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graffiti subculture

Contents 1. Introduction 2 Graffiti and its Beginnings 3. The Rise of Graffiti 4. Graffiti’s Transition to the Mainstream Culture 5. Voice of Graffiti 6. Evaluation 7. Reference 8. Bibliography

Introduction In this essay im going to be analysing the Graffiti Sub-Culture, looking specifically at its history and how it has progressed and evolved over time into the modern day. The trouble it has encountered and the attention it has attracted, assessing whether or not it has gained popularity within mainstream culture and mainstream society, through the likes of artists like Banksy. Also giving the viewer of this document a taste of the lifestyle of graffiti and its associated projects and finally analysing graffiti to asses if it will ever be excepted among the hegemony.



simple written words to elaborate wall paintings

Graffiti and its Beginnings Graffiti has been around as long as the human race, it exists in the caves of the first man to walk the earth, and remained a solid instrument through the generations and decades, it’s stuck with us till the present day. Graffiti at its most primitive form is in the examples of cave paintings or drawings which were used to tell other primitive men stories or to warn and inform them of something in particular. “Graffiti ranges from simple written words to elaborate wall paintings, and has existed since ancient times, with examples dating back to Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. ”

This suggests that graffiti is the first form of communication known to mankind or even the first mode or vessel of relaying and demonstrating information between one and another, this however fails to take account that primitive man didn’t have any other forms of media, like we have today to use to communicate.

years, from the Romans using it as a territorial marker for buildings, cities and the land they hand conquered.

“The earliest forms of graffiti date back to 30,000 BCE in the form of prehistoric cave paintings and pictographs using tools such as Animal bones and pigments.” (Prof Goldman 1997) Graffiti continued to be found throughout the


lawlessness and destruction 4

The Romans also had a use for graffiti as a form of advertisement “One inscription gives the address of a woman named Novellia Primigenia of Nuceria, a prostitute, apparently of great beauty, whose services were much in demand. Another shows a phallus accompanied by the text, ‘mansueta tene’: “Handle with care.” This extract demonstrates graffiti being used as a form of early advertisement, the public consider graffiti as normally being riddled with negative associations of a derogatory nature and associated with a selection of negative connotations such as being situated in a urban landscape or economically run-down area, while this hasn’t always been the case it has been proven that graffiti was just the available medium of demonstration at a time when modern advertisement methods where not available, however graffiti that we see on a regular basis makes relative associations to the surroundings of the area where the graffiti is situated.

There is some truth in the preconceived connotation of graffiti referring to the broken window theory. “Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.” (James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling 1982) This is why the semiotics of graffiti are related too urban land scape of disrepair thus coinciding with the broken window theory and furthering the semiotics of graffiti as something of a negative effect and nature. This suggests that things which are left to be broken or in disrepair will only lead to a chain reaction of further lawlessness and destruction. However isn’t graffiti deemed to be an art form? Since art does also create negative feelings, there must be a dividing line between art and vandalism! However the manor it which the graffiti or art is situated dictates whether or not the piece in question is art or vandalism. While graffiti has many different forms it will always appear on the side of public or privately owned property.


nonsensical fad of vandalism

Alas graffiti hasn’t always been deemed quite so useless or inappropriate. Graffiti throughout the ages has given us a vast understanding of past cultures, languages and colonies. The grammatical errors in the graffiti offer us important information to whether or not the “education system” and implementation of literacy at the time was effective. “It was not only the Greeks and Romans that produced graffiti: the Mayan site of Tikal in Guatemala also contains ancient examples. Viking graffiti survives 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. These early forms of graffiti have contributed to the understanding of lifestyles and languages of past cultures.” (http:// 2011) This historical fact verifies that “graffiti” is not a nonsensical fad of vandalism, but has had the potential to be a valid documentation of the past and thus giving us a better understanding of the time before ours, thus playing a important role within certain areas of history.


Somewhere along the great time line of earth graffiti made it’s transition into “modern graffiti”, the graffiti that the public are used to seeing on a day to day basis.

proves to be a replication of guerrilla advertisement that can be seen around us in the present day, whether it be in the form of a poster, flyer, spam, letter, sticker or via a megaphone.

