• Graffiti

    Environment, Environmental Design


    The search for truth can take us to the most unlikely places. For graffiti artists, manipulating letters became lifeblood and fighting back meant getting ill, and ill-legible. Once harnessed, an unusual torrent of creative, language-based experimentation and expression flowed from urban cities. It turned tables, oppressed the oppressor, and lit the fuse for a contemporary graffiti movement.

    "Getting up", the recognition that comes with the near constant act of tagging your name, became the driving force in the nascent graffiti scene. As a result the application of tags proliferated through crowded urban housing projects and high-traffic public transit systems until surfaces were covered in permanent inks. The competitive nature of graffiti, a hold-over from urban gang activity, was played out in non-violent "battles" that featured spray cans and skill instead of knives and strength. (The competitive nature of graffiti would seep into and boost the related youth sub-culture of hip-hop dance and music.) More importantly, competition brought about the stylistic innovations that were necessary to distinguish one tag from the rest. These revealed themselves in unique hand styles and lettering including the use of bubble letters, complicated scripts, calligraphic flourishes, flexible ascenders and descenders, new ligatures, simple illustrations, and cartoon characters. In many cases a combination of these left tags illegible to all but the graffiti artists. By focusing on just their name, "bombing" (tagging) it over and over again in different styles, teenagers developed an intuitive understanding of how the building blocks of language could be controlled for their specific needs. No wonder these artists referred to themselves as writers and their work as writing.

    Graffiti, in its most pure form, had fulfilled its promise. By this time the original rebirth writers that came out of the ghetto could no longer sustain their participation. Time and times had inevitably changed. The freedoms of postmodernism gave way to a technological and information revolution. No longer confined to the urban core and no longer propelled by one socio-economic identity, tech-savvy writers used the cumulative work of their predecessors as a palimpsest to violate what had come before and reinvent graffiti writing all over again.

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