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Monday, March 12, 2007

History of graffiti by Wikipedia.com


"Graffiti" is the plural of "graffito", which singular form has become relatively little-known in English. The term is applied in art history to art works made by scratching a design into a surface. A related term is "sgraffito" — a way of creating a design by scratching through one layer of pigment to reveal another beneath it. This act of sgraffito was mostly used on ceramic vessels. The men who would create this ceramic vessels out of clay would fire up another type of clay that would fire heat up to a different colour then the original clay. They would then scratch a design through the new top layer to the original layer below and this act was known as sgraffito. These English words come from Italian, most likely being descended from "graffiato" ("scratched"), as ancient graffitists — before the modern advent of spray-paint — scratched their work into walls using sharp objects, chalk or coal, as in murals or frescoes. All these terms derive in turn from the Greek "γράφειν" ("graphein"), meaning "to write" — most literally, "to inscribe"

Ancient graffiti

Historically, the term graffiti originally referred to the inscriptions, figure drawings, etc., found on the walls of ancient sepulchers or ruins, as in the Catacombs of Rome or at Pompeii. Usage of the word has evolved to include any decorations (inscribed on any surface) that one can regard as vandalism; or to cover pictures or writing placed on surfaces, usually external walls and sidewalks, without the permission of an owner. Thus, inscriptions made by the authors of a monument are not classed as graffiti.

The only known source of the Safaitic language, a form of proto-Arabic, is from graffiti: inscriptions scratched on to the surface of rocks and boulders in the predominantly basalt desert of southern Syria, eastern Jordan and northern Saudi Arabia. Safaitic dates from the 1st century B.C. to the 4th century A.D.
The ordinary people of the Roman Empire used the language known as Vulgar Latin rather than the Classical Latin of literature, as in this political graffito at Pompeii.
The ordinary people of the Roman Empire used the language known as Vulgar Latin rather than the Classical Latin of literature, as in this political graffito at Pompeii.

The first known example of "modern style" graffiti survives in the ancient Greek city of Ephesus (in modern-day Turkey) and appears to advertise prostitution, according to the tour guides of the city. It stands near the long mosaic and stone walkway and consists of a handprint, a vaguely heart-like shape, a footprint and a number. This purportedly indicates how many steps one would have to take to find a lover, with the handprint indicating payment.[2]
Ancient Pompeiian graffito caricature of a politician.

The Romans carved graffiti into their own walls and monuments, and examples of their work also exist in Egypt. The eruption of Vesuvius preserved graffiti carved on the walls of Pompeii, including everyday Latin insults, magic, love declarations, alphabets, political consigns, and quotations from famous literature, offering us a direct insight into ancient Roman street life.

In an ancient variant on the "for a good time..." theme, an inscription gives the address of one Novellia Primigenia of Nuceria, apparently a great beauty and subject of constant enquiry; an illustration of a phallus was accompanied by the text, mansueta tene: "Handle with care".

Ancient Roman graffiti also suggests that love was the object of scorn:

Quisquis amat. veniat. Veneri volo frangere costas
fustibus et lumbos debilitare deae.
Si potest illa mihi tenerum pertundere pectus
quit ego non possim caput illae frangere fuste?

Whoever loves, go to hell. I want to break Venus's ribs
with a club and deform her hips.
If she can break my tender heart
why can't I hit her over the head?

-CIL IV, 1284.