“The first known example of “modern style” graffiti survives in the ancient Greek city of Ephesus (in modernday Turkey). Local guides say it is an advertisement for prostitution. Located near a mosaic and stone walkway, the graffiti shows a hand-print that vaguely resembles a heart, along with a footprint and a number. This is believed to indicate that a brothel was nearby, with the hand-print symbolizing payment.” (

“Guerrilla marketing is an advertising strategy in which low-cost unconventional means (graffiti, sticker bombing, flash mobs) are utilized, often in a localized fashion or large network of individual cells, to convey or promote a product or an idea.” (http:// marketing 2010)

Although this extract refers to it as an early demonstration of graffiti this doesn’t take into account that it’s an advertisement which is using the medium of graffiti as a vessel of conveying the message, this cant be considered the first example of modern day graffiti since it

This statement highlights that graffiti is considered an essential part of guerilla advertisement and not the other way round thus reinforcing the concept of the graffiti uncovered in Rome as mearly only a early reconstruction of primitive advertisement.


1980’s in New York


The Rise Of Graffiti Graffiti became popular and began to grow in popularity in the 1980’s in New York originally, this is where a proportion of writers, consider it to be the birth place of the graffiti as we know it. With the likes of prolific taggers such as the world infamous Taki 183 “TAKI 183 was one of the most influential graffiti writers in its history. His “tag” was short for Demetaki, a Greek alternative for his birth-name Demetrius, and the number 183 came from his address on 183rd Street in Washington Heights. He worked as a foot messenger in New York City and would write his nickname around the streets of New York City that he frequented during the late 1960s and early 1970s.” (New York Times 1971) By the 1980’s graffiti was starting to snowball into something much larger, a phenomenon. This is evident in the news coverage of the “epidemic” which tagging

and graffiti received, with taggers such as Taki 183 popping up everywhere. “The MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authorities) had to spend over 300 000 dollars to remove subway. This amount was the equivalent of 80 000 working hours necessary to remove graffiti.” (ARPONE 2001) That statement covers the extent of the damage for only 1 year to the New York Subway. Graffiti made such a large impact that a film was made based around Taki 183 called “Turk 182” he even starred in the film. This is evidence which proofs that graffiti was and is an influential force, especially if Hollywood wanted to cash in on the graffiti lifestyle, this was the first step towards the mainstream, taking the subculture and inverting it into a mainstream society and mainstream understanding.


Aerosol Boom


In the 1990’s the graffiti culture landed in the UK, noticeably in Bristol it was known nationally as the “Aerosol Boom” its popularity continued to snowball in the UK as well as highlighting and profling prolific taggers such as “TOX” and writers across the UK., This soon lead to the phenomenon of Banksy.

humour with graffiti done in a distinctive stencilling technique. Such artistic works of political and social commentary have been featured on streets, walls, and bridges of cities throughout the world. Banksy’s work was born out of the Bristol underground scene which involved collaborations between artists and musicians.” (http:// 2010)

“Banksy is a pseudonymous England-based graffiti artist, political activist, film director, and painter. His satirical street art and subversive epigrams combine irreverent dark

Banksy made graffiti a acceptable form of art talks about all the classes of the UK by mixing art with political statements.

In the present day graffiti represents its self towards us in a variety of ways from tags to thowups and scrawlings across a bus stop to even paint thrown over a monument. Any sort of implication of information (visual or literal) that is implemented onto a surface can be classed as a piece of graffiti. A lot of people are confused to why graffiti happens and the need for it, some people think its because the youth of that particular generation are bored and have nothing to do. Nevertheless evidence this is not the case with the world renowned “Banksy” he is neither bored or a child. “Banksy previously believed to be one Robert or Robin Banks and born in 1974/5 in Yate, Bristol. He doesn’t not give interviews very often but was once interviewed in 2003 by Simon Hattenstone, a reporter for the Guardian newspaper. He described Banksy as looking like a “cross between Jimmy Nail and Mike Skinner of the Streets” and turning up wearing scruffy casual jeans and t-shirt, sporting a silver tooth, silver chain and silver earring. ” (Simon Hattertstone 2003)

