Do you remember the moniker “Kilroy was here”?
One theory of the origin of the phrase is that a quality inspector in a munitions plant in the 1940’s named JJ Kilroy wrote the moniker on bomb casings which were eventually distributed throughout Europe during World War II. The moniker was adopted by Allied soldiers who would draw the symbol on surfaces in the towns and regions they occupied. At the end of the war the moniker made its way back to North America and eventually became recognizable across all socioeconomic groups. Graffiti artists considered “Kilroy was here” one of the earliest forms of their art.
Modern graffiti is commonly understood to have originated in NYC in the late 1960’s as a basic form of communication. Taki 183, a moniker for an inner city courier, is widely known as an originator of graffiti “tagging” his name on surfaces wherever he went. At the time there was limited technology or ability to communicate widely across the city, state or country. It became apparent that graffiti was forming as a way for local inner city youth to express their ideas in an attempt to be recognized. Taki 183 was interviewed by the NYT after a reporter discovered his moniker throughout the city. The interview influenced similar socioeconomic groups to emulate him and the amount of graffiti in NYC exploded. Over time, tagging started getting more elaborate, larger and more complex and graffiti started to develop technique, style and most of all, a vocabulary.
Graffiti crews often travelled together but were not typically prone to excessive violence; street gang graffiti was typically distinguishable by its culture relating primarily to territory and did not have the same sophistication that went into most street art. Some “writers” were associated with gang members and in the early days graffiti clubs fought over turf in a similar way that street gangs did, however, graffiti crews made up a small microcosm of the overall street gang presence among the many sub-cultures in NYC.
The 1960’s and 1970’s were supercharged with political and social unrest, inner city strife and a widening racial divide. Graffiti was considered the breeding ground for the rebellion against government and state. Being able to been seen, heard, demonstrate life, character and talent without the means of modern technology fuelled tagging throughout inner city New York.
As the art form moved into the 1980’s a movement known as style wars developed. Groups or crews formed alliances to create larger more complex pieces and were constantly watchful for authorities to avoid prosecution. Graffiti artists started to develop sophistication; planning pieces in sketchbooks with their crews before starting work. Older writers would take on apprentices to pass on skills, develop talent and eventually assist with larger pieces. Even though NYC was widely considered the epicentre for graffiti, new styles started to develop over time in other parts of the world as regional influences took hold and broadened the spectrum of the art form.
Even today there still appears to be a strong link between graffiti and street culture. Graffiti is considered to represent an expression of identity, talent, skill and dedication, while also showcasing individuality, social resistance and cultural representation through an art form.
With the advent and ease of access to modern technology have the rebellious, politically charged societal pressures of the past been translated into new art forms and expressed through digital media such as social networking? As technology becomes more accessible to all socioeconomic classes, is the eventual downfall of traditional graffiti inevitable or will it always be a relevant part of the urban landscape? Are the spaces within the realm of social media becoming the new graffiti? Is tagging and writing now being played out in the digital world?
As an art form there are countless blogs and websites dedicated to individual expression of passion wherever you look. These destinations can be seen as an expression of culture on the streets of cyberspace. Then there is facebook, an almost direct replica of a world of graffiti in the form of random thoughts expressed by the need to be heard. When graffiti is seen as a destructive force, negative intrusions such as spamming forcing itself on your experience could be seen as similar to the tagging that may disturb you when you see it in your neighbourhood.
The internet is not currently regulated and therefore we can all tag at will. Will regulatory bodies and mass monetization eventually try to control the flow of information and content on the internet? Will both the art and destructive aspects of cyber graffiti eventually be thwarted by regulation similar to the City of New York’s war on graffiti started in the 1990’s? Will the internet have virtual fences to keep you out? Will the internet have virtual Teflon coated surfaces where your words, ideas and thoughts will not stick? If so, how will the resurgence of graffiti as a revolutionary expression be communicated by writers and taggers waiting in the wings to tag the walls of cyberspace?
Before it’s too late, tell me what your graffiti is?