Errors in spelling and grammar in graffiti not only inform us of the degree of literacy of many of the graffiti scrawlers, but they also give clues as to the pronunciation of spoken Latin. Such is the case with CIL IV, 7838: Vettium Firmum / aed[ilem] quactiliar[ii] [sic] rog[ant]. Here "qu" reflects the common pronunciation of "co". Conversely, ancient graffiti also provide us with evidence of the ability to read and write among classes of people for whom literacy was not requisite and might not otherwise be assumed. For example, the 83 graffiti found at CIL IV, 4706-85 (a peristyle which had been undergoing remodeling at the time of the eruption of Vesuvius) were executed not only by the architect Crescens, but also by most of the members of the work crew for whom he served as foreman. The brothel at CIL VII, 12, 18-20 contains over 120 works of graffiti, the authors of which included the prostitutes as well as their clients. And finally, the gladiatorial academy at CIL IV, 4397 contained graffiti left by the gladiator Celadus Crescens (Suspirium puellarum Celadus thraex: "Celadus the Thracian makes the girls sigh.")
This 2nd-century representation of a crucified donkey is believed by some to be the first representation of Jesus (here, evidently by a non-Christian). Palatine Hill, Rome.
This 2nd-century representation of a crucified donkey is believed by some to be the first representation of Jesus (here, evidently by a non-Christian). Palatine Hill, Rome.

It was not only the Greeks and Romans that produced graffiti: the Mayan site of Tikal in Guatemala also contains ancient examples. 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. When Renaissance artists such as Pinturicchio, Raphael, Michelangelo, Ghirlandaio or Filippino Lippi descended into the ruins of Nero's Domus Aurea, they carved or painted their names[3][4] and returned with the grottesche style of decoration. There are also examples of graffiti occurring in American history, such as Signature Rock; a national landmark along the Oregon Trail.

Later, French soldiers carved their names on monuments during the Napoleonic campaign of Egypt in the 1790s.[5] Lord Byron's graffito of his own name survives on one of the columns of the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion in Attica, Greece.[6] There is also evidence of Chinese graffiti on the great wall of China.

Art forms like frescoes and murals involve leaving images and writing on wall surfaces. Like the prehistoric wall paintings created by cave dwellers, they do not comprise graffiti, as the artists generally produce them with the explicit permission (and usually support) of the owner or occupier of the walls.

Modern graffiti
A pikachu graffito in Tunis.
A pikachu graffito in Tunis.

Modern graffiti is often seen as having become intertwined with Hip-Hop culture as one of the four main elements of the culture (along with the Master of ceremony, the disc jockey, and break dancing), through Hollywood movies such as Wild Style. However, modern (twentieth century) graffiti predates hip hop by almost a decade and has its own culture, complete with its own unique style and slang. For example, one of the most popular graffitos of the 1970s was the legend "Dick Nixon Before He Dicks You," reflecting the hostility of the youth culture to that U.S. president. The belief that the two are related arises from the fact that some graffiti artists enjoyed the other three aspects of hip-hop, and that it was mainly practiced in areas where the other three elements of hip-hop were evolving as art forms. Graffiti is known to be the visual expression of the rap music of the decade, where breakdancing is the physical expression. In addition, graffiti has been made synonymous with the anti-establishment punk rock movement of the 1970s, with such bands as Black Flag and Crass stenciling to gain notoriety, thus bringing it into punk culture.

Graffiti artists sometimes select their nicknames ("tags"), like screennames, to reflect some personal qualities, but often a tag is chosen for how the word sounds when spoken aloud or how the letters sit with each other when written; usually referred to as how the tag "flows". The letters in a word can make doing pieces very difficult if the shapes of the letters don't sit next to each other in a visually pleasing way. Some tags are also plays on common expressions, such as Page3, 2Shae, 2Cold, In1 and many others. Tags also can represent a word, with an irregular spelling – for example; Train could be Trane or Trayne and Envy could be Envie or Envee. Tags can also contain subtle and often cryptic messages, or, in some cases, the artist's initials or other letters. The current year is often put up next to tags as well; the bomber Tox, from London, seldom writes just Tox; it is usually Tox03, Tox04, etc. In some cases, artists dedicate or create tags or graffiti in memory of a deceased friend – for example, "DIVA Peekrevs R.I.P. JTL '99". Tags are usually between 3 to 5 letters long to make the process of writing them illegally faster, but can be any length at all.

Initial groundwork for graffiti began around the late 1960s. Around this time, graffiti was mainly a form of expression by political activists. It was considered a cheap and easy way to make a statement, with minimal risk to the artist, often at the time a hippie. As the foundations of graffiti began, gang graffiti also began to arise, used largely by gangs to mark territory. Some gangs that made use of graffiti during this era included the Savage Skulls, La Familia, and Savage Nomads.

