Chapter 1: Communication from the 1960’s through 1999

Introduction to chapter one

“The subway is a system. I watch Style Wars and I think about how they’re hacking the city, how they find this system and figure out a way to hack it, spreading their artwork in a huge scale across the city.” – Evan Roth[1]

Now that there are college graduates who can hardly remember a time before mass availability of the internet, it seems important to start this book by giving a sense of how people communicated with one another and learned about street art and graffiti before the internet. Only then can we see how profoundly the internet has changed these artforms.

The art and sport of graffiti writing as we know it today began its development in the late 1960’s and was built upon and modified by generations of children and young adults, rarely over 18, through the 1970’s before solidifying in the early to mid 1980’s thanks to the publication of a handful of articles, books and films that codified and highlighted the culture for those who were not there to witness it firsthand. The bulk of this chapter provides a rough idea of the early graffiti scene in New York City in the moments before the publication and international distribution of those key documents, explains how some of those documents came to be and gives examples of what happened when soon-to-be graffiti writers in cities all over the world got their first taste of graffiti through a handful of photos and videos. The remainder of the chapter briefly touches on similar situations in street art during the same time period. These were times when every chance encounter with another graffiti writer or street artist mattered, every black and white photo with some graffiti in the background mattered and where you lived in mattered immensely.

There is no one linear history of graffiti. While at least portions of the New York graffiti scene had come together and could be recognized as a cohesive community of sorts by the early 1980’s, the stories of the graffiti world before and after that are still a bit of a tangled mess. In part for that reason, this chapter only highlights a handful of (sometimes overlapping) stories of particular people or places. By the end of this chapter, hopefully, the stories can come together to give some sense of the whole, even though they are surely incomplete and not a full history.

The purpose of these anecdotes is to give a sense of the networks and communication strategies that existed in the graffiti and street art communities (if they could even be called that) before the internet took over, as well as to show how those networks and strategies influenced the art that was being produced. I try to answer the question of how information about street art and graffiti traveled from artist to artist, city to city and into art galleries before the internet simplified all of those processes.

  1. Roth, Evan. "Evan Roth." Interview by Alexander Tarrant. Juxtapoz Oct. 2010: 124-35. Print.

2 Responses to Chapter 1: Communication from the 1960’s through 1999

  1. Pingback: A New Era – How the Internet Changed Art | Digital Media Culture

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