Tuesday, 9 December 2014

History of Graffiti: The origin of the word Graffiti

What is Graffiti?
Artemesia restauro, Firenze, Italia

After hours of researching the origin of graffiti, I found that according to the Global Brittanica, the word graffiti derives from the Italian word sgraffito.

Because I speak Italian I know that the Global Brittanica gives a bad translation and because I am an artist I know their examples, in part, are lame.  Whoever wrote the definition says that in panel painting and illuminated manuscripts the ground was gold leaf.  That is not true.  For panel painting the ground was, and still is bolo.  I'm not sure about illuminated manuscripts but in both cases, sgraffito technique is not involved.  The Global Brittanica states that graffito technique was especially used during the middle ages but if you go to Florence or Venice you know that those buildings were decorated during the Renaissance.  That's a couple hundred years difference.

So what is Graffiti?

Here is a better definition:

According to the online Italian dictionary Treccani, graffito is a type of decoration used in architecture.  The graffer (my word from the commonly used French word graffeur) inscribes the wet stucco of a façade to reveal an under-layer.  The technique was (yes) used on medieval palaces but mostly done between 1400 and 1500.  In the 1700s there was a revival.  Following a design, the graffer removed the top layer of stucco and a exposed the colored underlayer.

Check out Artemesia Restauro's website. This image shows her doing a graffito.
Artemesia Restauro, Florence


Got it?

Treccani states:
Graffito is done through using a point to incise a surface - stone, metal, plaster, a wall, a vase, you name it.
  • It is a drawing or inscription on a surface or object, more often a wall.  In prehistoric times, documents were incised on rocks and clay tablets.  It seems banking records were incised on stone, thus the colloquial saying: written in stone. 
    Cuniform, courtesy of Iranicaonline
     Paleolithc caves,  catacombs, and  walls  are witness to graffiti.
In Mesopotamia over 5000 years ago scribes recorded information in stone. Saki Mafundikwa gives a wonderful TED talk about ancient African writing.
photo courtesy of

In Pompei, Italy, phallus where commonly exposed outside a house to signify, Hic habitat felicitas  happiness lives here.
foto courtesy of Giovannidellorto
See, you did not invent this dick painting.  Some anonymous artist over 2000 years ago wrote it in stone.

Modern day graffiti seems to have all started in the toilet. Here is an excellent article on the Hiphop-Network:

Looking at the Writing on the Wall: A Critical Review and Taxonomy of Graffiti Texts © copyright 1995 Jane M. Gadsby

According to Gadsby's extensive bilbiography, over sixty years ago men and women  wrote on  bathroom walls.  Could this be the beginning of what we consider graffiti in modern times? She writes that "The 1970s were halcyon days of graffiti research".    

She writes that there are nine different approaches in graffiti writing. "As expected, each researcher chooses the approach which lends itself to fulfilling his/her needs. This has led to a wide array of approaches: cultural, gendered, linguistic, folkloric, quantitative, aesthetic, motivational, preventative and popularisation  

The Treccani dicitonary states that by analogy, graffiti as we know it today, started in NYC in the 1970's.  It states also that the film American Graffiti by G. Lucas in 1973, seems to have ignited the explosion.  Treccani's definition states that the film refers to the documentary value of prehistoric graffiti, a sign of the past.  And it was a revival of taste, fashion, clothing, music of the 1950's.

What is the definition of graffiti today?

Harvard University hosted a reception for the calligraffiti artist el Seed

Listen to what eL Seed says in this video:

Monday, 8 December 2014

History of Graffiti - Documentary: Writers 20 ans de Graffiti a Paris

This 90 minute documentary explains the rise and change of graffiti in Paris starting from the great NYC influence to the newest generation.  It's in French.

Graffiti is a term that derives from the two words, writing and calligraphy.

Graffers did not say, "Hey, let's go grafffiting." They said they were going writing.