Towards the end of the 1960s the modern culture began to form in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The two graffiti artists considered to be responsible for the first true bombing are "Cool Earl" and "Cornbread".[7] They gained much attention from the Philadelphia press and the community itself by leaving their tags written everywhere. Around 1970-71, the centre of graffiti innovation moved from Philadelphia to New York City. Once the initial foundation was laid (occurred around 1966 - 1971), graffiti "pioneers" began inventing newer and more creative ways to write.[7]

Pioneering era

The time between 1969-1974 is referred to as the "pioneering era", where graffiti underwent a surge in styles and popularity. Soon after the migration to NYC, the city produced one of the first graffiti artists to gain media attention in New York, TAKI 183. TAKI 183 was a youth from Washington Heights, Manhattan who worked as a foot messenger. His tag is a mixture of his name Demetrius (Demetraki), TAKI, and his street number, 183rd. Being a foot messenger, he was constantly on the subway and began to put up his tags along his travels. This spawned a 1971 article in the New York Times titled "'Taki 183' Spawns Pen Pals".[7][5][8] Julio 204 is also credited as the first writer, but didn't get the fame that Taki received. TAKI 183 wasn’t the first graffiti artist, but he was the first to be recognized by society outside of the graffiti subculture. Super kool 223 made a permanent mark on the graffiti-movement by being the first to do pieces. Other notable names from that time are: Stay High 149, Hondo, Stitch 1, Junior 161 and Cay 161. Barbara 62 and Eva 62 were also important early graffiti artists in New York, and are the first known females to write graffiti.

As the influence of graffiti grew, a graffiti movement began in Brooklyn as well with prominent artist Friendly Freddie. Fab Five Freddy (Fred Brathwaite) is another popular graffiti figure of this time, often credited with helping to spread the influence of graffiti and rap music beyond its early foundations in the Bronx.Also taking place during this era was the movement from outside on the city streets to the subways. Graffiti also saw its first seeds of competition around this time. The goal of most artists at this point was called "getting up" and involved having as many tags and bombs in as many places as possible. Artists began to break into subway yards in order to hit as many trains as they could with a lower risk, often creating larger elaborate pieces of art along the subway car sides. This is when the act of bombing was said to be officially established. Around this time, tags began to take on their signature calligraphic appearance because, due to the huge number of artists, each graffiti artist needed a way to distinguish themselves. Aside from the growing complexity and creativity, tags also began to grow in size and scale – for example, many artists had begun to increase letter size and line thickness, as well as outlining letters in colour. The use of designs such as polka dots, crosshatches, and checkers became increasingly popular. Spray paint use increased dramatically around this time as artists began to expand their work. "Top-to-bottoms", works which span the entire height of a subway car, made their first appearance around this time as well. The overall creativity and artistic maturation of this time period did not go unnoticed by the mainstream – Hugo Martinez founded the United Graffiti Artists (UGA) in 1972. UGA consisted of many top graffiti artists of the time, and aimed to present graffiti in an art gallery setting. By 1974, graffiti artists had begun to incorporate the use of scenery and cartoon characters into their work, which later went on to become famous in Berlin Germany.

After the original pioneering efforts, which culminated in 1974, the art form peaked around 1975 – 1977. By this time, most standards had been set in graffiti writing and culture. The heaviest "bombing" in U.S. history took place in this period, partially because of the economic restraints on New York City, which limited its ability to combat this art form with graffiti removal programs or transit maintenance. Also during this time, "top-to-bottoms" evolved to take up entire subway cars. Most note-worthy of this era proved to be the forming of the "throw-up", which are more complex than simple "tagging," but not as intricate as a "piece". Not long after their introduction, throw-ups lead to races to see who could do the largest amount of throw-ups in the least amount of time. Graffiti writing was becoming very competitive and artists strove to go "all-city," or to have their names seen in all five boroughs of NYC. Eventually, the standards which had been set in the early 70s began to become stagnant. These changes in attitude lead many artists into the 1980s with a desire to expand and change.
This piece, in Leeds, England, covers a wall some 25 meters long.
This piece, in Leeds, England, covers a wall some 25 meters long.

