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Don't Call it "Graffiti"

Discussion in 'Third Rail' started by icetray, Mar 11, 2006.

  1. icetray

    icetray Junior Member

    Joined: Sep 25, 2004 Messages: 208 Likes Received: 1


    From its early beginnings in the late 1960s, the aerosol culture of New York City developed into one of the most vibrant and unprecedented art movements. Its young artists, all self-taught and predominantly from Hispanic and African-American backgrounds, have been involved in a genuinely revolutionary artistic development, whose followers have been consistently persecuted, harassed and ignored by social, political and cultural forces

    Originally stemming from stylised names drawn out on walls and subway trains, the culture of rebellion that went alongside it brought retribution from authority. Aerosol culture was born out of an era when many of its youth identified strongly with the protests of Vietnam, the suppression of those from the ghetto, the riots and burnings of rebellion. Human rights, racism, poverty, crime, drugs, all played their part. This feeling of being outside society, of art and revolution closely linked, is still a strong element.

    The first signatures depicting the logos of the alias names of their owners, appearing on city walls and shutters, drawn with magic marker pens, may have been a cry from the streets, a shout of existence in a world that was not their own. A re-affirmation of the self in a hostile environment. Although termed 'graffiti' by the press and observers, the artists referred to themselves as 'writers'.

    I met the tall, soft-spoken Phase 2, one of the great masters of aerosol art, in New York. He explained the logic of this definition:

    'First of all, don't call it graffiti. Those of us who truly understand the magnitude and depth of this culture would never refer to it as that. What is that terminology supposed to represent anyway? It's like calling a meteor a pebble. Technically it's not politically correct, unquestionably due to the fact that from the very beginning we called ourselves 'writers' and what we did 'writing'.

    Phase 2 (or Phase Too) first came to prominence in the first major wave of writers to emerge from Manhattan. He seemed to reluctantly accept his fame. He explains that his first intention was to get his name known but at the same time remain anonymous. However, the recognition he received was inevitable and having an impact became a duty that he rose to achieve. He termed it 'impact expressionism'. Phase has witnessed the birth, growth and evolution of aerosol culture. He became totally involved with his position as an aerosol artist, it became his principal activity, his profession.

    'Once you really got into it, somehow it became an integral part of you, second nature. It's something you ate and slept and aspired to do when you woke up in the morning, it was part of our lives for years after our first encounter with a magic marker'.

    Magic markers gave way to spray paint in the early 1970s as writers realised the potential for elaborating and enlarging their signatures. The movement soon grew into a wealth of varied and constantly developing calligraphic expression, each writer having his own distinct style and identity. Signatures gave way to more involved and complex calligraphic forms, which in turn evolved into complex compositions where the words and letters became just one element in the overall whole. Phase 2 describes this new development as a 'second coming' and it laid the way for the classic 'pieces' of the aerosol rebels.

    By the 1970s the culture moved from the streets of upper Manhattan to the subway. The New York underground trains and stations became the most favoured canvasses of the youthful writers who would often spend six or eight hours on their pieces, working in the silent darkness and secrecy of railway tunnels and sidings. Once morning broke they could stand back and admire their night's work as it sped around the city; a combination of the secretive and anonymous with the most public and audacious display of their talents.

    Some of the artists worked out their compositions with small sketches, at other times they would work with a spontaneous intuitive flow, reacting and responding to their evolving composition. Often an outline would be drawn or painted first and then filled in, the development of the piece was followed by the final outline and background. Local variations and styles developed, with Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan leading the way. Phase explains:

    'It was like one big gigantic network. We'd see names from Brooklyn and be impressed and inspired with them. You looked forward to meeting people like Dino Nod, La-Zar or Devilish Doug and Evil Eric, partly because of their styles'.

    'At one point it was all about the 2s, 4s, 5s (train lines). They travelled through Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx, which was where a lot of history was being made. When new flavours came into the scene, we bombarded the yards and lay ups and took over like a factory churning out all the new products on supply and demand. So all eyes were on the Bronx. That's where you showcased. Manhattan was kind of next door to it so they were connected and channelling like sister and brother'.

