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How graffiti became a global art movement
According to Roger Gastman, the curator, producer and director behind the book and film Wall Writers: Graffiti In Its Innocence, graffiti first started showing up in the summer of 1967 in the cities of New York and Philadelphia.
Overnight, it seemed, writing appeared on walls, doors, pavements, stairs, mailboxes, lampposts, public transport and any other surface within reach. The tags – which usually featured the writer’s name and the street number that they lived on written in spray paint or felt tip pen – were the work of unprivileged adolescent kids. Unbeknown to them, these regular, mindless acts of gleeful vandalism were laying the foundations for street art as we know it today.
While, over time, the styles changed and altered, the motive remained constant: fame. During this period, graffiti artists were the celebrities, forming subcultural, symbiotic networks and movements of admirers and peers. Gastman’s project – a documentary film (narrated by John Waters) and 350+ page companion book – shines the light on a host of mischevious, charismatic characters. One notable story details a rumour that claimed CORNBREAD, an artist from Philidelphia, had died. In order to make it known that he was still very much alive and well, he tagged “Cornbread Lives” on an elephant at the Philadelphia Zoo – ultimately bringing himself even more notoriety.
Whether it’s the aforementioned TAKI 183, KOOL KLEPTO KIDD, COOL EARL, ROCKY 184 or the aforementioned CORNBREAD, each writer played a fundamental role in graffiti’s inception. Wall Writers documents a time, during 1967 – 1972, before the threat of commodification took hold, back when creativity existed without ulterior motive.