The late 1970s and early 1980s brought a new wave of creativity to the scene. It was also, however, the last wave of true bombing before the Transit Authority made graffiti eradication a priority. The MTA (Metro Transit Authority) began to repair yard fences, and remove graffiti consistently, battling the surge of graffiti artists. With the MTA combatting the artists by removing their work it often led many artists to quit in frustration, as their work was constantly being removed. It was also around this time that the established art world started becoming receptive to the graffiti culture for the first time since Hugo Martinez’s Razor Gallery in the early 1970s. In 1979, graffiti artist Lee Quinones, and Fab Five Freddy were given a gallery opening in Rome by art dealer Claudio Bruni. Slowly, European art dealers became more interested in the new art form. For many outside of New York, it was the first time ever being exposed to the art form.

During the 1980s the cultural aspect of graffiti was said to be deteriorating almost to the point of extinction. The rapid decline in writing was due to several factors. The streets became more dangerous due to the burgeoning crack epidemic, legislation was underway to make penalties for graffiti artists more severe, and restrictions on paint sale and display made racking (stealing) materials difficult. Above all, the MTA greatly increased their anti-graffiti budget. Many favored painting sites became heavily guarded, yards were patrolled, newer and better fences were erected, and buffing of pieces was strong, heavy, and consistent. Many graffiti artists, however, chose to see the new problems as a challenge rather than a reason to quit. A downside to these challenges was that the artists became very territorial of good writing spots, and strength and unity in numbers became increasingly important. This was probably the most violent era in graffiti history – Artists who chose to go out alone were often beaten and robbed of their supplies. Some of the mentionable graffiti artists from this era were Skeme, Spade, BG 183, and Flight. This was stated to be the end for the casual NYC subway graffiti artists, and the years to follow would be populated by only what some consider the most "die hard" artists.

Die Hard era
Graffiti artist spray-painting a wall in Bucharest, Romania
Graffiti artist spray-painting a wall in Bucharest, Romania

The years between 1985 and 1989 became known as the "die hard" era. A last shot for the graffiti artists of this time was in the form of subway cars destined for the scrap yard. With the increased security, the culture had taken a step back. The previous elaborate "burners" on the outside of cars were now marred with simplistic marker tags which often soaked through the paint. By mid-1986 the MTA and the CTA were winning their "war on graffiti," and the population of active graffiti artists diminished. As the population of artists lowered so did the violence associated with graffiti crews and "bombing." Some notable graffiti artists of this era from New York and Chicago were Ghost, Ket, Bruz, Ja, Yes2, Sien5, Cope2, West, Zephyr, Dr. Revolt Cavs, Reas, Wane, Wen, Swatch, Sane, Smith, Seen, and T-kid (New York), and Sivel, Agent aka Ages, Lone, Koname, Temper, Nyke, Erie, Triple, Page, Scarce, Slang, Orko, and Trixter (Chicago).

Clean Train Movement era

The current era in graffiti is characterized by a majority of graffiti artists moving from subway cars to "street galleries." The Clean Train Movement started in May, 1989, when New York attempted to remove all of the subway cars found with graffiti on them out of the transit system. Because of this, many graffiti artists had to resort to new ways to express themselves. A lot of controversy arose among the streets debating whether graffiti should be considered an actual form of art.[9]

During this period many graffiti artists have taken to displaying their works in galleries and owning their own studios. This practice started in the early 1980s with artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, who started out tagging locations with his signature SAMO (Same Old Shit), and Keith Haring, who was also able to take his art into studio spaces.

In some cases, graffiti artists have achieved such elaborate graffiti (especially those done in memory of a deceased person) on storefront gates that shopkeepers have hesitated to cover them up. In the Bronx after the death of rapper Big Pun, several murals dedicated to his life appeared virtually overnight;[10] similar outpourings occurred after the deaths of The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur.[11][12] Princess Diana and Mother Teresa were also memorialised this way in New York City.

