The history of street art

Self-expression is a timeless craft with no start or end date. Paintings, sculptures, literature, all forms of art are bred from a mixture of personality and inspiration, and there are literal museums dedicated to praising the artistic mind. Art is raw, and often a reflection of the world around us and while there is no underselling the framed masterpieces, there is a whole world of street art waiting to be explored.

Graffiti can be traced back to ancient times of wall writings from the great empires of history. It has been used as an advertisement, or a symbol for an idea or business. In the past it was commonly used to express simple words of thought, or proclamations of love and other emotions. To the best of modern day translations, the earliest forms of ‘graffiti’ mostly wasn’t used to oppose the political or social regime, and rather just a place to put thoughts or religious messages. While that still reigns true in some artwork today, it has also evolved and changed with the times into the modern interpretation of street art. From the Socialist Fraternal Kiss on the Berlin Wall to the unknown visionary Banksy, graffiti has become truly an iconic part of some of the most influential cities.

Pompeii written on the stone

Graffiti is the art that’s open to all. It graces the sides of streets, and charges no admission to reflect on its message. Street art is introspective, and sometimes controversial and truly reflects the surrounding times, making it one of the few uncensored forms of expression prevalent today.  

A look through the ages

Street art really began to take its contemporary form in the 60s, 70s and 80s. With the emergence of counter culture and other manifestations of social protest, it skyrocketed from a phrase on a street sign to a cultural revolution that touched cities around the world. Before then, graffiti had mainly been restrained to gangs or other crime syndicates marking their territory or posting their message on public buildings. With the turn of the 60s, the message began to change in favor of more relatable occurrences such as current events.

While street art is no one man game, there are a few notable leaders of their era that are credited for turning the wheels of graffiti into a public phenomenon. The street artist known as ‘Cornbread’ became a famed name in the 1960s in America for his iconic work that ranged from proclamations of love written for his teenage crush to writing ‘Cornbread lives’ on either side of an elephant in the Philadelphia zoo. Although Cornbread’s style fell under the general category of graffiti, he never considered himself an artist, but rather a writer as most of his tags were focused on the words rather than a picture. He made a name for himself, and from such recognition inspired others to use the canvas of the world.

Another 60s icon took the name of ‘Taki 183’. The nickname Taki 183 was used to tag across New York, and with a delivery job this artist was able to find and mark all the corners of Manhattan. In 1971 Taki was even featured in the New York Times and was thus immortalized as one of the fathers of contemporary street art. 

taki 183

By the time the 70s rolled around, street art got controversial. The political stress and subsequent backlash from the youth population prompted an incredible art revolution in the streets. With the Vietnam War in America, the Berlin Wall as the East/West divide in Germany, and other high stress political occurrences, the 1970s ignited a new political view on the art of free thought.

Interestingly, Hip Hop and Graffiti grew together simultaneously, and was sometimes used to promote the other. Graffiti could tell a certain crowd where to converge for a show, or it could convey the message that was written in the song---- as any form of art, it’s all about the interpretation. One of the most notable namesakes to this claim is Fab 5 Freddy. In the 1970s Freddy joined a group named the Fabulous 5 who were known for covering the entirety of New York subway cars in art. Graffiti was the just the start, and soon Freddy and other members of the 5 would continue on to create gallery art. Later, Freddy would continue on to create a Hip Hop album, and eventually be immortalized in Blondie’s song “Rapture”, which paid homage to his street art days.  

feb preddy

The legacy

In modern day, the most powerful graffiti artists are the ones that still hold anonymity, or some varying degree of secrecy. The United Kingdom’s Banksy is a great example of the power discourse on societal norms holds. Banksy’s work ranges from societies shortcomings with such iconic artwork as the “Rage, Flower Thrower” which depicts a rioter throwing a bouquet of flowers; and the Brexit display, which shows a man chipping away at one of the stars on the European Union flag to symbolize the disapproval of Brexit. Banksy is known for pushing the envelope, and while there is much speculation and conspiracy theories about their identity, it is generally considered an enigma.  

Starting in 2006, Israel’s own Dede (or Dede BandAid) began his work in Tel Aviv. Dede produces a unique and deep vision with every new piece in the city, and his signature is depicted as a white Band-Aid with black lining. Dede’s BandAids come in a myriad of designs, and can still be found and appreciated in the streets of Tel Aviv today.

Graffiti has morphed, adapted, and grown with the passing times. What once started out as simple phrases on street corners has blossomed into stencils, portraits, and other artistic masterpieces that are not confined by a frame. Every city is unique, and harbors their own name to fame, but not all are known universally.

Because street art is so unique to its city of origin, it can sometimes be hard to find. Grafitiyul is an Israel-based graffiti tour that will take you through the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, with experienced guides who know the spots even travel books are unfamiliar with. Offering both night time tours, and day tours Grafitiyul can fit perfectly into any Israel travel plans, and makes for a truly unique and personalized experience in this beautiful country!

Feeling inspired? Try your hand at graffiti with some guided classes, and embrace your inner artist! Grafitiyul not only shows you the best that these iconic cities have to offer, but takes it a step further into a lesson and inspiration that will recall fond memories for years to come.

By: Kayla Farriss