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GROUND WORK 1966-71
Graffiti was used primarily by political activists to make statements and street gangs to mark territory. It wasn't till the late 1960s that writing's current identity started to form.
The history of the underground art movement known by many names, most commonly termed graffiti begins in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the mid to late '60s and is rooted in bombing. The writers who are credited with the first conscious bombing effort are CORNBREAD and COOL EARL. They wrote their names all over the city gaining attention from the community and local press. It is unclear whether this concept made its way to New York City via deliberate efforts or if was a spontaneous occurrence.
Shortly after CORNBREAD, the Washington Heights section of Manhattan was giving birth to writers. In 1971 The New York Times published an article on one of these writers. TAKI 183 was the alias of a kid from Washington Heights. TAKI was the nick name for his given name Demetrius and 183 was the number of the street where he lived. He was employed as a foot messenger, so he was on the subway frequently and took advantage of it, doing motion tags. The appearance of this unusual name and numeral sparked public curiosity prompting the Times article. He was by no means the first writer or even the first king. He was however the first to be recognized outside the newly formed subculture. Most widely credited as being one of the first writers of significance is JULIO 204. FRANK 207 and JOE 136 were also early writers.
On the streets of Brooklyn a movement was growing as well. Scores of writers were active. FRIENDLY FREDDIE was an early Brooklyn writer to gain fame. The subway system proved to be a line of communication and a unifying element for all these separate movements. People in all the five broughs became aware of each others efforts. This established the foundation of interbrough competition.
Writing started moving from the streets to the subways and quickly became competitive. At this point writing consisted of mostly tags and the goal was to have as many as possible. Writers would ride the trains hitting as many subway cars as possible. It wasn't long before writers discovered that in a train yard or lay up they could hit many more subway cars in much less time and with less chance of getting caught. The concept and method of bombing had been established.
After a while there were so many people writing so much that writers needed a new way to gain fame. The first way was to make your tag unique. Many script and calligraphic styles were developed. Writers enhanced their tags with flourishes, stars and other designs. Some designs were strictly for visual appeal while others had meaning. For instance, crowns were used by writers who proclaimed themselves king. Probably the most famous tag in the culture's history was STAY HIGH 149. He used a smoking joint as the cross bar for his "H" and a stick figure from the television series The Saint.
The next development was scale. Writers started to render their tags in larger scale. The standard nozzle width of a spray paint can is narrow so these larger tags while drawing more attention than a standard tag, did not have much visual weight. Writers began to increase the thickness of the letters and would also outline them with an additional color. Writers discovered that caps from other aerosol products could provide a larger width of spray. This led to the development of the masterpiece. It is difficult to say who did the first masterpiece, but it is commonly credited to SUPER KOOL 223 of the Bronx and WAP of Brooklyn. The thicker letters provided the opportunity to further enhance the name. Writers decorated the interior of the letters with what are termed "designs." First with simple polka dots, later with crosshatches, stars, checkerboards. Designs were limited only by an artist's imagination.
Writers eventually started to render these masterpieces the entire height of the subway car (A first also credited to SUPER KOOL 223.). These masterpieces were termed top-to bottoms. The additions of color design and scale were dramatic advancements, but these works still strongly resembled the tags on which they were based. Some of the more accomplished writers of this time were HONDO 1, JAPAN 1, MOSES 147, SNAKE 131, LEE 163d, STAR 3, PHASE 2, PRO-SOUL, TRACY 168, LIL HAWK, BARBARA 62, EVA 62, CAY 161, JUNIOR 161 and STAY HIGH 149.
The competitive atmosphere led to the development of actual styles which would depart from the tag styled pieces. Broadway style was introduced by Philadelphia's TOPCAT 126. These letters would evolve in to block letters, leaning letters, and block busters. PHASE 2 later developed Softie letters , more commonly refered to as Bubble letters. Bubble letters and Broadway style were the earliest forms of actual pieces and therefore the foundation of many styles. Soon arrows, curls, connections and twists adorned letters. These additions became increasing complex and would become the basis for Mechanical or Wild style lettering.
The combination of PHASE's work and competition from other style masters like RIFF 140 and PEL furthered the development. RIFF is noted as being an early catalyst in what is termed style wars. RIFF would take ideas from other writers and improve upon them and take them to another level. Writers like FLINT 707 and PISTOL made major contributions in development of three dimentional lettering adding depth to the masterpiece, which became standards for generations to come.
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