With the popularity and legitimization of graffiti has come a level of commercialization. In 2001, computer giant IBM launched an advertising campaign which involved people in various states spray painting on sidewalks a peace symbol, a heart, and a penguin (Linux mascot), to represent "Peace, Love, and Linux." However due to illegalities some of the "street artists" were arrested and charged with vandalism.[13]

Along with the commercial growth has come the rise of video game also depicting graffiti, usually in a positive aspect – for example, the game Jet Grind Radio tells the story of a group of teens fighting the oppression of a totalitarian police force that attempts to limit the graffiti artists' freedom of speech. Following the original roots of modern graffiti as a political force came another game title Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure which features a similar story line of fighting against a corrupt city and its oppression of free speech. Mark Ecko, an urban clothing designer, has been an advocate of graffiti as an art form during this period, stating that "Graffiti is without question the most powerful art movement in recent history and has been a driving inspiration throughout my career."[14]

Examples of graffiti styles.

Some of the most common styles of graffiti have their own names. A "tag" is the most basic writing of an artist's name in either spray paint or marker. "Tagging" is often the example given when opponents of graffiti refer to vandalism, as the artistic form is lacking and style of penmanship is highlighted more. Another form is "throw-ups" which are normally quickly done pieces featuring very simple pieces using few colors, sacrificing aesthetics for speed. Throw-ups are usually only a few letters. A "fill-in" or "piece" is a more elaborate throw-up incorporating more stylized "block" or "bubble" letters, using three or more colors. This of course is done at the expense of timeliness and increases the likelihood of the artist getting caught. A more complex style is "wildstyle", a form of graffiti involving interlocking letters, arrows, and connecting points. These pieces are often harder to read by non graffiti artists as the letters merge into one another in an often undecipherable manner. A "blockbuster" is a "fill-in" that intentionally takes up an entire wall, sometimes with the whole purpose of blocking other "taggers" from painting on the same wall. Some artists also use stickers as a quick way to "get-up". While its critics consider this as lazy and a form of cheating, others find that 5 to 10 minutes spent on a detailed sticker is in no way lazy, especially when used with other methods. Sticker tags are commonly done on blank postage stickers, or really anything with an adhesive side to it. "Stencils" are made by drawing an image onto a piece of cardboard or tougher versions of paper, then cut with a razor blade. What is left is then just simply sprayed-over, and if done correctly, a perfect image is left. Many graffiti artists believe that doing blockbusters or even complex wildstyles are a waste of time. Doing wildstyle can take (depending on experience) 8 hours to 2 days. Another graffiti artist can go over that time consuming piece in a matter of minutes with a bubble fill-in that would look just as good as a wildstyle piece.

Graffiti on Geary Boulevard, San Francisco, California.

Theories on the use of graffiti by avant-garde artists have a history dating back at least to the Scandinavian Institute of Comparative Vandalism of 1961.
Stencil by John Fekner: Charlotte Street Stencils, South Bronx, New York, 1980.
Stencil by John Fekner: Charlotte Street Stencils, South Bronx, New York, 1980.

Many contemporary analysts and even art critics have begun to see artistic value in some graffiti and to recognize it as a form of public art. According to many art researchers, particularly in the Netherlands and in Los Angeles, that type of public art is, in fact an effective tool of social emancipation or in the achievement of a political goal.[15]

The murals of Belfast and of Los Angeles offer another example of official recognition.[16] In times of conflict, such murals have offered a means of communication and self-expression for members of these socially, ethnically and/or racially divided communities, and have proven themselves as effective tools in establishing dialog and thus of addressing cleavages in the long run. The Berlin Wall was also extensively covered by Graffiti reflecting social pressures relating to the oppressive Soviet rule over the GDR.