    As the movement spread, open warfare developed between the writers and the Transit Authority. From Brooklyn, teams or 'crews' of writers would descend on a train in its night time lay-up or tunnel, covering the cold metallic carriages with a mass of vibrant and colourful words and images. Once more the imagery developed, always organically, naturally, intuitively. A favourite became the all over coverage of a subway car, from top to bottom, from end to end, even painting over the windows.

    Techniques became highly developed and pieces took even longer to complete. A whole technical repertoire was established, with a host of differing nozzles and paints used to produce a previously unknown array of effects.

    Although New York City was its birthplace and still remains its centre, Aerosol Culture had by now spread and was flourishing across the USA and the world; strong movements were evident in London, Berlin and other European cities.

    Phase went on to become one of the great innovators of aerosol art. His letter forms were drawn as outlines or cut into one another, his softie, or marshmallow, lettering became fused together and then developed extensions and extension bars. They moved on to sport loops, feet, stars and arrows. Another of the great New York aerosol masters, Vulcan, said of him:

    'One of the things about Phase is that he was the only person at the time whose name could roll by ten times and each piece was different. That's what you noticed about his shit.'

    The writers influenced one another, borrowing each other's imagery yet turning it into something of their own. The greatest of them were always one step ahead, continually seeking and producing new forms and variations. Phase's work became ever more complex and grew further and further away from its original simple signature towards a hieroglyphical calligraphic abstraction.

    'The English language isn't much, especially in its current state. By comparison (to Chinese and Japanese) it's like a dot. Why not go beyond that and just create an alphabet or language? You can't put a limit on communication or how one can communicate, you've always got to look further, that's how style expanded in the first place.'

    'All those things that were part of the initial game are now passé. Presently, it's a matter of word and the power of word, speak and the power of speak. Verbally and visually. Language and its essence. Not being able to read Arabic or Thai doesn't dismiss them as languages, so to me what I'm doing isn't much different. When it gets in that, let's say 'psychophonetickeneticverbalgenitichyper-bolicsyllabistictonguetwisticmysticcalliguistical-cerebralinconcievebrial' mode or whatever, consider it plutonian. I'm absorbing and devouring language in its co-existing state and creating something else with it'.

    Phase is immensely conscious of the achievements of the aerosol artists:

    'What we have done with it goes beyond what it started out as, or any language invented. At its highest degree, writing is a science based on the power of speak, of communication and symbolism. No matter how simple or esoteric, even though unspoken, it says something and relays and relates to all who come in contact with it. At its lowest degree it is probably an eyesore but at its zenith it can hold its own with any so-called artform on the planet.'

  2. crave

    crave Veteran Member

    Joined: Jan 20, 2002 Messages: 6,728 Likes Received: 10
    good interview.

    i'm not really surprised that no one has commented on this. too many people, especially those just starting out, tend to overlook what they should really be trying hard to understand.
  3. icetray

    icetray Junior Member

    Joined: Sep 25, 2004 Messages: 208 Likes Received: 1
    know what you do before you do it.
    read before you write.
    know history before you write your own story.

    ya dig?
  4. backfromgrave

    backfromgrave Junior Member

    Joined: Jan 21, 2006 Messages: 189 Likes Received: 0
    how did he explain that this movement is not graffiti?? he said its technicly not politicly correct, why??, other than the reason that they called themselves writers what is being done is equated with graffiti, how does it not? isn't graffiti writing or drawing on a wall or other surface.. different definitions illegal or legal or only illegal (havent seen one only legal).. if anything i would argue that the defnition of graffiti is too general and can inlcude writing on a piece of paper..
  5. backfromgrave

    backfromgrave Junior Member

    Joined: Jan 21, 2006 Messages: 189 Likes Received: 0
    hmm well the only other reason i can guess that he's implicating here is that this form of 'writing' shouldnt be called graffiti becaue its more advanced and in different forms than previous historical markings on surfaces..
  6. icetray

    icetray Junior Member

    Joined: Sep 25, 2004 Messages: 208 Likes Received: 1
  7. cabin fever

    cabin fever Guest

    I don't know if these quotes are accurate or not, but Phase2 sounds like a fucking idiot in this interview. Seriously, get the fuck out of here with this ridiculous hyperbolic self-congratulatory garbage.
  8. backfromgrave

