Graffiti stems from the Italian word graffio which means a little scratch, referencing the drawings and scratches on walls, columns and other spaces. By its very nature, graffiti is not a “sanctioned” act, but something created by an individual over a surface without permission. It represents the personal thoughts and artistic sensibilities of the artists, rather than being state-sanctioned and an aesthetically regimented form. While it seems like a modern phenomenon, it has been around for centuries- etched in the caves and villages of ancient Greece and Rome, conveying precious archaeological information of the day to day lives of the local inhabitants, outside of the sanctioned, state-created sources such as scrolls and books.
Here are some interesting facts demonstrating the evolution of graffiti:
01. “Cueva de las Manos” (The Cave of Hands), located in Santa Cruz, Argentina, offers one of the first fascinating ancient graffiti. The painting dates from 13,000 to 9,000 BCE, and was created prior to the written language.
02. The range of fascinating graffiti uncovered throughout parts of Ancient Rome and Greece feature not only routine information, funny jokes, jibes, sexual innuendos, sentences like “Halvdan was here” but also advertisements for prostitution( which interestingly includes the drawing of a foot, a hand, a heart, and a number in modern-day Turkey).
03. Modern graffiti as we come to know it first appeared in the 1960s in Philadephia with the advent of “taggers”- who were part of street gangs concerned with marking their territory.
04. Who’s now considered as the world’s first modern graffiti artist was a 12-year-old boy called Darryl “cornbread” McCray. Cornbread was followed by Taki 183, a teenager from Washington Heights, Harlem, who created his now-iconic tag in 1969 by combining “Taki,” a diminutive form of his Greek name, Demetrius, and “183,” his street number.
05. In the case of a few, graffiti has been a springboard to international fame. Jean-Michel Basquiat began spraying on the street in the 1970s before becoming a respected artist in the ’80s. The Frenchman Blek le Rat and the British artist Banksy have achieved international fame by producing complex works with stencils, often making political or humorous points