Many artists involved with Graffiti also are concerned with the similar activity of Stencilling. Essentially, this entails stencilling a print of one or more colours using spray-paint. Graffiti artist John Fekner called "caption writer to the urban environment, adman for the opposition" by writer Lucy Lippard, was involved in direct art interventions within New York City's decaying urban environment in the mid-seventies through the eighties. Fekner is known for his word installations targeting social and political issues, stenciled on buildings throughout New York.

In the UK, Banksy is the most recognisable icon for this cultural artistic movement and keeps his identity secret to avoid arrest. Much of Banksy's artwork can be seen around the streets of London and surrounding suburbs, though he has painted pictures around the world, including the Middle East, where he has painted satirical pictures on Israel's controversial West Bank barrier with satirical images of life on the other side. One depicted a hole in the wall with an idyllic beach, while another shows a mountain landscape on the other side. A number of exhibitions have also taken place since 2000, and recent works of art have fetched vast sums of money.

Radical and political
Graffiti by Crass, stencilled on a London underground station wall, from the cover of their album, Stations of the Crass.
Graffiti by Crass, stencilled on a London underground station wall, from the cover of their album, Stations of the Crass.

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 around the London Underground system during the late 1970s and early 1980s.[17]

The developments of graffiti art which took place in art galleries and colleges as well as "on the street" or "underground", contributed to the resurfacing in the 1990s of a far more overtly politicized art form in the subvertising, culture jamming or tactical media movements. These movements or styles tend to classify the artists by their relationship to their social and economic contexts, since, in most countries, graffiti art remains illegal in many forms.

Contemporary practitioners, accordingly, have varied and often conflicting practices. Some individuals, such as Alexander Brener, have used the medium to politicise other art forms, and have used the prison sentences forced onto them as a means of further protest.[18]

The practices of anonymous groups and individuals also vary widely, and practitioners by no means always agree with each others' practices. Anti-capitalist art group the Space Hijackers, for example, did a piece in 2004 about the contradiction between the capitalistic elements of Banksy and his use of political imagery.

Peace dove graffito, Madrid.

On top of the political aspect of graffiti as a movement, political groups and individuals may also use graffiti as a tool to spread their point of view. This practice, due to its illegality, has generally become favored by groups excluded from the political mainstream (e.g. far-left or far-right groups) who justify their activity by pointing out that they do not have the money – or sometimes the desire – to buy advertising to get their message across, and that a "ruling class" or "establishment" control the mainstream press, systematically excluding the radical/alternative point of view. This type of graffiti can seem crude; for example fascist supporters often scrawl swastikas and other Nazi images.

Both sides of the conflict in Northern Ireland produce political graffiti. As well as slogans, Northern Irish political graffiti include large naïve wall paintings, referred to as murals. Along with the flying of flags and the painting of kerb stones, the murals serve a territorial purpose. Artists paint them mostly on house gables or on the Peace Lines, high walls that separate different communities. The murals often develop over an extended period and tend to stylization, with a strong symbolic or iconographic content. Loyalist murals often refer to historical events dating from the war between James II and William III in the late 17th century, whereas Republican murals usually refer to the more recent troubles.

Decorative and high art
Graffiti by Miss Van and Ciou in Barcelona

Graffiti art is now on exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum as a "contemporary art" form that began in New York's outer boroughs and reached great heights in the early '80s with the work of Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

It displays 22 works by New York graffiti artists, including Crash, Daze and Lady Pink. In an article in Time Out Magazine,[19] Curator Charlotta Kotik says that she hopes that the current exhibition will cause viewers to rethink their assumptions about graffiti. Terrance Lindall, noted surrealist artist whose works for Heavy Metal Magazine and Creepy and Eerie have inspired many of these artists, goes further:
“ Graffiti is revolutionary like the surrealist art I represented in my show Brave Destiny," he says, "and any revolution might be considered a crime. People who are oppressed or suppressed need an outlet, so they write on walls—it’s free... However, people also have a right to protect their property. It is a human dilemma. ”