Thus reinforcing the ideal that not all graffiti is produced my angsty teens. Banksy is the most prolific graffiti artist/vandal to date is in-fact a man in his mid 30’s, on the other hand Banksy has been “painting” since he was 14 years old. The stigma that exist around graffiti suggest that the culprits are teenagers from a lower class background, be that as it may Banksy is speculated to be from a very different background from what is the pre conceived norm of a vandal “And far from being a radical tearaway from an inner-city council estate, the man we have identified as Banksy is, perhaps all too predictably, a former public schoolboy brought up in middle-class suburbia.” (Claudia Joseph 2008) Banksy doesn’t deny these speculations of research into his life which would suggest that they are closer to uncovering the truth. Similarly it could be argued that this information is so far away from the truth that he just doesn’t care to comment and anything that keeps people away from his true identity, it is only going to help him evade capture.

lower class background



Banksy is a highly politically motivated artist, who pulls on the strings of the nation bringing the attention of problems to the world. Banksy is arguable the most notable graffiti artist that’s in the public eye and interest. But not everyone loves this caped crusader of graffiti. A lot of hardcore followers of graffiti consider Banksy to be nothing more than a sell-out, someone who uses graffiti as a means of income and notoriety. “The most expensive Banksy work ever sold is in fact a corruption of a piece by one of Britain’s most controversial contemporary artists, Damien Hirst. Keep It Spotless features one of Hirst’s famous ‘spot’ paintings, adapted by Banksy to feature the maid sweeping up which first appeared on his ‘Sweeping it Under the Carpet’ mural in Camden. The maid, a portrait of a Los Angeles hotel maid named Leanne, appears


on the work pulling up Hirst’s piece to expose a brick wall behind it.The work was sold during a Sotheby’s Charity auction in New York in December 2008 for a record price of $1.87 million.” (http://en.wikicollecting. org/the-top-ten-most-expensive-banksyworks-sold-at-auction) Evidently Banksy isn’t being short changed to any extent. That isn’t to say that other graffiti artist’s don’t think what he does is a good thing it emphasises a good light on to graffiti pulling it into the mainstream making it more acceptable. Essentially Banksy is considered to be a graffiti cash cow doing nothing more than cashing in on a passing fad, at the same time Banksy did or still maybe does write or tag under the name “ghostboy” to keep his heritage alive and separate from his Banksy persona. There is no such thing as bad publicity anyone can tell you that, graffiti is a part

highly politically motivated artist

of mainstream culture in the sense that it is high profile, and in and out of the media, books, music and the newspapers. All of this only generate more interest in graffiti bringing more custom for every economic aspect of graffiti, spray paint companies and even associated clothing, it also brings the next generation of writers along wanting their shot at infamy. Whether its to be recognized as a international political force similar to Banksy or to be a notorious tagger resented by the BTP (British Transport Police). Everything makes its circle though being popular to being out dated to becoming retro and again the circle repeats itself, unless you are truly grasped by the passing fad and you follow it.


Graffiti’s Transition to the Mainstream Culture

Graffiti has always been largely considered as a subculture by hegemonic culture. But it is arguable that its had gone in a tangent into mainstream culture. To an extent it is plausible to say that Banksy and his associated projects are mainstream, while the origins of graffiti, the writers and taggers are untouched remain periforal within society . But this can become annoying for the hardcore followers, because people are receiving a warped untrue and contorted representation of what graffiti is. Graffiti for a long time was seen as a


nuisance and something that was defiling the streets, but between its origins of the 1980’s and the 2000’s it has somehow became a popular and loved art form among everyone from parents to MPs and even celebrities. As mentioned earlier there isn’t such thing as bad publicity, and this is where graffitis popularity stems from. Hence why MPs and Celebrities endorse “artistic” graffiti as produced by Banksy. Again these people understand all publicity is good publicity. However this begs the question what is the

