Graffiti is one of the most radical contemporary art movements. Let’s see some interesting history facts and trivia about it!
1.Both “graffiti” and its occasional singular form “graffito” are from the Italian word graffiato (“scratched”). The word originates from Greek γράφειν — graphein — meaning “to write.”
2. Graffiti” is applied in art history to works of art produced by scratching a design into a surface. In ancient times graffiti were carved on walls with a sharp object, although sometimes chalk or coal were used.
3. A related term is “sgraffito”, which involves scratching through one layer of pigment to reveal another beneath it. This technique was primarily used by potters who would glaze their wares and then scratch a design into it.
4. The term graffiti referred to the inscriptions, figure drawings, and such, found on the walls of ancient sepulchres or ruins, as in the Catacombs of Rome or at Pompeii. Use of the word has evolved to include any graphics applied to surfaces in a manner that constitutes vandalism.
5. The first known example of “modern style” graffiti survives in the ancient Greek city of Ephesus (in modern-day Turkey). Local guides say it is an advertisement for prostitution. Located near a mosaic and stone walkway, the graffiti shows a handprint that vaguely resembles a heart, along with a footprint and a number. This is believed to indicate that a brothel was nearby, with the handprint symbolizing payment.
6. Ancient graffiti displayed phrases of love declarations, political rhetoric, and simple words of thought, compared to today’s popular messages of social and political ideals.
7. The eruption of Vesuvius preserved graffiti in Pompeii, which includes Latin curses, magic spells, declarations of love, alphabets, political slogans, and famous literary quotes, providing insight into ancient Roman street life. One inscription gives the address of a woman named Novellia Primigenia of Nuceria, a prostitute, apparently of great beauty, whose services were much in demand. Another shows a phallus accompanied by the text, mansueta tene (“handle with care”).
8. It was not only the Greeks and Romans who produced graffiti: the Maya site of Tikal in Guatemala contains examples of ancient Maya graffiti.
9. Viking graffiti survive in Rome and at Newgrange Mound in Ireland, and a Varangian scratched his name (Halvdan) in runes on a banister in the Hagia Sophia at Constantinople. These early forms of graffiti have contributed to the understanding of lifestyles and languages of past cultures.
10. There are also examples of graffiti occurring in American history, such as Signature Rock, a national landmark along the Oregon Trail.
11. Later, French soldiers carved their names on monuments during the Napoleonic campaign of Egypt in the 1790s.
12. Lord Byron’s survives on one of the columns of the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion in Attica, Greece.
13. Graffiti writing is often seen as having become intertwined with hip hop culture and the myriad international styles derived from New York City Subway graffiti. However, there are many other instances of notable graffiti in the twentieth century. Graffiti have long appeared on building walls, in latrines, railroad boxcars, subways, and bridges.
14. The example with the longest known history, dating back to the 1920s and continuing into the present day, is Texino.
15. During World War II and for decades after, the phrase “Kilroy was here” with an accompanying illustration was widespread throughout the world, due to its use by American troops and ultimately filtering into American popular culture.
16. In China, Mao Zedong in the 1920s used revolutionary slogans and paintings in public places to galvanise the country’s communist revolution
17. Charlie Parker (nicknamed “Yardbird” or “Bird”), graffiti began appearing around New York with the words “Bird Lives”.
18. The student protests and general strike of May 1968 saw Paris bedecked in revolutionary, anarchistic, and situationist slogans such as L’ennui est contre-révolutionnaire (“Boredom is counterrevolutionary”) expressed in painted graffiti, poster art, and stencil art.
19. At the time in the US, other political phrases (such as “Free Huey” about Black Panther Huey Newton) became briefly popular as graffiti in limited areas, only to be forgotten.
20. A popular graffito of the 1970s was the legend “Dick Nixon Before He Dicks You”, reflecting the hostility of the youth culture to that US president.
21. In 1979, graffiti artist Lee Quinones and Fab 5 Freddy were given a gallery opening in Rome by art dealer Claudio Bruni. For many outside of New York, it was their first encounter with their art form.
22. Fab 5 Freddy’s friendship with Debbie Harry influenced Blondie’s single “Rapture” (Chrysalis, 1981), the video of which featured Jean-Michel Basquiat, and offered many their first glimpse of a depiction of elements of graffiti in hip hop culture. JaJaJa toured Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Holland with a large graffiti canvas as a backdrop.
23. Charlie Ahearn’s independently released fiction film Wild Style (Wild Style, 1983), the early PBS documentary Style Wars (1983), hit songs such as “The Message” and “Planet Rock” and their accompanying music videos (both 1982) contributed to a growing interest outside New York in all aspects of hip hop.
24. Style Wars depicted not only famous graffiti artists such as Skeme, Dondi, MinOne, and ZEPHYR, but also reinforced graffiti’s role within New York’s emerging hip-hop culture by incorporating famous early break-dancing groups such as Rock Steady Crew into the film and featuring rap in the soundtrack. Style Wars is still recognized as the most prolific film representation of what was going on within the young hip hop culture of the early 1980s.
25. Fab 5 Freddy and Futura 2000 took hip hop graffiti to Paris and London as part of the New York City Rap Tour in 1983. Hollywood also paid attention, consulting writers such as PHASE 2 as it depicted the culture and gave it international exposure in movies such as Beat Street (Orion, 1984).
26. This period also saw the emergence of the new stencil graffiti genre. Some of the first examples were created in 1981 by graffiti artist Blek le Rat in Paris, in 1982 by Jef Aerosol in Tours (France) by 1985 stencils had appeared in other cities including New York City, Sydney, and Melbourne, where they were documented by American photographer Charles Gatewood and Australian photographer Rennie Ellis.
27. Graffiti often has a reputation as part of a subculture that rebels against authority, although the considerations of the practitioners often diverge and can relate to a wide range of attitudes. It can express a political practice and can form just one tool in an array of resistance techniques. One early example includes the anarcho-punk band Crass, who conducted a campaign of stenciling anti-war, anarchist, feminist, and anti-consumerist messages throughout the London Underground system during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
28. In Amsterdam graffiti was a major part of the punk scene.