When you think of the word ‘graffiti’, what pops into your head? Is it some wishy-washy mix of unusual contraband murals sprawled against a once barren brick or concrete wall? Is it that familiar typeface, always somewhat italic and distorted, that you squint to try and decipher as it moves past you on a railroad boxcar or metro? Or is it the image that you identify with the sprawl of an urban metropolis– something that speaks volumes for bridging together aspects of street and hip-hop subcultures and aesthetics?
In light of our current exhibition at J-01, FAUST x XEME’s “INTERSECTION,” which melds the East and West, bringing together classic calligraphy and contemporary NYC graffiti, we thought we’d give you a quick lowdown on New York graffiti and its origins.
Spray-painted graffiti actually originated in New York in the early ‘70s, with – you guessed it – trains. By the late ‘70s, spray-paint graffiti gained its spotlight in NYC, where early artists such as Lee Quiñones, Fab 5 Freddy, Phase2, Dondi, Zephyr, MinOne, and Skeme rose to popularity in the scene. Picture this all set with the iconic tune “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash playing in the background. Spray-paint graffiti became associated thereafter with New York’s hip-hop scene, and later began to spread outside the streets of New York’s metropolis, throughout the States and across the pond to Paris and London. In 1983, American public broadcaster PBS released the iconic documentary “Style Wars,” documenting the era in all its glory, from graffiti to b-boying and rapping.
For decades, there has been an on-going controversial debate about whether graffiti, with its tagging and bombing, is actually vandalism, or if it should be acknowledged as a high art form. In most countries, defacing property is still a punishable crime. But to most art lovers and culture heads, graffiti is one of the most authentic forms of artistic self-expression. While law enforcement denounces the act, there are many artists and activists who fight to protect the art form.
This brings us to today, where there is a true coexistence in NYC between veteran artists who have been active since the ‘80s, like Doc TC5 and Ghost, newer young artists and innovators in the scene, such as FAUST, and the graffiti artists whose names may well never be revealed. FAUST, for instance, is hailed today as a global innovator and influencer in graffiti typography. His smooth signature, found on anything from oversized walls to miniature mail stickers, has become a highly recognizable tag. He’s known mostly for bridging the gap between classical calligraphy practices and contemporary graffiti scripture.
Next time you willingly pause by the side of the street in an urban hub to capture your next Instagram masterpiece – some raw, illicit representation of contemporary life – at least you’ll know, before you slap your VSCO filter on it and call it a day, a little bit about where the scribbles started in NYC.
“INTERSECTION” runs at J-01 gallery until this Saturday, April 23rd, celebrating the launch of our new platform.