    backfromgrave Junior Member

    Joined: Jan 21, 2006 Messages: 189 Likes Received: 0
    Do you think the styles that were produced in Europe in the 1990's that we call 'euro' (styles that look very distorted from traditional lettering).. were derived from styles that developed in nyc??.. or are certain 'euro' styles so different that they cant be linked at all to any of the styles that were develped in nyc? to link it to phase2 article, should that not be called graffiti (or this form of graffiti) or is it part of it.. and an expansion on what came out of new york/
  9. icetray

    icetray Junior Member

    Joined: Sep 25, 2004 Messages: 208 Likes Received: 1

    every style done to date derives from 1972 n so on when they started elaborating their signatures on subway cars. that's the roots..

    other writers styles may derive from people who have used another writer's style that derived from the originators of styles during the 70/80s... you got it?

    this book is highly recommended:
  10. CACashRefund

    CACashRefund 12oz Loyalist

    Joined: Oct 8, 2004 Messages: 14,171 Likes Received: 272
    the colors duke! the colorsssssssss!
  11. backfromgrave

    backfromgrave Junior Member

    Joined: Jan 21, 2006 Messages: 189 Likes Received: 0
    The cholo style graffiti in Los angles (before the 1970's) is/was an elaboration of letters, so why not say "every style done to date derives from la".. or other ealier examples where letters were 'elaborated' on a bit...? i have 1 or 2 answers to this.. i dont know how much weight they would hold.. im just curious to see what you would say.. how did nyc significantly differ its style than ie: the cholo in L.A styles before that?
  12. icetray

    icetray Junior Member

    Joined: Sep 25, 2004 Messages: 208 Likes Received: 1

    every style done to date doesn't derive from la. some styles done to date may be influenced by the cholo writing or may be JUST cholo writing. but the culture of aerosol writing as we know it derives mostly significantly from the root of the ny subway writing culture.

    if you knew the history of how ny subway writing culture came and went then you'd know all about how the styles evolved. the ny subway writing styles significantly differed from cholo writing in L.A., because it developed differently.
  13. backfromgrave

    backfromgrave Junior Member

    Joined: Jan 21, 2006 Messages: 189 Likes Received: 0
  14. icetray

    icetray Junior Member

    Joined: Sep 25, 2004 Messages: 208 Likes Received: 1
    how what?.. what kind of example do you need? there isn't anything new under the sun. go do the research, compare the two, and then try thinking for yourself.

    the term "graffiti" is a fucking generalization and stereotype and embodies everything including turf writing, to the subway writing culture, to bathroom stall writing.

    the subway writing culture, the aerosol writing culture, aerosol morphology or whatever the fuck you wish to call it embodies the act of racking: (confiscating paint with the justification that writing is an expression of freedom and communication; is a misunderstood artform; has a risk of being buffed, etc.) hitting: (tags; signatures), bombing: (hitting: tags, signatures, and throwups: (quickly painted pieces); and piecing: (burners, murals, productions, etc. ), has a HUGE gap between cholo turf old english lettering elaborations, and is more indepth in terms of the overall development and the style of ones tags and letters and expressing oneself than just territorial old english "Placas"...

    and like CACashRefund posted.. Yes, "the colors duke! the colorsssssssss!" are also a big difference.

    also I'd like to add that in terms of the philly+ny writing culture it involved all kinds of races from whites, blacks, asians, ricans, than the turf writing in L.A. that consisted of mexican-american or latino.
  15. backfromgrave

    backfromgrave Junior Member

    Joined: Jan 21, 2006 Messages: 189 Likes Received: 0
    Lol, the question intended was how does it differ from 'Cholo', obviously it does.. i just wanted to hear a description of how, and you gave me an answer in the middle of your huge unneccesary (in terms of answering me) post.. and yes i used to take pleasure in studying the evolution of subway graffiti, not year by year or month by month but week by week.. i think i think more about it than you think i think.. if you knew of >ALL< the styles that were done in LA (incuding which werent popularized so much), before the 1970's, then i think youd realize how much more blurred the distinction relative to the new york shiggazle actually is.. once you notive styles i dont think youve seen yet