Graffiti means writings or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed freely on a wall or other surface in a public place. Then, graffiti ranges from simple written words to elaborate wall paintings, and it has existed since ancient times as a way of self-expression or social or political protest: for example, in Pompeii we can see caricatures of politicians and in the walls of every Middle Aged prison, crosses together with other graffiti of sexual meanings.
Current graffiti are in relation with the World Wars, with the apotheosis of the urban life reflected in the building of subways and with the hip hop culture. Frequently, graffiti is considered vandalism since graffiti artists paint private or public properties without asking for permission.
Everybody has heard about “Kilroy was here” and about its distinctive accompanying doodle: a bald-headed man with a prominent nose peeking over a wall with the fingers of each hand clutching the wall. The origin of the sentence is confused, they have found the sentence before IIWW but American Army (specially the Air Transport Command) spread this graffiti all around the world; in Britain can change to “Chad was here” and in Australia “Foo was here”. Other names for the character include Smoe, Clem, Flywheel, Private Snoops, Overby, The Jeep, and Sapo.
If “Kilroy was here” was the best known graffiti of the IIWW and following two decades, it was at the end of the 1970’s when graffiti culture peaked, in a very creative way and now, closely related to the objectives of art. Several artists contributed to this achievement.
Lee Quiñones: born in Puerto Rico but raised in the Lower East Side section of New York city. He painted from his childhood but he started with Subway Graffiti in 1974 and by 1976, Lee was a legend. Lee painted whole cars: 125 cars with a range of colorful murals and great drawing technique!!! Journalists and writers started to be interested in him and photos of several graffiti by Lee appeared in one of the most sold art books ever, “Subway Art”, and in the award winning documentary “Style Wars”. He became an influence for youths worldwide, and in New York subway he was already an icon, with very many followers (they found the group Fab 5: Dirty Slug, Mono, Doc109, Slave and Lee). However, Lee Quiñones’ graffiti were usually respected by other graffiti artists.
In 1979, Lee Quinones and Fab 5 were given a gallery opening in Rome by art dealer Claudio Bruni. It was their first encounter with the art form and from then on art galleries and museums started to recognize this before “vandalic” artistic expression and even to ask for artworks. Fab 5 friendship with Debbie Harry influenced Blondie single “Rapture” (Chrysalis, 1981). In the video featured Jean-Michel Basquiat, and offered a first depiction of elements of graffiti in hip hop culture.
In fact, hip hop has taken graffiti as an important element of its culture (MCing, DJing, B-boying and graffiti writing) and gangs or individual artists with their personal tag mark their territories and areas of influence while other graffiti artists as Chaz Armijo “Zenac” work completely legal with permissions and budgets.