What is graffiti?

We explain what graffiti is and the origin of the term. In addition, the types of graffiti and the history of this artistic technique.

  1. What is graffiti?

It is called graffiti, graffiti or graffiti to  a mode of street painting or visual art , usually illegal or paralegal, which is usually done on large areas of urban spaces: walls, gates, walls, etc.

It usually ranges from more or less abstract illustrations, to written messages and other forms of intervention through painting, usually in stencil or spray.

The term graffiti comes from the Italian and in turn the name given to the satirical inscriptions in public spaces made during the Roman Empire, known as  gra phyto , which are its most remote history.

This term, however, became very popular since its incorporation into American street culture, as well as the more or less counter-cultural movements of hip-hop and different urban tribes, which used this type of form of expression.

However, protest graffiti has long been part of the political imaginary of contemporary nations. It is often said that what the media is silent shouts the walls, meaning that before the repressive regimes that censor the press, graffiti  is imposed as a means of protest .

In other areas, however, it can be considered a form of visual pollution , especially the less harmonious and less visually elaborate writings.

Graffiti is usually  carried out on high or very visible walls , sometimes as a way of territorial marking or competition for conquering the boldest spaces, in view of the possible interruption of the drawing by the police.

In addition, the illustrations are not usually very durable, since public spaces are repainted.

There are three major types of graffiti, although there is no formal study of them , nor rules that are too strict for their preparation:

  • Art  graffiti . Associated with the hip-hop culture of the 70s and 80s in the United States, it tends to represent more or less abstract motifs, names (“tags” or tags: code names) or recurring messages, always through a display of colors and in ways that sometimes take several days to finish.
  • Public graffiti . The public “slogans” that appear in a city and reiterate slogans or political messages, more or less satirical or rude, trying to give a message to the masses. Protest graffiti also falls into this category.
  • Latrinalia . This is the name of the less elaborate, rude and generally low-grade graffiti that predominates in public toilets and transit spaces, such as doors, elevators, trains, etc. They can be from confessions of love, threats, denunciations to attempts of poetry or story.

More elaborate expressions of graffiti are valued today as a form of artistic intervention of the urban space, becoming world famous despite its ephemeral character, such as the designs of the anonymous British graffiti artist Banksy.

  1. Graffiti history

The appearance of spray paint allowed graffiti to expand further.

The contemporary history of graffiti does not have a clear beginning , nor does it have an explicit connection with its aforementioned Roman background. The walls have been filled with anonymous messages on various occasions and before different social or political processes.

For example, the case of graffiti attributed to the famous murderer Jack The Ripper in London of 1888, which appeared on a wall next to a bloody piece of apron, is famous. It was made with blood and prayed: ” The Juwes  are  the men That Will not  be  Blamed for nothing ” (“The Jews are the men who will not be accused of anything”), a cryptic message whose literal meaning was never deciphered, as it was Deleted before dawn.       

Another famous case is that of the message “ Killroy was here “(” Killroy was here! “) Accompanied by a sticky figure on a wall, which the Allied troops found on their way to the liberation of Europe from the Nazis in World War II . The message began in Tunisia, then it was in Italy and France, without its author ever knowing.  

The appearance of spray paint in the mid-twentieth century, allowed graffiti to take a greater body in the cities, and from then on it became a common tool in the tribal expression and marking of gang territories, then winning enhance as a form of anonymous but harmonious street expression, through landscapes, figures and original designs, which could sometimes be repeated throughout various cities of the country or even the world.

By the 90s the movement of artistic graffiti had gained enough strength to reinvent itself in methods (stencil, gigantography, wallpaper and other graphic and advertising design techniques ) and gain some sociological and even artistic interest, thus creating Street Art, from which exhibitors are more or less known artists such as Bansky, Shepard Fairey, Jean Michel-Basquiat, Mr. Brainwash and a huge etcetera.

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