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The Evolution Of Street Art

Updated on May 3, 2015

Street Art or Graffiti?


Earliest Forms of Graffiti Discovered

In the year 79 AD, Pompeii was obliterated. 700 years later, archaeologists uncovered lewd symbols, words and drawings on outside walls of several structures in Pompeii. The discovery is considered one of the earliest known forms of graffiti.

Other early forms of graffiti have been discovered in ancient Egypt and Turkey.Historians believe much of the markings were used as advertisements for brothels, as was the graffiti found in Pompeii. This could explain partially where and how graffiti got it's bad reputation. It didn't help that over the years, graffiti was used as a way of communicating discord or rebellion, breaking laws in the process.

Reproduction of the famous "Kilroy was here"used by GIs during WWII
Reproduction of the famous "Kilroy was here"used by GIs during WWII | Source

Graffiti Through The Years


Some of the earliest documented graffiti of the 20th century in the United States can be seen during the 1920's. Since graffiti was considered vandalism, one of the first identified graffiti artist went by the pseudonym of Bozo Texino. A railroad employee in San Antonio,Texas, Bozo started creating his simple signature on railway boxcars using white,waterproof chalk. A certain amount of "fame" was given to him due to the fact that his signature traveled all over the United States by rail.

Probably the most famous pre-modern graffiti is the "Kilroy was here" during WWII.


The more complex and colorful graffiti as we know it today can be traced back to the 1960's in Philadelphia,Pennsylvania. Political activists found this as a way to publicly yet anonymously express their views. Also,a different kind of emerging gang culture utilized graffiti as a way to communicate their presence and rebellion.

By the 1970's, graffiti began to change from being just hastily splayed against a wall willy-nilly to taking on more of an art form. Many artists using public structures as a medium, began to gain recognition as creators of expressing feeling and not just emotion. Though still having the general characteristics of the garish color schemes and free-hand styles known to graffiti, these artistic renditions were now being considered by many as "street art" and thus the controversy between what is considered destructive vandalism and what is appreciated as art began.

A Report on Graffiti (CBS Sunday Morning program)


Graffiti Divided

Graffiti divided itself into two distinct genres, though sometimes the line blurs.


Tagging refers to graffiti that is mainly text-based, mostly names or initials. It uses letters or symbols in different styles from simple, straight-line script to extravagantly decorated font styles. Tagging is meant more as communication to the graffiti community where the words, letters and style have a meaning to them only. Oftentimes, it's meaning could just mean nothing more than vanity.This type is also used mostly by gangs to mark territory or to show presence and it is what most people think of when they think of graffiti.

Street Art

Street art refers to graffiti that is meant to be observed by everyone as art itself. It presents in picture form with the intent to make an area more beautiful to an otherwise drab or depressive place. Meaning of the art may still contain rebellion or protest, however, in a more gentle and less offending way. Street art is becoming recognized as a legitimate form of art with courses being added to university art programs and artists being commissioned to create murals legally. Street art has found it's place, and respect, in art museums and homes of art collectors all over the world.

Graffiti at Zajecza Street in Warsaw
Graffiti at Zajecza Street in Warsaw | Source

Your Opinion

What are your thoughts on the street-art form of graffiti?

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London,Street Graffiti
London,Street Graffiti | Source

Legalized Graffiti

The controversy over graffiti will always exist. Laws are in place all over the world to help curb what is considered as defacing of property. Unless caught in the act, the perpetrator is rarely caught. Even those well known as masters of street art are rarely charged as no proof exists it is their work unless caught.

However, many cities and towns have created special areas where graffiti and street art is encouraged or legal. Some cities require prior approval on content that is created and some are just free-for-alls. Some graffiti-legal places include:

  • Rote Fabrik in Zurich,Switzerland
  • 5Pointz in Queens,New York
  • Venice Graffiti Pit in Venice,California
  • Hosier Lane in Melbourne,Australia

Many other European cities allow for legalized graffiti in certain areas such as Paris, Copenhagen, and Warsaw.

Artwork by Banksy
Artwork by Banksy | Source

Famous Modern Graffiti Artists

In the world of graffiti art, several artists have become quite famous with their creations becoming worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Extending their mediums from the streets to canvas and lithographs, their works are widely recognized by the art world and appreciators of art. Two such influential artists are Banksy and Ash.


Banksy began as a street artist in the early 1990's.His real name unknown, the English street artist uses satire and dark humor in his artwork and has often shown repulse at the prices some of his art has sold for,even that it is sold at all. His art often depicts controversial political issues.

Victor Ash(Ash)

Ash began his street art in Paris during the 1980's. His style has evolved from the the gritty graffiti art of his early years to a more conventional style of art. His paintings are said to provoke thought.

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