The word ‘graffiti’ has been derived from the Italian word graffiato, which means scratched or itched. Although there have been popular graffiti artists who have enjoyed tremendous popularity, graffiti is often synonymous with vandalism. Graffiti might have started out with simple scratch marks made on walls, but evolved with time to include colorful additions with spray paints and markers. Frowned upon by many, graffiti still continues to be an effective medium and a unique art form that can be used to depict social or political messages with a dash of confidence, bold colors, and witty messages. However, running a person’s personal property or valuable public property by depicting wrong things at the wrong place can be considered as vandalism and is punishable by law in most of the countries.
The word ‘graffiti’ was first used to refer to the inscriptions found on the walls of ancient sepulchers. The earliest instances of vandalistic graffiti were found in an ancient Greek city, which depicted a handprint, a footprint, and a number, which was supposed to be an advertisement for a brothel. During the Renaissance, artists such as Michelangelo Pinturicchio, Raphael, Filippino Lippi, and Ghirlandaio descended into the ruins of Nero’s Domus Aurea and carved or painted their names, which is supposed to be similar to graffiti art, but not vandalistic in nature. The Signature Rock along the Oregon Trail is an example of graffiti in America. In1790, there were instances of French soldiers carving their names on monuments. There also exists Chinese graffiti on the Great Wall of China. By mid-1986 the Metro Transit Authority was putting in strong efforts to abolish graffiti. The Clean Train Movement in New York during 1989 aimed at removing all subway cars with graffiti out of the transit system.
A ‘tag’ is a basic form of graffiti, only including the artist’s name, which is considered as the writer’s personalized signature. Tags can include the artist’s name or the initials. A throw-up is another popular form, which is painted quickly using two or three colors. Throw ups are usually poor on the aesthetic scale since they are achieved with speed. In graffiti street art terminology, a ‘piece’ is an elaborate representation of the artist’s name, which often makes use of stylized lettering and more colors.
A blockbuster is a large piece with two contrasting colors. The whole idea behind enlarging the piece is to occupy a large space and prevent others from using it. ‘Wildstyle’ is a form of graffiti, which involves interlocking letters, arrows, and connecting points, which are often difficult to comprehend for everyone. Another style is ‘roller’ which is similar to the blockbuster. While there have been instances of using stickers, adherents of graffiti culture have frowned upon this practice labeling it as laziness and cheating.
Graffiti is an art form for many, a type of attacking tool for some, but more importantly, a means of effective communication. Graffiti is used to express social, as well as political messages through scribbles and colors. For some, graffiti is an art form that requires immense creativity and passion, whereas for battling gangs, it is just a part of their war!