In Australia, art historians have judged some local graffiti of sufficient creative merit to rank them firmly within visual art. Oxford University Press's art history text Australian Painting 1788-2000 concludes with a long discussion of graffiti's key place within contemporary visual culture, including the work of several Australian practitioners.[20]

Gang relations with graffiti
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Groups that live in industrial or poor areas may use graffiti for various purposes, especially if many groups populate one specific area or city. The main use is to mark either territory or "turf" by tagging a space such as a wall on building near or on the boundaries of a gang's turf to inform other gangs of their presence. Usually, this type of tag will have the name of the gang. They are also used to communicate with other gangs, usually to warn them of a coming assassination of a certain member, by either writing the member's street name and crossing it out, or by finding tags by the member and crossing them out. If a gang overwrites another gang's tag, it is also the symbol of a takeover of a gang's turf or a sign of aggression toward the gang. While most cities now take measures to prevent this, such as washing or erasing tags, it was much more common in the mid 1980s when crime waves ran high.

Government responses

United States

While graffiti advocates perceive graffiti as a method of reclaiming public space, their opponents regard it as an unwanted nuisance, or as expensive vandalism requiring repair of the vandalized property. Graffiti can be viewed as a "quality of life" issue, and its detractors suggest that the presence of graffiti contributes to a general sense of squalor and a heightened fear of crime.


In 1984, the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network (PAGN) was created to combat the city's growing concerns about gang-related graffiti. PAGN led to the creation of the Mural Arts Program, which replaced often hit spots with elaborate, commissioned murals that were protected by a city ordinance, increasing fines and penalties for anyone caught defacing a mural.
Computer-generated graffito, "No Guts, No Fame." Its anti-police theme shows both its subject's and its creator's frustration with the perceived legal threat against graffiti, and the belief that practicing this art form was worth the risk.
Computer-generated graffito, "No Guts, No Fame." Its anti-police theme shows both its subject's and its creator's frustration with the perceived legal threat against graffiti, and the belief that practicing this art form was worth the risk.

New York City

Advocates of the "broken window theory" believe that this sense of decay encourages further vandalism and promotes an environment leading to offenses that are more serious. Former New York City mayor Ed Koch's vigorous subscription to the broken window theory promoted an aggressive anti-graffiti campaign in New York in the early eighties, resulting in "the buff"; a chemical wash for trains that dissolved the paint off. New York City has adopted a strenuous zero tolerance policy ever since. However, throughout the world, authorities often, though not always, treat graffiti as a minor nuisance crime, though with widely varying penalties.

In 1995 Mayor Rudolph Giuliani of New York set up the Anti-Graffiti Task Force, a multi-agency initiative to combat the perceived problem of graffiti vandals in New York City. This began a crackdown on "quality of life crimes" throughout the city, and one of the largest anti-graffiti campaigns in U.S. history. That same year Title 10-117 of the New York Administrative Code banned the sale of aerosol spray-paint cans to children under 18. The law also requires that merchants who sell spray-paint must lock it in a case or display cans behind a counter, out of reach of potential shoplifters. Violations of the city's anti-graffiti law carry fines of $350 per count.[21] Famous NYC graffiti artist Zephyr wrote an opposing viewpoint to this law.[22]

On January 1, 2006, in New York City, legislation created by Councilmember Peter Vallone, Jr. attempted to make it illegal for a person under the age of 21 to possess spray-paint or permanent markers. The law prompted outrage by fashion and media mogul Marc Ecko who sued Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Councilmember Vallone on behalf of art students and legitimate graffiti artists. On May 1, 2006, Judge George B. Daniels granted the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction against the recent amendments to the anti-graffiti legislation, effectively prohibiting (on May 4) the New York City Police Department from enforcing the restrictions.[23] A similar measure was proposed in New Castle County, Delaware in April 2006[24] and was passed into law as a county ordinance in May 2006.[25]


Chicago's mayor, Richard M. Daley created the "Graffiti Blasters" to eliminate graffiti and gang-related vandalism. The bureau advertises free cleanup within 24 hours of a phone call. The bureau uses paints (common to the city's 'color scheme') and baking-soda based solvents to remove some varieties of graffiti.[26]

In 1992, an ordinance was passed in Chicago that bans the sale and possession of spray paint, and certain types of etching equipment and markers.[26] The law falls under Chapter 8-4: Public Peace & Welfare, Section 100: Vagrancy. The specific law (8-4-130) makes graffiti an offense that surpasses public drunkenness, peddling, or disruption of a religious service punitively with a fine of no less than $500 per incident.