dividing line between vandalism and art? The majority of people consider that Banksy as an artist, while I’ve already mentioned a lot of writers say otherwise, not to say they don’t admire what he’s done for the scene, but this is a case of double standards that people would accept one form of graffiti and not another! Graffiti stereotypically is viewed by the public as a form of rebellion from the younger generations (13-18), since statistically young people after the age of 18 are rarely arrested for graffiti according to the figures

because they “grew out of it” its safe to say as we grow up and our ideals rarely change and we only become more aware and astute to the happenings around us. People don’t stop graffiting as it is considered to be a way of life and being. “As writers earn fame and respect, their self-concepts begin to change. At the beginning, ‘when you start off doing graffiti you’re more or less like a nobody and you just work your way up to be someone’. In this light, a writer’s career might be better described as a ‘moral career.” (The Graffiti Subculture 2001) People just become aware and regularly outsmart the authorities as evident via Banksy

public uproar.

he has got away with countless acts of “terrorism”. Usually when graffiti appears on a building or a wall it is removed to restore it to its original state and people appreciate this to “keep the streets clean” alternatively what happens when a piece of Banksy works appears? Its usually covered in a perspex box to protect and preserve so it would increase interest in the area and or building in question thus boosting economics for the local business’s, but if we remove this ”art” there is a public uproar. “An artwork painted on the side of a British hotel by world famous guerilla artist Banksy has been destroyed by vandals. Staff at the

Grosvenor Hotel in Torquay, Devon, were shocked to discover the image of a young boy drawing a robot - worth £150,000 - on the side of the hotel had been damaged. Vandals broke through protective perspex glass protecting the painting - which appeared last October - and doused the wall with paint stripper, and ‘obliterated’ the little boy.” (http://www. article-1392356/Banksyartwork-destroyed-vandalssmash-glass-protector-dousewall-paint-stripper.html 2011) The double standards of the community are clearly apparent on a daily basis. A lot of people argue that Banksy is artistic and revolutionary, this is wrong in both respects.


Imitation Banksy is not a revolutionary or an original he has merely copied work of an artist called Blek Le Rat this is a little known fact among the public. ‘When I see Banksy making a man with a child or Banksy making rats, of course I see immediately where he takes the idea. I do feel angry. When you’re an artist you use your own techniques. It’s difficult to find a technique and style in art so when you have a style and you see someone else is taking it and reproducing it, you don’t like that. I’m not sure about his integrity. Maybe he has to show his face now and show what kind of guy he is. It’s true that some people say Banksy is a p***k and a lot of young people consider Banksy like a God.” (Elizabeth Sanderson 2011) Blek Le Rat is unimpressed by the “blatant” copy of his style and art however Banksy did return a statement


“Every time I think I’ve painted something original I find out that Blek le Rat has done it as well, only 20 years earlier.“ Secondly Banksy is artistic, but art is subjective you could love it they could hate it but its still art either way, a tag could be described as mindless scrawlings but to someone else its artistic, due to the letter forms, the colour used and the placement. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. This use of double standards annoys graffiti artists because there is very little which separates their work from Banksy it is only a difference of media and influence and the subjective views of observers, clearly Banksy appeals to a larger audience, but this isn’t to say that other graffiti isn’t art, or to either confirm it is. Graffiti is what it is, writings on the wall.

graffiti is almost a business.

There is a lot of irony within this, in that graffiti is something that made things ugly and unwelcoming but is now appears to be something that creates revenue and profit margins, graffiti is almost a business. Its printed on shirts, mugs, coasters and even diaries there isn’t much that it hasn’t been branded on, at the same time it creates public interest, encourages tourism helping the economy in places like Camden, London UK, graffiti is key in its heritage, saying that you cant walk through there without seeing Banksy canvas’s everywhere. Graffiti is definitely part of mainstream culture but has its roots hidden in the dark where it will all return once the buzz over Banksy has depleted.



