How Street Art Jumped the Pop Culture Gap – Part 3

Throughout the late 70’s and into the early 80’s America’s big cities were becoming the canvas for graffiti artists, yet many people still didn’t know about it. With the word still anchored in the realm of mindless vandalism, few artists were actually recognised as such. Luckily the big names were not afraid of sharing their culture with the world. Thanks to dual artist and advocates for the art scene and subculture such as Fab 5 Freddy, the movement was taken out of the streets and into galleries for the first time. Within the scale of a few years, graffiti started to be taken more seriously and other artists began to take notice. Soon the style from the streets popped up in hugely popular music videos, on album covers and tour posters as musicians got in touch with the energetic style. In ’83 a documentary hit US TV sets called Style Wars which showcased the origin and current happenings in graffiti and associated cultures such as rap and dance. As the public became more exposed to this exciting previously underground phenomenon the scene grew exponentially, with all manner of celebrities wanting to get involved and driving graffiti even further.


This type of graffiti began to rise as new artists jumped into the boiling pot of talent. Using pre made stencils, the artist can quickly use a single colour to create an intricate picture which before would have been far more time consuming. Stencils regularly are used to create works that show people, bodies and faces, using the negative space to provide the effect of shadow. This method is quick and effective and is still used today.


During this time the skill set of artists who have been working in the medium continued to surpass all that was done before. Now characters began forming as icons, animals and faces started to accompany or replace writing. The name piece is short for masterpiece, but today these works may commonly be known as murals. These are the big breathtaking works that have a huge appeal. Often using a combination of styles including photo-realism, this is where the abstract writings that evolved from tags eventually land. Pieces are costly in time effort and often money, as the amount of paint needed to cover some of the locations is bank-breaking. Pieces are the pinnacle for artists, but because of the commitment needed to create them, most of them are legal. These spots simply wouldn’t have been available had graffiti not become a popular and recognised art form.

With the graffiti world adopting big names such as artist Keith Haring who not only contributed his own outdoor pieces but also opened up the Pop Shop in Manhattan, soon enough everyone would be able to get onboard as graffiti became marketable. In the coming years graffiti popped up on t-shirts, bags, collectible toys and appeared in video games. Graffiti eventually became a branding technique used by huge brands who used its underground appeal to sell to urban inhabitants. Today the art and artists that were formed in the streets have become a permanent part of popular culture, the illegal wrongdoers who were once declared war upon now have legitimate works and commissions from people as high up as the president. Now the culture is fighting back against the corporations, brands and tactics that brought it to light in the only way they know how. By leaving a message where it shouldn’t be.