Graffiti in Peterborough, UK

In Europe, community cleaning squads have responded to graffiti. For example, in the year 1992 in France, the Protestant youth group Éclaireurs de France took their graffiti-scrubbing equipment into the Meyrieres Cave near the French village of Bruniquel in Tarn-et-Garonne, where they carefully erased the ancient paintings from the walls, earning them the 1992 Ig Nobel Prize in archaeology.[27]

In September 2006, the European Parliament issued the European Commission to create urban environment policies in order to prevent and eliminate dirt, litter, graffiti, animals' excrement and excessive noise from domestic and vehicular music systems in European cities, along with other concerns over urban life.[28]

The Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 became Britain's latest anti-graffiti legislation. In August 2004, the Keep Britain Tidy campaign issued a press release calling for zero tolerance of graffiti and supporting proposals such as issuing "on the spot" fines to graffiti offenders and banning the sale of aerosol paint to teenagers.[29] The press release also condemned the use of graffiti images in advertising and in music videos, arguing that real-world experience of graffiti stood far removed from its often-portrayed 'cool' or 'edgy' image. To back the campaign, 123 MPs (including Prime Minister Tony Blair) signed a charter which stated: Graffiti is not art, it's crime. On behalf of my constituents, I will do all I can to rid our community of this problem.[30] However, in the last couple of years the British graffiti scene has been struck by self-titled 'art terrorist' Banksy, who has revolutionised the style of UK graffiti (bringing to the forefront stencils to aid the speed of painting) as well as the content; making his work largely satirical of the sociological state of cities, or the political climate of war, often using monkeys and rats as leitmotifs.

In the UK, city councils have the power to take action against the owner of any property that has been defaced under the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 (as amended by the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005) or, in certain cases, the Highways Act. This is often used against owners of property that are complacent in allowing protective boards to be defaced so long as the property isn't damaged.

Character created by graffiti artist

In an effort to reduce vandalism, many cities in Australia have designated walls or areas exclusively for use by graffiti artists. One example is the "Graffiti Tunnel" located at the Camperdown Campus of Sydney University, running between Science Rd and Manning Rd, and is available for use by any student at the University to tag, advertise, poster and create "art". Advocates of this idea suggest that this discourages petty vandalism yet encourages artists to take their time and produce great art, without worry of being caught or arrested for vandalism or trespassing.[31][32] Others disagree with this approach, arguing that the presence of legal graffiti walls does not demonstrably reduce illegal graffiti elsewhere.[33] Some Local Government Areas around Australia have introduced "anti-graffiti squads", who clean graffiti in the area. Many state governments have banned the sale or possession of spray paint to those under the age of 18 (age of majority).


Graffiti made the news in 1993, over an incident in Singapore involving several expensive cars found spray-painted. The police arrested a student from Singapore American School, Michael P. Fay, questioned him and subsequently charged him with vandalism. Fay pleaded guilty for vandalizing the car in addition to stealing road signs. Under the 1966 Singapore Vandalism Act, originally passed to curb the spread of communist graffiti in Singapore, the court sentenced him to four months in jail, a fine of 3,500 Singaporean dollars (US $2,233 or GB £1,450), and a caning. The New York Times ran several editorials and op-eds that condemned the punishment and called on the American public to flood the Singaporean embassy with protests. Although the Singapore government received many calls for clemency, Fay's caning took place in Singapore on May 5, 1994. Fay had originally received a sentence of six lashes of the cane, but the then President of Singapore Ong Teng Cheong agreed to reduce his caning sentence to four lashes.[34]

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