Art, in any form, has great power of expression; be it painting, drawing or sculpting, or the digital kind. Art is deeply rooted with meanings and connotations that is known and understood by its creator or those who have an eye for it.

Like sciences, art also cannot be defined by just a few of its main types; there are many more branches of art budding out from these main types. One unique form of art, a form that has given voice to the masses, a form that has brought social change and has given people the power of expression, is graffiti.

Bubble graffiti
Bubble graffiti

Graffiti is a form of visual communication, it is a broad category of ‘art form’ consisting of words, drawings, abstracts and paintings with serious, humorous, rude, social or political meaning, usually made on the walls, doors, rooftops or pavements. Due to its nature of reaching out to the masses and the authorities by using public spaces, it is illegal in many places and it is considered as an act of vandalism.

Graffiti simply works as a medium for venting out feelings or the thoughts people of a particular vicinity, to a larger body of visitors or the authorities, in a sarcastic or critical way, by adding colours, designs to abstracts words, images or even caricatures to it. Though not so common in our part of the world, this ‘street art’ can be seen on various walls in various countries around the world.

A portion of the Berlin wall
A portion of the Berlin wall

Graffiti is illegal

You might wonder, why. Well, graffiti is done on public places, so the person doing this art work uses someone else’ property. So despite all the aesthetical essence to it, it is still an offence that involves either an individual or government’s property. Ask yourself if someone makes caricatures, writes something on your door or the wall of your home, how would you feel?

Graffiti may not be considered as real art by some, but it is a powerful expression of feelings and messages, taking on different impressive and beautiful forms

Painting or spray painting on someone else’s property without their consent is illegal and there are fines and punishments for it. This is why graffiti is considered illegal but, interestingly, due to its unique art of expression, there are about 1650 legal graffiti walls around the world, legal means they are made after taking the permission from the authorities.

Unfortunately, in our country we still have not understood the depth and scope of this art, the kind of graffiti which is commonly seen on most walls here is basically simple wall chalking of some kind of a message, an ad or a quote.

Painting a graffiti design is a labour of love
Painting a graffiti design is a labour of love

Our country has been going through challenging times for the past many years, including financial crisis, political turmoil and the social upheaval. All of these have resulted only in a few industries that have thrived and sadly, art is not among the lucky ones, only the diehard fans of any form of art are making their lives through it or doing it for their passion.

In my opinion, it is much more beautiful and better to make graffiti on street walls than writing absurd phrases, pasting ads or pamphlets. Street walls with beautiful work of art catches attention, many cities around the world are using graffiti in a positive way of expression, sometimes this street art tells the story of their city’s revolution or portray a historical event. For instance, over 100 different works of art are painted along the Berlin Wall, Germany, commenting on social and political views, as well as the feelings of people at the end of their oppression about freedom and scenes of escape, all these works of art are the expression of the times of hardship that people went through.

Pakistani artist Neil Uchong is painting the streets of Karachi beautiful
Pakistani artist Neil Uchong is painting the streets of Karachi beautiful

How it all began

Paintings, drawings or graffiti can be traced back to the times of stone age, one can see how cavemen came up with the idea of expression by drawing animals or objects around them (on rocks) as mark of their expression.

It has been discovered that as early as 78BC, in the early Roman Empire, cities like Pompeii had graffiti about money, politics and various other significant things. Fast forward to the 20th century, graffiti took over the street walls and boomed with the invention of aerosol spray can in 1949 by Edward Seymour.

In 1970, as people loved this new way of art, they also brought in various styles of graffiti; however, graffiti was still looked down upon and was not considered an impressive art form or hobby, let alone a profession. Graffiti still needed attention and those involved in the art were too anxious to get their due respect.

A graffiti artist at work
A graffiti artist at work

Thus in 1972, Hugo Martinez, a graffiti gallerist started ‘United Graffiti Artists’, a collective that displayed graffiti in galleries for the first time. The idea behind the collective was to make people aware of this new art form and its importance. This moment got widespread acknowledgement and soon the whole US came under the spell of graffiti.

This art form boomed in the hip hop music and punk culture of the 1980s. The fusion made people crazy for the versatile nature of this art, thus creating a way for new artists to emerge and bring in their unique styles.


3-D designs are a comparatively new trend
3-D designs are a comparatively new trend

Venting Out in Styles!

Graffiti is done in various styles of writing, painting, spraying and pasting. Below are some main types or you can say styles:

Old School — or Tag and Throw-up

Old school refers to the style developed in 1970s and beginning of 80s, the styles are basically known as ‘tag’ or throw-up. These styles were widely used in New York subways. Tagging is the easiest yet simplest style in graffiti. It includes one colour and the artist name or initials of this name. While throw-up is a sophisticated style of ‘tag’, done in two colours one outline and the other fill-in colour.

Bubble

Like throw-up, bubble graffiti is done in more than one colour, where letters are sprayed with one colour and then outlined with another to create contrast, but bubbles involve rounding up of letters, giving circular shapes. In this style, letters often partially overlap one another, creating an image that seems to expend and bubble-up in a way.

Blockbuster

The style is all about large murals made of sprayed letters done quickly and oftentimes uses paint rollers. This kind of graffiti is done in block letters, covering very large spaces but in a very short time. For instance, people use places or properties like train or subways for making graffiti as quick as they can before the authorities spot them.

Wild Style

Wild style may be hard to decipher, but it is visually very appealing or even more engaging than other graffiti styles. The style consists of convoluted and interlocked letters that use arrows, spikes, curves and other decorative elements, merging into one another, making the writing hard to discern. Although it is hard to read, the yet appealing abstract images and letters can only be detected by professionals.

Heaven or Heaven Spot

This name has aptly been given to this style as it is done on spaces, which are hard to reach, such as the top of buildings, bridges, roofs etc. The name has a double meaning — one because it’s so high up that it’s towards the “heavens.”

The other meaning refers to the fact that it is often a serious challenge in a dangerous location, and in case of an accident, the artist could die and “go to heaven.”

Stencil

A stencil is an easy (some say ‘lazy’) way to make graffiti. It is this style that brought graffiti to the mainstream and the person behind was Banksy (England-born artist), who used stencil extensively.

This style is easy because it uses stencil of paper or cardboard, then applying spray paint or rollers over it, thus producing more detailed piece than by doing it free hand.

Poster or sticker

A poster is a quick and easy way to put up pieces on the walls, or any space one likes, yes, this is also graffiti and so very common in our part of the world. While stickers are also downsized posters, but with short message or an ad.

Piece/Brush

The name ‘piece’ is short for masterpiece, also called brush; the style which gave graffiti the respect of being art form. It is a picture that has been painted in free hand, devoid of unnecessary lines and petty details. The picture must contain three or more colours.

Abstract

Interestingly, the main goal in the abstract style is not readability, but the visual excellence of the piece. There is no message or writing that addresses someone, instead it emphasises on the combination of visual elements that create an outstanding piece.

3D

We all know what 3D suggests but a three-dimensional graffiti creates illusion in the picture. Besides walls, 3D graffiti is done on pavements, roads or floors. Usually, landscapes that seem too real to be part of it or some figures and other objects that seem to pop up.

Sharp

As the name suggests, sharp style uses letters that are drawn or sprayed with abstract elements as sharp and as angular in form. The style uses thinning, stretching and contorting of letters to the extreme, which often renders this kind of graffiti or the letters to be perceived as aggressive and forceful.

Cartoon

The style is relatively new as it uses the cartoons, superheroes from comics or pop culture, or personal creation.

Published in Dawn, Young World, December 12th, 2020

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