Graffiti is a form of visual communication that is increasingly gaining popularity in many parts of the world. It is an expressive art in which images or text are painted usually unto a surface, typically using spray paint. Graffiti is usually considered an illegal act involving the unauthorized marking of public space by an individual or group. It can also be viewed as a way for artists to show off their prowess in an unrestricted manner.
Graffiti is derived from the Italian word graffio (“scratch”). Graffiti, which is translated as “incised inscriptions,” is plural but often used as singular. Graffiti is traced to the 16th century. In this period, markings were found in ancient Roman ruins, in the remains of the Mayan city of Tikal in Central America, on rocks in Spain, and in medieval English churches. During the 20th century, graffiti in the United States and Europe was closely associated with gangs who used it for several purposes such as identifying or claiming territory, remembering dead gang members, boasting about acts performed by gang members, and challenging rival gangs. Graffiti was particularly prominent in major urban centres throughout the world, especially in the United States and Europe.
The 1990s saw a new form of graffiti, known as “tagging”. Tagging entails the repeated use of a single symbol or series of symbols to mark territory to attract the most attention possible. This type of graffiti usually appeared at vantage points and centrally located neighbourhoods. In the late 20th century, graffiti became especially prominent in New York City. Young people began to use spray paint and other materials to create images on buildings, walls, and subway trains. Such graffiti could range from bright graphic images (wildstyle) to the stylised monogram (tag).
Some early promoters of graffiti include the French artist Jean Dubuffet and the American artists Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. Jean Dubuffet is noted for incorporating tags and graphic motifs into his paintings. Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring also became successful street art pioneers and were represented by top galleries. Later, graffiti artists such as Barry McGee and Banksy had their work exhibited in commercial spaces.
Most jurisdictions have laws that prohibit graffiti art. During the 1980s and 1990s, many societies sought to eliminate graffiti. Such societies feared that it would otherwise lead to the degradation of the community. Substantial resources were therefore allocated for reduction and other clean-up efforts. Some cities further introduced mural programs or “free walls” to provide alternative opportunities for urban youths to express their artistic creativity.
Given its origins in illegal activity and interest in subversion, graffiti is rarely seen in galleries and museums. However, its aesthetic has been incorporated into artists’ work. For some people, graffiti is an innovative art form that can beautify a neighbourhood and speak to the interests of society. The debate is ongoing as to whether graffiti can enhance the beauty of society or is a public nuisance.
Information from https://www.britannica.com/art/graffiti-art, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/g/graffiti-art, https://www.artsy.net/gene/graffiti-and-street-art was used in this story