A tag is a linear drawing of a name or pseudonym. A graffiti is the stylization of letters.  A graffiti gives form and volume to the letters.  It is personalized.

Wild style was developed in Paris, then freestyle came along, then throwups.

According to the photographer, Henry Chaftan, who documented the book Spraycan Art, Parisian graffers style was "art school" compared to the energetic New York City graffers. 

Street art fascinates me.  I don't condone it or condem it.

Street art is on the street, not in galleries.

Friday, 5 December 2014

ONO’U Festival: International Tahiti Graffiti contest 2015 - applications close 31 Jan 2015

Last year's first prize was 10,000$

courtesy of ONO'U

What are you waiting for?

Haven't sent your application yet?

If your over 18 years old and younger than 40 you can apply to enter the International Festival of Graffiti in its second annual edition that was held for the first time last year on May 10th and 11th.

Too bad I'm over the hill and canvas is my wall.

And competition is, like, overwhelming...
Here is the link: ONO'U

Get it up Global.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

The History of Grafitti: Style Wars(1983)

This ninety minute documentary from 1983, thirty-one years ago, about writers in NYC, influenced the entire planet earth.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

grafitti in china

Check out this gorgeous plate.
courtesy of EDGE

 I would travel to China just to buy a set of these. 

The writer Matthew Nieder was has a wonderful post about the Meeting of Styles where the banks of the river were allowed to be graffed. 

And here is an article from 2008.  Appharently chinese collectors do not consider street art investable.  Well twenty years ago in Paris they didn't  either.   After  years of it in your face, things have changed.

In Taidong there is a whole block of graffed buildings, part of an urban project, perhaps something like the mairie of the 13th arrondissemet in Paris. You can see more on Flikr

All I can say to the Chinese graffers is to keep at it.  In twenty years there will be a new generation of rich who will most likely be fighitng over your work.

Tastes change but urban art is a world wide movement that can't be stopped.

Monday, 24 November 2014

W is for writer - Glossary of Grafitti

courtesy of WRDSMTH instragram
 Writers are graffers or, as described on freegrafittisupplies, a practioner of writing, a graffiti artist.

Calling a graffer a grafitti artist boils my blood.  Like a practioner of writing is not a writer, or a practioner of sculpture is not a sculptor, painting/painter, illustrating/illustrator, et encore.  In France graffeur is commonly used, even on the tube.  The French, in general, have embraced grafitti and urban art.  Walk around Paris and you'll see that stores are tagging the sidewalks to pub their deals.

The word graffer is not yet in a dictionary because grafitti is taboo. 


Graffers are ghosts with hoodies who roam the urban sleepy hollows and leave their marks.  They don’t carry guns, but they carry bombs (of spray paint, paste-ups and more.)  Urban writing is invisible by most, it's become so commonplace most people don't even notice it's there.  Some consider it vandalism, some of it is.  But some of it is pure art with no profit in mind and it is worldwide.

WRDSMTH works are a combination of pochoir and paste-up.  I assume Wrdsmth is male.  He writes that he’s doing time in Hollywood.  Wrdsmth is a poet graffer, a writing writer.  His pochoirs are a monochrome typewriter and the paste-ups are texts.  

See his Instagram page here: WRDSMTH  and his fabulous Tumblr page

Monday, 17 November 2014

abandoned metro stations in Paris

check out this video: Parisian rave party underground

Monday, 10 November 2014

P is for paste-up: glossary of grafitti

What's a paste-up?  Usually it's a peice of paper glued to an urban surface with wheat paste or wall paper glue.  Paste-ups are considered less offensive to the urban envirnoment because they can be peeled or washed off. 

Here is a video of paste-up interventions done by women in Brazil.  They have motive and means.

If you still don't understand paste-up, here are a helping ear and a mutant in Beaubourg.  That's the hood around the Pompidou center.

This wall is a busy place.  Those posters might be advertising for underground Parisian rave party in abandoned metro stations or perhaps the catacombs.  We'll see about that next week.

