Category Archives: history

Modern/Contemporary Graffiti: From ’70s

Modern graffiti art originated in New York City, and it was known first as “New York Style” graffiti. Modern graffiti emerged as a part of Hip Hop culture in 1970s.  (Source:

The Golden Age of Graffiti: 1970s


New York’s subway trains were canvas for the graffiti artists. They usually painted words and “tags” (graffiti writers’ name) on the wall or subway trains. The style of words and “tags” is similar to cartoon images. The most of graffiti artists were from the street. They were not professional artists. Moreover, most of them did not receive art education at art institutions. Graffiti works on subway trains and walls were the works that the street teenagers created.

(Source: MOCA,

Late 80s to The Present

Banksy is the one who changed the image of graffiti. Max Foster (CNN reporter) defined the Banksy effect: how the works of Banksy influenced  graffiti art economically.


Graffiti exhibition at Brooklyn museum (6.30.2006- 9.3.2006)



‘from street to gallery’

Street graffiti art moves from the street to the gallery. In short, museums and galleries began to exhibit graffiti art. Also, several professional and trained artists such as Keith Haring started to do graffiti art as the street teenagers did before. Thus, the street art became a professional art.

List of exhibitions

-The United Graffiti Artists’ 1975 exhibition at New York’s Artists Space

-Fab Five Freddy’s widely discussed spray-painted homage to Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup cans in 1980

-1983, the first major museum exhibition at the Boymans-van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam and the “Post-Graffiti” exhibition at Sidney Janis’s blue-chip gallery.

(Source: MOCA,

Commercial aspects of graffiti (now)



Today’s graffiti art is more commercialized than ever. There are many artists that collaborate with others. Usually, the graffiti artists collaborate with the fashion industry. For example, Louis Vuitton presented the scarf series that the graffiti artists created with the company. Retna, Os Gemeos, and Aiko (all of them are graffiti artists) made Louis Vuitton scarves. Even, Retna covered the surface of Louis Vuitton store in Miami with his graffiti. Also, people can buy ‘graffiti’ t-shirts whenever they want to get.


Still street art

Though graffiti art becomes one kind of contemporary art, still it is a controversial art genre. The controversy over graffiti art is if the graffiti is vandalism or urban art.



Ancient Graffiti

Remains of ancient graffiti are able to present a history of the people living in ancient civilizations such as Pompeii, Herculaneum and Egypt that may not have been recorded by the scholars, religious and royal classes of their time. Instead of being narrated by these reigning forces, graffiti tells the life of everyday people by everyday people. By studying these writings on the walls, we found that their themes reflect the same themes of graffiti: self-expression, social commentary and claiming space.


Social Commentary and Networking

Before there was Facebook, Twitter and Reddit, citizens of Pompeii held open forums by literally writing on building walls. Much like bathroom stall conversations, these markings included strung out conversations between friends and strangers.

This image of a Pompeii wall shows an interactive graffiti conversation preserved by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D.




Like today’s graffiti, writers were carving quotes, signatures and drawings into the walls of friends’ houses and public spaces. Graffiti content could span from romantic declarations to “_____ was here” bombs aside public buildings and spaces.

This particular example of graffiti was drawn on the walls of the Coliseum.

According to National Geographic, the graffiti features the letters “VIND” as part of the word vindicatio, meaning vengeance. This phrase is written in red, along with a drawing of a palm, a symbol of victory. Using the context that the Coliseum was a public space used to watch warriors battle each other and dangerous animals, its safe to say this graffiti bomb could be marked by a victor or one of his fans.

How does this relate to Graffiti and Hip-hop?

These examples of ancient graffiti show how people have been claiming spaces and expressing themselves in unconventional ways for over 2,000 years. While the history books have recorded the life and times of these cities from an elitist perspective, ancient graffiti tells the stories of regular people and their underground cultures.