soon as someone saw a permanent marker, they had a desire to write their name on the walls. It’s almost primal, the need to create art on the surfaces available. Sure, we can get slabs of rock, paper, canvas, and other surfaces to write on other than walls in the city. Unfortunately, those that can’t afford such art materials are shut out of creating art.
It is simple and cost effective to grab a marker and write your name on the wall. This is what is known as tagging. Writers, as they are known, would tag their nicknames on the walls wherever they could. Writers tried to outdo themselves by the style of the lettering that they would use. The tags moved from marker to spray paints. This allowed writers to blend colours, bend the letters, and just be creative with the whole process.
A good tag is a work of art. It is not simple a two-second scribble. I don’t have any use for that style of tagging. Writing “Melissa was here,” or carving your initials into a tree is not art.
Writers became famous, much like the DJs who were running block parties at the time. Their signature was not just a name but a style. Writers had unique styles of lettering, colouring, and shading.
After a while, it was hard to find a clear wall or place to paint. The Metropolitan Transit Authority didn’t appreciate the art on their trains and subways. They spent considerable time and money removing graffiti.
The artists would not be deterred. They all tried to outdo each other. Tags became more complicated and stylized. They became larger and more colourful. Tags now became only one part of graffiti art.