Need the missing peice of the puzzle to understand what paste-ups are?  Here you go.

Motive and means: thanks Colin Smith for that great line.  I read it in your story in the comments on Janet Reid's blog.  I give you full credit.

Monday, 3 November 2014

artistic throwie paris 5th arrondisement

This  throwie is on the corner of rue Saint Jacques and rue des Feuillantines.  
To call it a throwie is not quite correct, but how did the artist paint those spots on the wall?  Surely with paint filled balloons.  Around town there are many walls painted buy this artist.  There's one in  Saint Germain des Prés, on rue Saint André des Arts.

But here above the Royal there is also stuck to the wall a mirror mosaic paste-up.

Monday, 22 September 2014

H is for Heaven - glossary of graffiti

 High up on buildings and other spots, writers paint messages and tags.  The idea is to place their designs for maximum visibility, to increase their notoriety.  These peices are also hard to remove.

This one is one of my favorites.  

It’s on rue de Rennes.  How did they do it ?  Probably scaled down with climbing gear  and swung across the wall. The smiley mouth is about three meters across.

 Graffiti Heaven by Marita Hansen is worth reading.  It's harsh.

Check out what’s on tumblr under graffiti heaven spot.  You can see it’s extremey dangerous to tag these spots.  Crews of writers use climbing equipment to dangle and spray their works.  Some hang on with one hand over highways.

Writers can fall and die, thus go to heaven.

Here is an imformative video about graffiti art called Heaven Spot.  Why do writers do it?  Not for money.

In Portland they consider this a problem.  One of the graffiti removers talks about it.

Contrary to Portland, Paris embraces street art.  Even stores are using it as publicity to tell us about their back to school sales.

The store is just ahead.  Their logo is in the heaven of the hopscotch game.

Heaven is part of my upcoming book.

But in Paris, though there is a tolerance, I wouldn't say they condone tag runs and acid writing.

Here's another tag in heaven.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

A is for Acid

Acid etches glass.  

What kind of acid? 


Gee, what would it be like to come to work and see this on your window?  Nothing can remove it, just replace the glass.  Freakin expensive.  

Here is an article on Worksafe about the risks of using hydroflouric acid to tag.  Watch your skin,  your lungs, etching goes on for days.  There are other products one can use.  Check out art supply stores.  

Is this vandalism?

Tags like this are everywhere but we sort of don't see them. They are on phone booths, mail boxes, subway windows. You name it.

Here is an article in the NY times dating from 2006 about acid tag-etching in the metro.

Paris is the place for street art. Read it here on Bloomberg. 

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

TH is for throw up

Recently I went to Les Docks  on the quai (the banks) of the Seine to see the super hero exibit of Marvel comics at the Musée de l'Art Ludique.  Don't ask me to translate it just click on the link, ok?  Unfortunately we didn't make the exhibition because tickets for that hour were sold out.  Definitely book ahead. We queued up, hoping to enter, but when a lady came out and told us there we'd have to wait at least an hour we moved on and under.

We descended the plank stairs and found an amazing gallery of urban art. 

This is a simple throw up or throwie which looks like it was painted over another work, or several.

Here are some others.  FCK happens over and over....
see the wino?

So does DERUB.

Notice the tags in red underneath, could this be the crew members who frequent the place?  Who knows.

 I like the wild style on the left but the following was the best in the "gallery".

It looks lide FCK was part of this.  The whole throw up is not shown because there was a fashion model doing a shoot to the right. 

Most of the cement pillars were painted as well.

I guess that this was done not with "bomb" (spray paints) but with acrylic applied with brushes.  LOVE was abundant and so were debutant roller bladers.

There were also some guys practicing hip hop.

Judging by the throw ups there is a specific crew of graffuer which inhabits this this place.

Monday, 12 May 2014

wikipedia's glossary of Graffiti

While researching terminology about street art for the manuscript I'm finishing I needed to know some word inherent to tagging.
Wikipedia glossary of graffiti offers an exhaustive list.

