History of Graffiti

Graffiti started during the middle of 1960 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The first writers of graffiti are known to be COOL EARL and CORNBREAD. In order to gain attention from the local press and the community, they wrote their names in every place of the city.

Not long after CORNBREAD started graffiti, Manhattan gave birth to its own writers in Washington Height section. In 1971, an article was published by The New York Times on one of the writers. A kid from Washington Heights used “TAKI 183” as his alias. TAKI was nickname for Demetrius and the 183 represent the street number where the writer lived. Apparently, he took the advantage of writing in the subway because of his frequency in the area being a foot messenger. The curiosity created to the people on the appearance of the name and number prompted the New York Times in releasing the article. The other significant graffiti writers at that time are FRANK 207, JOE 136 and JULIO 204.

At about the same year 1971, movements with growing number of writers was observed in Brooklyn. The subway system was instrumental in establishing communication to the writers and the unifying factor among the movements. The people involved in the movements at the five boroughs became aware of their common efforts, and established the groundwork of inter-borough competition.

The writing quickly spread in the streets and subways, and became very competitive. Mostly, the writings were more on tags, and they intended making a lot. The writers took every opportunity in hitting many subway cars they can. Later, they found out that writing is more convenient when done in train yard.  They would have more opportunity writing to more cars in lesser time and with the least chances of being caught.

Writing graffiti advanced in the period from 1971 up to 1974, and many people became involved writing whatever pleased them until it reached the point of finding new ways in gaining recognition. One way they thought, was to make the tags unique. This gave birth to the development of many styles of script and calligraphic. The tags were enhanced with stars, flourishes, patterns and other innovative designs. Some of the designs were intended for visual appeal and others were made to convey meanings. STAY HIGH 149 created a tag that became famous in the graffiti culture. He replaced the cross bar in “H” with a smoking “joint” and added the “stick figure” from the TV series The Saint.

Another phase of change was implemented by rendering the tags to larger scale. These were accomplished using altered paint spray cans producing wider streams. The thick letter produced enhanced the name and they started decorating the letter’s interior with “designs” such as dots, crosshatches, checkerboards. The writers started making large masterpieces that even reached the subway car’s entire height. They called these masterpieces “top-to-bottoms”.  SUPER KOOL 223 from the Bronx was credited for most of the masterpieces. Other accomplished writers at that time were Japan 1, Hondo 1, Snake 131, Star 3, Tracy 168, Pro-Soul, Lil Hawk, Eva 62, Barbara 62, Cay 161, Stay High 149, and Junior 161.

The years from 1975 to 1977 marked the peak of graffiti innovation. Making large tags became standard among the writers. It was also the period that “throw up” style of graffiti was commonly used for faster and easier accomplishment of masterpiece. Graffiti at the late ‘70s to the early ‘80s were slowly brought out from the streets to the galleries. One notable event was on 1979 where Fab 5 Freddie and Lee Quinones opened their works to Italy and Rome. Events for graffiti in the mid ‘80s toward the end of the decade are handled with consistency. There were movies and documentaries made for graffiti such as Style Wars, Beat Street, and Wild Style. Many new names became popular as graffiti was taken to other countries.

Graffiti in the 1990s and onwards was placed in a more complicated atmosphere. Although it is being known around the world, it lacked the strength that it has before. Graffiti expanded towards less urban area, and the types of graffiti greatly diversified. With volumes of writers became involved at different ages, related troubles abound. It even reached the point that there will be no enough authority in getting rid of graffiti.