Many negative works like incomprehensible, blasphemous, and obscene are used to describe graffiti. Graffiti is such a negative term for something that can be so beautiful. Graffiti isn’t defined as being bad as we are taught. The definition for graffiti is simply writing or drawings on a wall or other surface. It is another visual form of communication. With the negative connotation revolving around graffiti artists with true talents get lumped together with criminals or gang members. The term guerrilla art or more commonly street art is now used to differentiate the two art forms.
Graffiti is characterized as being made up of words that are usually meant to form an idea. Graffiti predates street art, and many street artists draw their inspiration from different forms of graffiti. Street art uses images to get along meaning. Graffiti and street art are confused because there are many similarities between the two art forms, including location, politics, and materials.
The location is the biggest form of comparison. Both graffiti and street art are forms of art that are displayed outdoors, in public and private places. They are free to view, making them valid forms of public art. Street art and graffiti can coexist in the exact same locations, sometimes they can be harmonious in a way that combines the two. At other times graffiti artists will tagging over street artists’ work. Graffiti and street art are used to get artists political and social commentary and activism out in the world. They are both used to get the ideas of underrepresented groups to get the truth and most importantly, the uncensored message out into the public’s line of view.
The one major difference between graffiti and street art is the way they are trying to inform the viewer of a message. Graffiti is seen as unsightly and bad. Street art is used to help support a message and bring attention to it in a positive way. Graffiti is usually illegal and involves unauthorized marking of public space. In street art, many artists will get to do it legally because their illegal work received a lot of attention.
In the 1980s, street artists took a shift from the text based works of the early 1960s and 70s to a more visual and artistic approach. Much of modern street art can be attributed to artists like Richard Hambleton, Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Richard Hambleton was an artist that emerged from the New York art scene in the 1980s. He’s most known for his street art but also had his works in galleries. His earliest forms of art are his Image Mass Murder artworks. In 1976 to 1978 he would paint outlines around volunteer “homicide victims.” He then would splash red paint on and around the outlines. It would leave behind a realistic crime scene. He did it in 15 different major cities in the United States. In New York in 1979 he began doing what he would become known for. They were his “Shadowman” paintings.They were life sized black silhouettes that had a splashy look to them. The shadows were painted depicting many different poses.They were painted in a way that is believed to have the most impact to unsuspecting passerby. Hambleton’s “shadowmen” have been painted on hundreds of structures in New York and around the world including Paris, London and Rome. In 1984, Hambleton painted 17 “shadowmen” on the East side of the Berlin wall and returned to paint more on the West side. Hambleton’s artworks often had the effect of shocking people who walked by.
Keith Haring was a pop artist that had animated imagery. He used his work to spread awareness to unpopular but necessary ideas that needed to be talked about. Much of his work includes social activism to advocate for anti-drugs, safe sex, holosexuality and AIDS awareness. He is known for his graffiti art in subways. He created white chalk drawings on black, unused advertisement backboards in the subway stations in New York. A crawling infant with emitting rays of light, became his most recognized symbol. It is known as The Radiant Baby and Haring used it to tag his art work in the subways. Haring was one of only twelve artists to have the work displayed on a computer animated billboard in Times Square in 1982.
Jean-Michel Basquiat is one of the most recognizable artists from the street art movement in the 1980s. He was a part of the Neo Expressionism movement. Basquiat’s art focused on portraying topics like slavery, colonialism and the contrast between two things that are or are represented as being opposed or entirely different, such as wealth versus poverty, integration versus segregation, and inner versus outer experience. He often used symbolism. Frequent symbols in his works include human bodies, boxers, skulls and the most recognizable among them is the three pointed crown. The meaning between all of his symbols are still debated by art critics but many different ideas and suggestions have been put forward.
There are several blocks in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick called the Bushwick Collective where street artists have free permission to paint murals on building walls and are encouraged to let loose their talents.The Bushwick Collective was first established by Bushwick native Joe Ficalora. The first mural was created in 2011. The Bushwick is a great example of the wonders that can come from letting artists be able to be free and unleash their creativity in a legal way. The blocks have gained art from artists all over the world. Ficalora started the idea of the open art gallery in the 1980s when the area of Bushwick was only known for high crime rates. The open art gallery was made for everyone to be able to enjoy and help cope with painful memories. They hold an annual art event that has World-renowned local, national and even international artists that are invited to showcase their creations. The Bushwick Collective Block party has been hosted every June since 2012.
Artists being able to create works in safe and legal places like the Bushwick Collective are able to create modern day Richard Hambleton, Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat without the fear that they faced when doing art works.