Thursday, May 1, 2008

Keepn It Real - An Investigation Into Aerosol Art

It’s all about when you stand in front of that naked wall, in the middle of the night, holding your spray can. You then forget all your worries and troubles, you only concentrate on the emptiness ahead and how you are about to fill it and give it life with your mark. While swerving that can, you suddenly have a burst of thoughts; how many people are going to see it, hate on it, criticize it and appreciate it and why they would do so. Sometimes you don’t even think about anything, your mind is completely blank and you feel on top of the world because you found what truly makes you happy and who you are.
These days the mass appeal is given a lot of misinformation about graffiti in general and people are too lazy to find out for themselves. This leads to people coming up with there own conclusions, mostly ignorant ones which spread around and give graffiti a bad name. There is a lot more to graffiti then what people think or have heard, like its history, how it started and also what aerosol art can do for someone and the world. These are the main aspects I will explore, as best as possible, since it is very hard, due to the fact that no one is able to really define what aerosol art truly is and all the secrets that are associated with it.
I hope that I will be able to reach out to as many people as possible with my findings.
I do not ask everyone to agree with my thoughts but to please keep an open mind about the subject at hand to then create your own personal opinion.


What Writers do, is write. They write their names on many different surfaces and with different tools. Nowadays they mostly write on walls with spray-cans or markers, leaving their imprint behind, while they “bomb” the streets ahead.
When you start off writing you are considered as a “toy”, a novice, someone that does not have great skill and is not very knowledgeable about what he is doing. As a toy if you try to “get up” you get written over, crossed out and disrespected by other artists. Then after a while you should start to get a better understanding of the history, the concepts, the forms, the colors and what makes graffiti what it is. You keep exploring the field, getting your own ideas using your imagination and creating your own style. From here it’s up to you, if you want it enough to become a “king”. Artists give graffiti many forms like tags, blockbusters, throw-ups, burners and pieces. The tag, as best explained by Futura2000 is “The analogy of a dog pissing and marking his territory in a sense is kind of true. You mark you territory and you’re happy to go back and check the scent”. This tag is your name, your trademark what you leave behind everywhere. These days, a lot of writers fail to recognize the value of tags. They do not realize that your tag is you and what you should value the most. You can extrapolate everything from your tags. They are all are spread around the city while one piece with that tag is waiting on the store wall. Then you have your blockbusters mostly straight lettering, often done with two colours and covers up a big surface. There are also throw-ups, most of the time these are well elaborated bubble letters done with one to three colours. Your Characters could be completely original or a rip-off of your childhood star. Finally there are your burners and pieces they are often well though out and very original, uses at least three colors and does not always contain just lettering. A piece is an abstract form of your tag (a tag with outline and designs).

There are many areas where this art is practiced. In some countries you can still find some spray-can art on subway trains, just like in the “pioneering era”, for example in Paris writers take over a lot of the trains on the “RER”, just like Germany, Italy, Tokyo and other countries. Other then subway cars there are many other areas that can be written on like freight trains, cement walls, store windows, Trucks, billboards and everywhere your imagination will take you.

Though a lot of critics, politicians, law enforcement and even writers think they know every aspect about this art, there is no perfect explanation or definition to what all this really is.
The reason they write is different for every writer, they all have their own ambitions, goals and reason to write. Whether it is for: fame, to want to be popular by spreading your name around the city or insecurity, to create for yourself new a identity, for the pleasure of going out writing and enjoying what you like or to past the time, having something to spend your time on Tuesday nights, even relief, to free yourself from anything or revenge, society to retaliate against injustices, or what ever remorse you have, and many of the other thousand reasons out there, you have to know that expression is a big part of this art form. These expressions are all filtered through this art and no one will ever be able to tell why one chooses to write without knowing him.

But one thing that most writers look for is the perfect spots also called “heaven spots”. The spot where everyone will see the mark you left behind, where everyone will pause their busy lives and ask themselves different question about what they just saw, even if for five seconds. It takes a lot of experience to find these spots and they are most of the time hard to reach.

Even though most writers prefer to be considered graffiti artists they do not all fit that description, since graffiti is scribbling on a wall. The word graffiti was given by the mass media calling the artists “graffiti vandals”, at the time they saw themselves as “aerosol artists”, “spray can artists” and “writers”. Some writers even feel offended when associated with graffiti writing, for example, Phase2 a very reputed artist absolutely disassociates himself from being a graffiti writer and prefers to be singled out as an aerosol artist and Mare139 favors the term wild style writer.

