By Sarai Au-Carpio
The term graffiti means the unauthorized marking of public space, an illegal way of creative expression through the use of aerosol cans, squeezable ink markers, and name tags. Graffiti is everywhere we go may it be a tag on a stop sign, a bomb on the highway, or even a burner on the streets of the Mission.
It doesn’t get enough credit for its impact on the culture of contemporary art and Hip Hop around the world. A movement so rich in talent and history which is still performed through the Bay Area to this day.
Writing on walls has been used since the Ice Age as humans created cave art depicting important events, Hieroglyphics which was an entire language through symbols, or recently in the 60s, as gangs through the nation marked their territory showing representation.
It wasn’t until the late 60s where Darryl McCray aka “Cornbread” would change the scene of being the first modern graffiti artist in the world. He and his friends, such as Cool Earl, would tag walls throughout the city of Philadelphia, which inspired writers such as TAKI 183 who would write on New York train cars with tags or what is known as “bubble letters”.
As the trains ran through the five boroughs of New York in the early 70s this took off tagging trains cars to an entirely different level. Every running train car in New York was filled to the brim with tags and so was the city, this led Mayor John Lindsay to declare “War on Graffiti” in 1972 causing the city to spend up to 300 million dollars buffing and cleaning the city of graffiti artists.
Little did he know this would only encourage the Graffiti scene in New York producing what we know today as styles, bombs, and burners.
It wasn’t until 1983 when Style Wars, a documentary on graffiti and hip hop by Tony Silver and Henry Chalfant, was broadcasted throughout the nation. This inspired and influenced many future writers in San Francisco, creating an uprising on Graffiti culture in the bay. Since the city didn’t have train cars that ran throughout the entire city like New York, writers moved to the walls.
Taking it to the Bay
The walls, buses, and highways of the city were completely dominated by up-and-coming graff writers. It was to the point where crews would form in hopes of creating a name for themselves with one another; crews such as TMF and TWS would eventually lead to wars of controlling the walls.
As graffiti was coming up in the mid 80s, soon citizens of the city appreciated its art which gave writers the ability to paint freely in spots, known as “the yards”, such as Psycho City, Franklin, Clockwork, etc. This would be an everlasting event of throwing burners on burners from writers around the bay until 1992 when Mayor Frank Jordan closed down and enforced greater reinforcements to prevent graffiti. Later these spots would be buffed covering the decades of culture left on those walls.
Since writers didn’t have a designated spot to make their mark anymore they turned back to the streets taking a turn on SF style and getting up. Graffiti writers were so consistent because it was a way to escape hard living or to express themselves truly creating something beautiful.
Game-changing Local Writers
Legend writer Dream, from Oakland, was known for his infamous letters and style, dying in 2000; Tie from San Francisco known for his notorious grind died in 1998 after being shot as he was caught bombing a building dying at the age of 18. They live on forever and they prove to the culture that it’s not only for expressing their piece of mind but that it’s life or death.
Graff writers who also changed the game for throw-up and bombs are none other than Twist and Reminisce. Twist was known for his throw up characters such as a screw, faces, and letters creating him to become a pioneer of the Mission School art movement. He’s now known as Barry Mcgee and can be seen in museums, skateboards, tshirts, etc.
Reminisce on the other hand created horses that spread throughout the city resulting in both graff writers and citizens questioning who she was. Known today as Ruby Neri, who can also be found in museums and markets for her sculptures and graffiti. In today’s day and age, we see writers such as Acer, Eyespy, Tone, etc. making their mark through the traditional bombing inspiring the grind to continue.
We also see graffiti in legal art such as Kaws known as commercial graffiti. The culture continues to live on decades after its peak affecting how we view the city and its impact on the future of art forever.
Featured Image (at the top of this post): Graffiti in the streets of Oakland. PHOTO CREDIT: Sarai A. (2021)