The History of Graffiti and Hip Hop, Graffiti Art History Research by All Weather Artist Rik Cheetham

CHAPTER 10. Copy And Paste



The production processes, illustrative skills, typographic and communicative principles of self promotion used for graffiti writing, which grew around those of marketing and branding, slipped seamlessly back into that role.


For this reason the artistic culture around graffiti has produced many reputable designers, illustrators and graphic artists in addition to many other artistic and creative figure-heads working legitimately. Not forgetting those, who simply observe and apply the features to reflect the same image of urban chic.


Writers were already well schooled in ‘Getting a name up’, the biggest difference between those who might come from a graffiti background or even the social climate which makes for graffiti, was resourcefulness, individualism and pride. An artist from a graffiti background will acquire a knowledge and awareness of public space more easily than someone who works exclusively in front of a pad or a monitor. IIlustrators influenced by the anarchiac culture of graffiti through punk and the European political commentators, were also working commercially, something which some might consider as going against all that punk stood for as a culture. As might those from a Hip Hop background. However we must not forget that art is a product which can be bought and sold. The skills learnt through Hip Hop also provided legitimate employment for those who practiced them.


The early nineties saw a new technology adopted by artists, a medium that would enhance the potential and further the platforms available for graffiti influence to creep in to the commercial arena. Affordable, home, desktop publishing software changed the way the world would be able to communicate, a new tool to be exploited for visual production. The same features, originally dictated and adapted from aerosol production (see chapter Identical brushes) pg ) still featured heavily, whether vector based or produced with a pixel based airbrush.


In regards to form, comparable to how we might have a stereotypical perception of Asian calligraphy being associated with a particular style of stroke, the same can be said for how we relate strokes created by aerosol to the label graffiti suggesting an urban way of life, whether or not it has been created by aerosol or as graffiti. The forms were no longer contained by the boundaries by which graffiti production is confined. Did graphic design influence the content of graffiti? Of course it did. Did graffiti influence the content of modern graphic design? Beyond a shadow of a doubt. There are very few youth focussed brands which have not had a go at incorporating the urban image of graffiti writing into their branding.


In regards to format, apart from physically marking a machine when the owner is out of the room, producing graffiti on a computer doesn’t exist in the literal sense as graffiti is an unpermitted, public canvas for art. Whilst computers and their artistic output remained privately owned property we could only do graffiti on a computer if we tagged it when the user left their desk. However if we move forward a decade to the widespread use of the internet; a public, virtual domain; we can observe the equvilent to graffiti. Pop-ups and unsolicited advertising are equivalent to graffiti. Unwanted or unpermitted communications, which appear on screen when browsing through websites can fall into a similar category of unauthorised communication. Just as a throw-up or a tag might appear on the wall between shops on your local high street. The means of graffiti production adapt to technology, as does the art and design which forms the content.


The power graffiti has as ununpermitted art, is not unrecognised in corporate marketing, even at the highest levels. Many brands have had a go at guerilla marketing (graffiti) with mixed levels of success. Coca Cola and Pepsi have both been issued notices when their logos appeared on a protected part of the Himalaya Mountains, painted directly onto the rock face. The cleaning of which would have devasted the natural ecology of the rocks still further. IBM also got in trouble in San Francisco when they used chalk to scribe slogans on public property as part of an advertising campaign. It seems that graffiti as a format for art has not lost its communicative potency. These large companies will have been aware of the consequences of their actions. It is possible that the monetary cost in legal charges were small in comparison to the value of the advertising space they acquired. However, when Mcdonalds asked the respected TATS CRU muralists from New York to paint their restaurants, their statement said “we wanted something that reflects the lifestyle of our Hispanic costumers”. Many cinics were quick to claim the connection to graffiti was negative stereotyping of hispanic people. TATS CRU are one of the foremost aerosol art production crews and were quick to dispel most of the criticism with their creative talent. TATS CRU were not stencilling logos on to public property, they were not ruining the environment in pursuit of promotion; these complaints were generated by a legal, decorative, artistic production on private property, which said “Living In Harmony”. The negative connotation the word graffiti has, is a condition which often restricts the hugely creative potential that exists within our communities. The impact of graffiti, in both relation to artistic form and public format, in creative communication and expression can now be observed everyday, within a huge spectrum of visual media. However the value of the culture of artistic graffiti still appears to be undervalued, undesirable and underestimated.


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