What a lot of writers and the general population don’t understand is that to be respected and valued as a true writer you had or have to be going on the street and making a name for yourself with your tags, throw-ups, burners and pieces. You can’t just go out and say that “this is wack” and this should be like that when you don’t have any clue of what the streets are like. The pressure you have to make that mark stand out from all the others, the stress of the police, the weather you are experiencing whether it be rain, wind, snow or humidity , if the paint won’t stick on the wall or the colour changes when you apply it and if you were not able to get your hands on the good paint, these are all things that you do not experience writing in your black book for your girl friend, which makes the street context all the harder. Being a writer also consists of taking risks and always pushing your limits. Getting hit by a freight train stepping on the third rail, falling from higher ground like billboards building edges etc… is what gives you that rush telling yourself that you can do it, admiring later on what you did and arousing questions like “how did he get up there“.

We can not forget this can become very fast highly addictive. When you have papers lying around filled with your letters, tag or sketches, you walk around and look at every wall around you and don’t even notice the person talking to you, you have the urge of going out in minus temperatures in the middle of the night and many other _______ , that’s when you know that writing will always be in your blood.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


I can start by saying that graffiti’s roots started with petroglyphs, hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt and Mayan culture, the Roman Empire and Greece, but it has evolved so much and even if some things do resemble the “graffiti” we now know its hard to compare and make direct links to it. This is why I will start off in the late 60’s early 70’s. The start of writing can never be to clear, lots of people have different stories of how it started and most is passed down by word of mouth, so there’s no way to find out the true start. Here is what I have found with my research.

TAKI 183, the first publicized writer, came from New York City Manhattans. TAKI was a messenger in downtown Manhattans, he would leave his mark “TAKI 183” along the routes that he was taking. Though a lot of people think that TAKI was the first writer, there were several before him. CORNBREAD and COOL EARL based in Philadelphia were also huge writers in the late 60’s and JULIO 204, FRANK 207, JOE 136 and STAY HIGH 149 in New York.
But with his tags “TAKI 183” spread out around the city he got the attention of the New York Times and an article that made him famous (TAKI 183 Spawns Pen Pals). So even though there were other writers before, he became the most known thanks to the media.Then writers like FRIENDLY FREDDIE started to put Brooklyn on the map. Soon after, graffiti transferred from the streets to the subway and to the lay-ups. The subway carts became a new canvas for writers. Writing was continuing to evolve. Tags were being transformed, first to unique tags for every writer with there own style, then designs along with them meaning with outlines, thicker letters and wherever their imagination took them. Every year there would be more and more writers bringing more and more ideas to the table, raising the competition. There were bubble letters, block letters, Broadway style, 3D’s , whole cars , characters, these were all new ideas that had been brought up by writers at the time.

By the mid 70’s most concepts of graffiti where created and just kept on developing. Some graffiti even hit the galleries later on, but this all soon started to slow down starting the 80’s, and a lot was picked up by other cities world wide. Writing in New York became more and more difficult with the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) putting in a higher budget to stop graffiti. A lot of artist got discouraged and stopped writing, but others saw this as a challenge. These years were very hard and writers didn’t have the same respect for each other. A lot of crews were formed and battles became more common. Lay-ups became more dangerous, not only because of the increased number of guards, but to which crew the lay-up “belonged” to. If writers didn’t know who you were and you came in to drop something in their yard, they would beat you down and rob your paint.

By the late 80’s more writers were quitting and more trains were art free. The MTA was finally
getting what they wanted, even though there were still some writers never letting go MAGOO, DOC TC5, DONDI, TRAK, DOME , DC GHOST, SENTO, CAVS, KET, JA, VEN, REAS, SANE, SMITH and more.

On May 12, 1989 the MTA decided to clean all trains that were marked and made sure that no graffiti will ever run. So most writers stopped or moved on to the streets, except clean car writers that still though writing should belong on the train lines and no where else, such as GHOST, POE, KET, SAR, FUZZONE, SACH ,TFP, VEN, ZENO, REAS, IZ THE WIZ, VFR, CAVS, SENTO, SANE&SMITH, JA, BRUZ, COPE2, PJAY, ROB, YES2 and SEEN , but these trains would only run for as long as one day and then get buffed.

