Graffiti Street Art

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.

Common Styles

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!

History of Graffiti Art

The meaning of the term ‘graffiti’ is: drawings or words that are scribbled or scratched on a wall. It has been derived from the Greek word ‘graphein’, which means ‘to write’, while the term ‘graffiti’ itself is the plural form of ‘graffito’, an Italian word. This art began making its way on public walls in the latter part of the 1960s. However, graffiti as a form of unsolicited messages has existed forever, with the ancient cave paintings, dating back 40,000 years to the Upper Paleolithic era. Right from those times, drawing has always been a means of human being’s deep need and desire to communicate.

Technically speaking, graffiti is a kind of art that is made on a building or wall. When graffiti drawings first started appearing, which was in New York City, the tools used to create them were usually spray paints or wide-tipped markers, which were used basically to draw ‘tags’, or the writer’s name, and not any art as such. This was done to make themselves known all over the city. The bigger and the more colorful they could make their tag, the more attention they got. This gave rise to graffiti ‘wars’ springing up, with each artist trying to outdo the other in making their tag bolder and bigger. However, once these artists figured that anybody could spray on huge letters, style began making its appearance.

To people who are unfamiliar with the art, all graffiti seems the same. However, there are several distinctive styles. Most of them are about using particular fonts to create letters or characters.
Tagging: It is used mainly for displaying penmanship, and is considered as lacking in artistic form.
Blockbuster: Large sized block letters are used.
Wildstyle: Interweaving graffiti letters with designs.
Throw-Ups: This type of drawing that is done very quickly using few colors.
Bubble Letters: Large letters written in a rounded style.
Each of these styles can be used to create various types of graffiti:
Hip-Hop: Reflecting African-American culture, this is considered to be the most traditional types.
Challenge: The intention of this type is just to express that somebody ‘was here.’
Poster: Drawings made on posters that have people’s pictures on them.
Aircraft: Drawing tags on airplanes, usually on the dirt on it.
Tree: As is apparent from its name, the paintings are done or carved on trees.
Invisible: It is a purely symbolic type, like the logos made on computer microchips, which although are there, can’t be seen by anybody.


Although the art of drawing graffiti letters began in the 60s, the period between 1971-1974 is generally regarded as the era when most of the pioneering work in graffiti was done, since this was the time when this form of art began spreading and getting publicity. For some of the youth of that time, it was a means through which they could vent their angst at a world, which they found oppressive, and as a way of rebelling against a society, which they thought was unjust and corrupt.

However, for others, these graffiti characters were simply a pleasurable means of expressing their creativity, just as a unique art form. Like conventional artists, they used walls as a canvas, onto which they poured their souls, their dreams, their hopes, and their fears with a spray can of bright colors. It was during 1975 to 1977, that the art of drawing graffiti reached its peak, with standards of drawing graffiti letters being established. As the 70s slipped into the 80s, being a graffiti artist became more challenging, as the authorities began clamping down harder on them, since it was considered vandalism, as most of the graffiti was made by gangsters, who were young and usually poor. This was known as the ‘die-hard’ era, as graffiti culture withdrew under cover.

Today’s graffiti culture is referred to as the ‘clean train era’, as many artists are taking their art from the subway walls and the insides of train cars, into studios and galleries, with the establishment increasingly viewing it as a genuine art form. And hence, these days, some cities have provided particular areas to graffiti artists, where they are allowed to display their art. The trouble with this is that a previous work has to be painted over in order to use the space. Therefore, good artists usually do not use such spaces. One of the most important features of drawing graffiti is that each piece of art has the artist’s name. Spray paint is the medium used, and there are particular techniques that have been established for drawing graffiti letters.

Different media is used to create each of these types of graffiti. Although this writing style is being legitimized, and some of it may be getting into more established forms of displaying art, such as studios and art galleries, purists are of the opinion that it is only the ones that show up on train cars and public walls are the true form.
Read more at Buzzle: