NYC Graffiti, 1994
In the early eighties, graffiti art entered
the public mind, as hip-hop culture came into the mainstream.
It was a way for urban kids and gangs to express themselves,
to spread their names and their messages. Some of my first
memories of New York -- from TV and the movies -- included
graffiti-laced subway cars and elevated tracks, in some mythical
place called Brooklyn. Upon seeing the subways in person,
however, I was surprised to find the cars shiny clean (for
the most part) and free of graffiti. The stations were not
"tagged" with gang signs and cryptic, spray-painted
messages. This was a result of Mayor Koch's crackdown on graffiti.
The art form followed a now-familiar pop-culture trajectory.
The media picked up on it (late as usual); it was adopted
by the art world, appearing in toney galleries in SoHo; then
the authorities picked up on its popularity (again, too late),
and sought to get rid of it. They did a good job, at least
in the subway system.
But at the same time, mainstream artists took to creating
graffiti, and in fact the city funded some public-art graffiti
projects. Lots of examples can be seen in and around the Village.
Some are spectacular; some are lame messages of peace and
positivity. More interesting are some of the remaining pieces
of illicit graffiti -- the curvy, almost unreadable script,
spelling out "Da Killa" and "242 St. Crew".
There have emerged weird hybrids of graffiti too. An artist
named Elyasaf Kowner goes around on evenings and paints images
and anti-establishment messages on sidewalks and buildings.
His "Night Art" bat can be seen all around town.
Various kinds of graffiti have entered the digital world now.
There is a Web page called The Graffiti Wall, a screen-sized,
formerly blank canvas, where people paint images and names,
and even paste pictures. Clicking on various items on the
"wall" takes you to the creator's home page.
A different kind of digital graffit is manifest in computer
viruses (virii?). A kid who calls himself "Hellraiser"
used to tag subway trains with a spray paint can; now he creates
viruses that flash his tag on unsuspecting users' computer
The article was orginally published on a link that is no longer