symbol of violence and gang lifestyles

As demonstrated previously, up until the modern graffiti seen today has clearly been used for political/propagandise purposes, social and advertisement purpose and even personal, and it hasn’t changed one bit over this vast amount of time. It is fair to say that graffiti is motivated for different reasons. This can all be related back to the cavemen who daubed walls, could it not be that all this is part of some sort of primeval urge inside us. “You could stick all my shit in Tate Modern and have an opening with Tony Blair and Kate Moss on roller blades handing out vol-au-vents and it wouldn’t be as exciting as it is when you go out and paint something big where you shouldn’t do it.” (Banksy 2011) Its been present through history it isn’t a fad that has died out, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been in or out of fashion after all everything travels the full circle, it clearly has a hardcore fan base, like other sub-cultures “We hear talk of ‘subcultures’ all the time. The term can be found in the popular press, in ‘underground’ style magazines, in debates and discussions among the young and the old.” (Nancy McDonald 2001) So are all the individuals who create graffiti (the graffiti sub culture) therefore from the say neighbourhood being also the same age, race and sex? The above reasons dont affect people to become “graffiti artists” they make them who they are more so than there upbringing and there surroundings and understanding

of the world and everything that is happening in it. Alternatively graffiti has been used in suburbs around the world as a territorial marker between gangs, this is a territorial motive or even a war of “testosterone”. “Graffiti is an impulse to get recognized” (Nancy McDonald 2001) though upbringing can affect the people that chose to do graffiti because it is by law illegal, some households do not have have a problem with breaking the law and are quite relaxed with rules and to an extent would be a lawless household, however this wasn’t the case in reference to Banksy. Some people are aware of the world systems and what’s happening around use graffiti as a metaphorical megaphone to demonstrate a voice which will be noticed by hundreds if not thousands of people (advertisement). “Art is an evolutionary act. The shape of art and its role in society is constantly changing. At no point is art static. There are no rules.” (Raymond Salvatore Harmon) People are still wary of graffiti as a symbol of violence and gang lifestyles which are associated with it, which to an extent is true put can be pigeon holed quite so easily. Generation after generation have been affected by numerous things i.e. governments, health issues and economic collapses, graffiti does affect people differently but only through the happenings through the circumstances of a period of time.


Voice of Graffiti I spoke with a “graffiti ¬artist” about what they think about graffiti. I asked them why they started to graffiti, their reply was simple “Ive seen graffiti in a lot of places from an early age, and as you grow up you see certain tags (names) repeating them selves throughout one town or city. I wanted the infamy, I wanted a second life.”

Some people love it some hate it, me I don’t really care. I do it for myself and for nothing else.” I concluded the interview by asking them the generic question, Do you think that “graffiti artists” are all the same type of people?

“No, eveyone has there reasons, freedom, rebellion, artistic or just to fuck the system. I know guys that are 40 years old have normal 9-5 job, they have children every aspect of there life is “ I honestly dont really know, like visual pretty normal but he still comes people will walk past graffiti and not to the yard and paints with us on a say a word, but If a article is published regular basis. You cant pigeon hole in a newspaper stating about someones graffiti its a lot of different things, but work people start getting there backs up, you cant always tell who’s a writer from and talking down on to graffiti despite looking at there clothes and hands, look it being almost unrecognised to them. for ink or paint.” I continued to ask them how they thought the public viewed their work?


look for ink or paint


Graffiti isn’t restricted by boundaries it appears everywhere from the street corner to the city centre to the passing trains to the places where you question how they even got there. Graffiti is already established as the game of fame, and something that would impress people and graffiti lovers, engaging and evoking the viewer, as the graffiti can be seen in the most unobtainable places such as the tops of buildings. You can find tags, writings and graffiti generally around all the suburbs and neighbourhoods without exception this is because a graffiti artist will not have a claim to fame if they aren’t “up” this is to become known as an “all city king” this title is what a lot of artists strive to be know as. “If you get sucked into graffiti, it’s like a job, it has to be successive for it to be successful. Like, if you really want a career in a business,you have to sort of get your head down and get into it and I think with graffiti, with the element of extremism and wanting to be the best and the most famous and all the rest of it, you get into it and