Vitry-sur Seine is on my list of places to visit

C215 is the king writer and thanks to his worldwide influence, Vitry's governors opened the city's walls to graffiti artists, thus making it known to international street artists.  Two books are published on Vitry's street art, the first sold out quickly.

Here is one of C215's comissioned murals in Paris's 13th arrondissement.

Academie de la Grande Chaumiere and Gainsbourg's tomb

Friday I went to the drawing session at the Academie de La Grande Chaumiere   on rue de la Grande Chaumiere in the 6th arrondissement, near Montparnasse.  
Above is the scene.  The dust on the atelier walls looks like it's been there for one hundred years and the stools and grimy plank  floor are speckled with paint like millefleur.  
The model, who is an actress, was fantastic. She obviously knows what she's doing.

Here is the façade, a peice of authentic Paris.
A  scene in my story White Sky of Paris happens here.   

 This is Serge Gainsbourg's tomb at the
Montparnasse Cemetery
Also part of the story. 
Look at those metro tickets.  They must have cleaned up, 
usually there are more.

Outside the cemetery on Boulevard Edgar Quinet, a tagged truck caught my eye.

It's one of the better one's I've seen around Paris. 

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Sous-street art in Paris

The city of lights has a dark side, the catacombs of course.  Not only are crews of taggers and graffiti artists painting walls up high above the roof tops like this round lettered throw up in Place Italie
look at that white sky, shall I say achromic?

and trucks you can see almost anywhere

but they go underground hauling their materials down man holes and through metro tunnels to paint images like the Hokusai wave in a room called the Beach.

photo:  Gakuranman

Here is a blogpost by GAKURANMAN whose photo I borrowed.  

National Graphic printed a special issue in Febrary 2011 about the underground art scene in Paris. Here is a video on vimeo about sous-street art in Paris.  Don Duncan did a story in 2010 for  The Wall Street Journal.

I think I'll take their word for granted and just stay above the tarmac.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Street Art in the fifth arrondissement of Paris

This is Invader, I think. It's a mosaic made from bathroom tiles, somehow applied to the facade of buildings.  I haven't read the laws yet on street art in France but from what I've heard something applied cannot be punished because it's not permanent.  I'd love to get this off the wall and hang it in my house but look where it is.

The fruit stand on Rue Mouffetard is just below this little roof.  I don't think I'll be jumping up there anytime soon with fresh strawberries in my sac.

 Now look at this street sign. See anything funny?
What about that no entry sign?

This also is applied, just black plastic cut out and stuck on.  A French artist living in Florence named Clet Abraham does these.   I'm not sure if this is his, looks like it.
Rue Pascal and Rue Claude Bernard.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Grafrank, Jef Aerosol and Invader

One of my favorite street artists in Paris is Jef Aerosol.  Here's a montage of Gainsbourg pochoirs that inhabit Butte aux Cailles a hood in the 13th arrondissement.

photo courtesy of web

But check out Grafrank  (redacted: this website was active but no longer is available, too bad. It was cool.) It's a global graffiti ranking site.  Looks like Invader is more popular than Jef.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

French Election street art

The workshop and pitch session organised by Tioka from SCWBI France was awesome.  What a treat  to speak one on one with amazing Jessica Regel.  So elegant a woman.

She gave me great insight and has inspired me deeply...  I'm not sure how much I should tell about my project. 

Here is a photo from place Saint Medard.  The nationwide adminsitrative elections will be decided today.  As you can see any occasion is worthy to tag, especially these official election affiche plastering a construction site wall.

The ten month hiatus from my main writing project brought a clarity of mind that I didn't have before.  I guess I can thank all those events that blocked me from pushing the project, like chewing on a Carambar that sticks your teeth together. I hate Carambar.

But check out this: Good Luck Carambar

Marketing madness, what dorky jokes. I guess the French accent makes the deal.