The History of Street Art – Part 1

The word “graffiti” is often used to refer to guerrilla artwork on train lines or on the walls of inner cities. This was particularly popular in the 60s and 70s. “Tagging” was among the earlier methods used by graffiti artists, which saw these artists encode their own names on the sides of subway vehicles or buildings through the use of elaborate typography.

Artists were awarded additional points for tagging locations that were at great heights or otherwise inaccessible. Each artist tried to make a more impressive mark than the last Talent was determined by skilled use of spray paint as well as the uniqueness of their marks.

Graffiti vs government

This form of art was designed to be transgressed from its very earliest days. Where the signage of global companies was everywhere in popular culture, graffiti was seen as the enemy of government and commercialism. Politicians and wealthier communities often perceived street art in a negative light, as it was associated with gang culture. However, it was also used as a way for disenfranchised citizens to communicate their disapproval with the world.

Street art also has a close relationship with hip-hop culture. That explains why a large number of these artists started working in New York. The art form quickly reached urban centres across the country. Rapper Fab 5 Freddy was closely connected to the street art community through such artists as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring.

Subway style

Haring, in particular, achieved notoriety in the evolution of street art after his public installations in New York subways in the 80s. He had a unique style, with his “radiant baby” motif, vivid colours, and bold outlines. Like a great number of other street artists, his work went hand-in-hand with activism. The AIDS crisis influenced his work by informing society about the dangers of prejudice.

Another street artist, and a friend of Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, began his work in 70s Manhattan with spray-painted enigmatic epigrams. Basquiat had also made a friend in the form of Andy Warhol, with whom he often collaborated. In 1992, the Whitney Museum of American Art showcased Basquiat’s work as a sign of respect to street art. His work can be seen in the private collections of many prominent collectors and in most major institutions.

Graffiti heroes

As street art began to achieve popularity beyond NYC, heroes began to crop up in each individual city. Taki 183, for example, made a name for himself in Washington D.C. The artist’s name came from combining the number of his street with his nickname. His canvases now sell for thousands of dollars at auctions.

Barry McGee, a contemporary street artist, is regarded as being among the most pivotal artists in the movement. A San Francisco native, McGee was influenced by the cartoon style of other street artists. His works were designed to attract attention to the Bay Area’s homeless population. McGee’s work was exhibited in the 2001 Venice Biennale, and shortly after, his works began turning up on the secondary market, with their value soaring.