Thursday, February 28, 2008


When you’re done your outline and start applying that Venice Blue adding some Signal Violet, Purple and Lake Blue with some white and Black then outlining your work with that hot Solar Orange and just going everywhere with your colours is when you find true beauty in colours and aerosol art.

Writing has a lot of different aspects that make it really interesting and appealing. There are many things people do not know about graffiti and do not make an effort to find out, so they ignore the beauty that it can posses. Not appreciating writing because you don’t understand what it’s saying is a poor excuse. There is a lot more then the letters to appreciate because writers take them beyond literacy functions and into the realm of feelings and images.

Style is a big part of writing, your style makes you who you are and makes people recognize you every time you drop something. You develop the ability to find new ideas, new combinations, new movements and new ways advancing your art. It is something that you develop straight from yourself, that’s why it’s worth so much.

What I find remarkable in writers is their sense of imagination. Writing is great imaginative work, this is made evident when looking at a tag all the way to a piece. There are no established or written down rules in writing so no boundaries for imagination. You are sometimes able to see what writers incorporated in their work. How some letters look like a body movement or how the colours he used are the same that are in that popular mint gums add. They take things that they see and twist it to their style.

The way Graffiti screams out to the city and even the world is amazing. The way a piece on a freeway or on a corner store can make so many heads move and think, how so many people can admire good art, even for a glimpse. Writing is able to give someone a voice to express themselves to the world without having his name advertised everywhere. It’s a way of rebelling against our money corrupted society, where if you have no money you are muted out and left behind.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Unjust Callings

I don’t blame people who not appreciate graffiti since the only information they have about it comes from graffiti removal companies, government and several other associations. They mostly try to use scare tactics and strong words to impose their views on it.

I read multiple articles that stated that graffiti can generate fear, crime and intimidate neighborhoods and I fail to see how that is so. Personally, I do not find it more terrifying to walk in a alley covered with graffiti then one without or how a tag on a wall can cause a higher crime rate. They use words with evocative power like “Vandalism” , knowing there is no such crime. The law proscribes malicious mischief, malicious damage, petty damage, littering and the destruction of property but not “vandalism”. The word “vandalism” was linked to graffiti thanks to the press, since they and the politicians knew they had to give the mass appeal a word that evoked much more than what it was. And this is how the press and the commercial world is able to affect one’s perspective or opinion.

Associations like graffiti removal companies want to be able to grow their business and still charge a large amount of money, the authorities know that the influence is too powerful and it has a political impact on society. So like them the National Council to Prevent Delinquency (NCPD) evokes fear to control one’s opinion, even if they do not know much about it themselves. The NCPD stated “Gang graffiti is used to mark gang territory, list members, offer drugs or contraband for sale, or send warnings to rivals. It may include letters, symbols, or numbers known only by gangs and law enforcement”. All these organizations give somewhat the same reasons that are completely false and give writing a bad name. Imagine if someone reads this for the first time, he will be more likely to think of graffiti in negative terms, even though what they are saying is false. That is why our goal is to inform as many people about writing, so they can make their own minds up, without having their thoughts polluted and to make society more aware and therefore more tolerant about this matter.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Twist and Post

Writing belongs on the street. Artists are inspired by the streets not only the graffiti in the  streets but also the billboards, the flyers, the people, the signs and everything in the street inspires them, so they then incorporate these images around there society into there work and take it to another level. Then showing as many people what they have done with it and what they are capable of.             

More and more we are seeing graffiti used in our advertisements, our TV commercials, clothing and elsewhere in our media. It has integrated in our media mostly to target a younger crowd. Even though it sometimes comes in more noticeable or obvious forms, most of the time we are unaware that it was used on an ad, shirt or in the background of a scene, since it’s becoming more and more a part of our everyday life’s. But a lot of big companies abuse their power; they rip off and copy a lot of designs without giving enough recognition or enough money to the artist. So now having writing in our media is a big step forward for the society to try to accept it as a voice of the streets.

It’s a mean of expression in many ways. People in the city go to work then go home, go to work then go home and so on. But while they do so they can see their community at work. There able to see art without having to go to the museum and not every one goes to the museum but a lot more people do pass by that huge intersection everyday. It’s a cheaper and easier way to say what you have to say without having to pay thousands of dollars for advertisement. Be it illegal or not graffiti belongs in the street to send a message across to people.

Monday, February 25, 2008


I would like to thank Dominique Perrin for helping me throughout this project.

Thank You