it just takes on the same role as what a job would.” (Nancy McDonald 2001) So moving on the artists will make there way into town and city centres and tag the tops of buildings (heaven spots) and bus stops next to anything that is somewhere with high visibility there isn’t much point in tagging something that people cant see with ease. Heaven spots are considered a good feat of vandalism among writes since it can involve huge amounts of risk and potential life threatening climbs or descents. Writers also seem to tag and paint trains, but not any train mainly freight trains because they have big open smooth sides that are essentially a large canvas that is easy to paint, it appears to be easy to access these trains since the will stop at train yards over night where there are plenty of trains at any given time, the only danger is looking out for security guards and capture. The trains seem to be a favourite because they are mobile form of advertisement for the writers with very little restraint for the size of the

essentially a large canvas 22

piece they are painting up to 15 foot tall, and as long as the carriage or the trains length. Painting a “carriage� a singular carriage carries a fair amount of respect for writers since its time consuming and a demonstration of their skills as a graffiti artist. But alas not all graffiti is used for infamy and recognition, it is used within gangs of different neighbourhoods and boroughs, this is similar to how the Romans used it to mark conquered or owned land or areas.


TOX was sent to jail for 18 months. Most peoples assumption of this gang graffiti is that it is associated with groups of individuals operating outside the law, gang culture is a very scary concept this is not the case that all graffiti is of a threatening use. Territorial is what gangs use graffiti for, since its quick and easy to do opposed to making a sign. A lot of stigma comes with graffiti especially that its all gang associated which is completely wrong. Another application of graffiti is its use as a tool of propaganda Banksy is a good example of this using graffiti or stencilling to demonstrate an extreme representation of a idea, usually indirectly addressing a “problem” with the world. The problem with having so many different variations of graffiti and its application is that its all put under one word,


one umbrella and one tag, graffiti. Since graffiti isn’t sanctioned unless on a designated site. The authorities have several different ways of trying to deal with graffiti. The usual penalties start with a fine or even community service, moving onto ASBO’s and breach of the order climaxing at jail sentences. While jail sentence are far and few between they do happen and aren’t necessarily short term in anyone’s eyes “One of Britain’s most prolific graffiti vandals is finally behind bars today after being hailed an ‘urban icon’ for avoiding prison for so long. Daniel Halpin, 26, claims he can make £4,500 an hour selling pictures with his TOX ‘tag.’ But he has spent most of the last ten years defacing trains, bridges and walls - and then blames ‘imitators’ for writing his name.” (http://

article-2000723/Tox-graffitiartist-facing-prison-scrawlingsimplistic-tags-London.html) TOX was sent to jail for 18 months. The authorities are definitely not going about dealing with graffiti the right way at all, there are not many places where graffiti is condoned such as legal walls or skate parks, if people can not do what they enjoy somewhere they don’t really have a lot of choice, of course not everyone would want to graffiti legally but some would happily paint a legal wall rather than being told they can not do it anywhere which will only spur more illegal activity and a lack of respect for the “authorities” without facing convictions.


at the end of it all its just writing on the wall open to interpretation and free minds.


Evaltuation Similar to art itself graffiti is subjective and requires a certain type of person to appreciate it, this type of person is undefined to an extent the only thing that links these people together is a greater understanding and heightened sense of our surroundings. While graffiti has been around for thousands of years it still struggles to be accepted, how ever it is now more accepted than it ever has been due to the likes of Banksy and Blek Le Rat. Banksy isn’t a graffiti artist he’s an artist, using an “alternative” medium to convey his messages to add a more robust and urban edge to his politically influenced work. However this isn’t strictly a true representation of graffiti and more of a politically motivated and therefore interesting tangent of

graffiti that appeals to the public. However graffiti will always be a subculture because for it to become mainstream people would have to accept the whole thing and not just the tip of the iceberg, saying that, it has come along way in the public light, again the roots are solidly embedded in the underground where they will remain to stay and this is where the “members” of the subculture will keep it, Graffiti is a lot of things to a lot of different people but at the end of it all its just writing on the wall open to interpretation and free minds.


Profile for Sam Fisher

Graffiti Subculture.  

This is my dissertation i wrote, its about the subculture of graffiti, i wanted the design if the magazine to be clean but to still reflect...

Graffiti Subculture.  

This is my dissertation i wrote, its about the subculture of graffiti, i wanted the design if the magazine to be clean but to still reflect...