Graffiti artists are an inherently negative term for many, conjuring hooded figures armed with spray paint scribbling tags across the surfaces of buildings and bridges. However, the skillful techniques of graffiti have been harnessed by a number of completely legal artists to enhance rather than degrade architecture. While many of the most famous examples of street art are rendered in spray paint, there are graffitists who use markers, stencils, acrylic, wheatpastes and sculpture to create their work. Some even carve into the walls themselves with chisels or drills.
The flamboyant Los Angeles artist David Choe is well known for his more formal murals and he has used his unique style to create sets for film and album covers. He is also a pioneer of the technique of “reverse graffiti”, which involves washing over a wall to remove any previously applied tags or painted letters.
The graffitist will then apply a new tag or scribble in a different style to highlight a specific element of the work, often a name. Whether they are using a more traditional letter form or an abstract, stylized calligraphy, they will try to match the existing color and tone of the surface while attempting to stand out from the crowd.
In the early 1980s Claudia Gold, aka Claw, stood out from NYC’s male dominated graffiti scene with her bold, eye-catching style that was instantly recognizable. Then in the 1990s she merged her bold street aesthetic into clothing with the launch of her Claw & Co brand and store.
Lee 183, known as TAKI 183 was a prolific writer who created what is now considered classic wild style typography. His swooping letters and tight spaces influenced many later graffiti writers. He is also credited with creating the tag format. A tag is a writer’s stylized signature, typically starting with their first letter or two and usually ending with a suffix such as one, ski, rock, em or er.
Aside from showcasing their individual styles, graffitists can engage in ‘battles’ or ‘rumbles’ with other crews. These can be a test of skills or a way to settle disputes. The most serious clashes can result in a battle that can last for days and can involve large groups of people. During these rumbles, the members of both crews can attack each other’s tags or whole pieces. The losing crew may have to pay the winning crew or face a retaliation such as a spray paint bomb.
Rather than fighting the graffitist directly by enhancing park facilities and raising patrols, it is more effective to engage in prevention strategies that will lessen their desire to cause damage. For example, by offering job training in park horticulture or maintenance, or by allowing at-risk youth to volunteer as part of the park’s stewardship programs, you can build a sense of community responsibility and pride that will discourage graffitists from defacing your park.