„Cast your mind back to childhood celebrations when sparklers lit the night air; people everywhere drawing paths of orange and red light in the night sky, creating jagged lines and swirling patterns with nothing more than a flick of the wrist, mesmerizing anyone who looked on.
Fortunately we no longer have to wait for frantic festivities; artists have spawned a new movement in light art, or light graffiti, as it’s become known. Through time-lapse photography artists are able to capture the ephemeral, organic qualities of light making it seem somewhat more real, more alive.“
Graffiti has existed since ancient times, with examples going back to Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire and may range from simple scratch marks to elaborate wall paintings. In modern times, spray paint and markers have become the most commonly used materials. In most countries, defacing property with graffiti without the property owner’s consent is considered vandalism, which is punishable by law. Sometimes graffiti is employed to communicate social and political messages. To some, it is an art form worthy of display in galleries and exhibitions, to others it is merely vandalism. There are many different types and styles of graffiti and it is a rapidly evolving art form whose value is highly contested, being reviled by many authorities while also subject to protection, sometimes within the same jurisdiction.
Graffiti as an element of hip hop
In America around the late 1960s, graffiti was used as a form of expression by political activists, and also by gangs such as the Savage Skulls, La Familia, and Savage Nomads to mark territory. Towards the end of the 1960s, the signatures—tags—of Philadelphia graffiti writers Top Cat, Cool Earl and Cornbread started to appear. Around 1970-71, the centre of graffiti innovation moved to New York City where writers following in the wake of TAKI 183 and Tracy 168 would add their street number to their nickname, “bomb” a train with their work, and let the subway take it—and their fame, if it was impressive, or simply pervasive, enough—”all city”. Bubble lettering held sway initially among writers from the Bronx, though the elaborate writing Tracy 168 dubbed “wildstyle” would come to define the art. The early trendsetters were joined in the 70s by artists like Dondi, Futura 2000, Daze, Blade, Lee, Zephyr, Rammellzee, Crash, Kel, NOC 167 and Lady Pink.
The relationship between graffiti and hip hop culture arises both from early graffiti artists practicing other aspects of hip hop, and its being practiced in areas where other elements of hip hop were evolving as art forms. By the mid-eighties, the form would move from the street to the art world. Jean-Michel Basquiat would abandon his SAMO tag for art galleries, and even street art’s connections to hip hop would loosen. Occasional hip hop paeans to graffiti could still be heard throughout the nineties, however, in tracks like the Artifacts’ “Wrong Side of Da Tracks” (Between a Rock and a Hard Place, Big Beat, 1994) and Company Flow’s “Lune TNS”.
Graffiti is often seen as having become intertwined with hip hop culture as one of the four main elements of the culture (along with rapping, DJing, and break dancing). However, there are many other instances of notable graffiti this century. Graffiti has long appeared on railroad boxcars. The one with the longest history, dating back to the 1920s and continuing into the present day, is Bozo Texino. During World War II and for decades after, the phrase “Kilroy was here” with accompanying illustration was widespread throughout the world, due to its use by American troops and its filtering into American popular culture. In the sixties, its popularity was eclipsed by American graffiti proclaiming that “Yossarian lives!”, a reference to the protagonist of Joseph Heller’s novel, Catch-22.
The student protests and general strike of May 1968 saw Paris bedecked in revolutionary, anarchist, and situationist slogans such as L’ennui est contre-révolutionnaire (“Boredom is counterrevolutionary”). A famous graffito of the 20th century was the inscription in the London subway reading “Clapton is God”. The phrase was spray-painted by an admirer on a wall in an Islington Underground station in the autumn of 1967. The graffiti was captured in a now-famous photograph, in which a dog is urinating on the wall. A popular graffito of the 1970s was the legend “Dick Nixon Before He Dicks You,” reflecting the hostility of the youth culture to that U.S. president. Graffiti also became associated with the anti-establishment punk rock movement beginning in the 1970s. Bands such as Black Flag and Crass (and their followers) widely stenciled their names and logos, while many punk night clubs, squats and hangouts are famous for their graffiti.