“Graffiti is the visual manifestation of a generation that grew up on a diet of 3,000 advertisements a day and a desire to make its mark on this world” Alex Kataras.
Society is made up of millions of images. Images are all defined through their visual language. It is these visual languages which demonstrate and evoke meaning to the responder when looked at. In contemporary society there are many ‘new’ or not yet ‘formally recognised’ visual languages emerging such as ‘graffiti art’. Graffiti Art is not a formally recognised visual language yet is an informally recognisable ‘style’ which has been incorporated in today’s society through many media formats. Although not specifically named as ‘graffiti shoes’, ‘graffiti advertisements, ‘graffiti DVD Covers’, ‘graffiti flyers’, ‘graffiti jewellery’, ‘graffiti notebooks’, ‘graffiti clothes’, or ‘graffiti concert tickets’ and so on, it is still evident to the viewer that the visual style used to create such designs has been created through elements which make up that of graffiti.
It is through the elements of line, colour, scale, type, shape, fill, balance, perspective, space, proportion and cultural context when formed in a certain way which makes this visual language recognisable as graffiti.
I believe the success of this visual language, is due to its anti-authoritarian culture which provides a raw and authentic look providing ‘street credibility’ allowing the intended audience to relate more easily with, and connect with the images. The modern era of graffiti began during the early 1970s primarily in New York when the introduction and fascination with the aerosol spray paint in cans combined with an increasing hip hop style culture formed, establishing many new artists within society. These artists appeared to mostly consist of self taught young men of who had limited access to formal artistic education – producing work which was often both an outlet for creative expression as well as a new form of social protest.
A major breakthrough for graffiti style artists, in getting their work seen by the public was due to the New York City transit system whereby artists had their images shown to a wide public as the cars travelled throughout the city on elevated tracks.
The question was then raised to whether graffiti represented a legitimate form of art or was merely a kind of vandalism - eventually the government declared graffiti art to be a public nuisance that prompted an image of lawlessness. By the mid 1980s a crackdown had essentially eliminated the presence of graffiti in the transit system. However it was in the 1990s that graffiti experienced something of a restoration, celebrated as a prime example of what is now called 'outsider art'.
Although graffiti established itself as an art in the 1980s it is only quite recently that it has developed into a significant part of today’s society in regard to dealing with fulfilling clients needs in regards to commercial products and advertising. Another reason for the increase in interest in this ‘visual language’ is that companies realised the importance and successful impact this style had due to the search for advertising strategies which would attract popular culture.
Since the 1990s, western designers have been more open minded to the use of postmodern styles when designing. There has also been an increase in the use of vernacular styles such as ‘street art’, ‘comics’ and other ‘non traditional’ graphic media.
Today, ‘graffiti art style’ works are steadily increasing across all media types in society due to the many influences of other ‘visual languages’. ‘Wildstyle” is an artistic style which has been highly influential to the use of the graffiti art today. ‘Wildstyle’ becoming the most famous graffiti style producing art that was very expressionistic and free form whereby the compositions of this style frequently covered the complete side of a subway car. Wildstyle graffiti was influential because of its near illegibility and its interlocking abstract letters flowing chaotically across the composition. Another vital ‘visual language’ is that which became known as “Grunge Designs”. This occurred during the 1990s – where designers where continuing to experiment with the limits of legibility and style. It became a powerful trend influenced by the interest in this evolving ‘unkempt’, ‘ragged’ and ‘disheveled’ look – becoming known as “grunge”.
A major influencing designer ‘David Carson’ became recognised from his work for a number of niche magazines. His artistic style became known as “expressive deconstruction”. This was a shock to the graphic world at this stage as he broke almost every standard rule regarding composition and legibility in the aim of producing expressive art.
In this image of Carson's - we can see exactly how he has completely change the stylistic rules of graphics creating a totally new and complex looking image.
Another influencing factor to the graffiti visual language style was the British firm Tomato, founded in 1991 – which also played around with altering the current accepted graphic rules to create a new and out there look. The album cover they created “Underworld - Dubnobasswithmyheadman” clearly displays the ways in which this style has influenced graffiti style.
Aside from the fact that the bands title of the album is legible – located near the top of the front cover – the rest of the text in the image some of which has been reversed, is very scattered with overprinting of letters and sections of designs scattered everywhere almost impossible to interpret.
In addition, despite the clutter, a bold symbol consisting of a fractured handprint inside a broken circle stands out clearly. This strong and abstract mark implies a sinister trademark reminding the viewer of a crime setting. The image described can be found here
Some general and common graffiti style elements which are common among all media types which use this visual language include overprinting, chaos, typography, disorder, deliberate errors, expressive brushstrokes, layering, random and angular lines, sporadic shapes, vibrant and bright colours, monumental balance and scale, 3D effects, illegibility, symbols and ‘allover’ style. The chaos and overprinting definitely stem from the ‘grunge’ style mentioned above influencing urban graffiti.
These commonalities can all be seen in today’s society and through a range of different media types such as in concert tickets, shoes, posters and flyers, notebooks and dvd covers, and many more. It is therefore evident to see that ‘graffiti style’ does seem to be a visual language increasingly being used in our society among many different media types. It is evident of the progression and influences of graffiti since the 1970s and it is apparent of the importance this visual language holds in our society in order to attract and connect with particular audiences.
‘Graffiti Style’ is an emerging language which is evidently noticeable and significant amid our society today.