Street art, also known as urban art is the expression that refers to artistic manifestation developed in the public space, distinguishing the institutional character of events or business, as well as mere vandalism.
At first, a move underground, the street art was gradually being constituted as a way of making art, including various forms of artwork – sometimes very rich in detail, ranging from graffiti to stencil, through stickers, posters (also called poster-bombs), interventions, installations, flash mob, among others.
The phrase street art arises initially associated with pre-planners culturalist as John Ruskin and William Morris and later to urban culturalist of Camillo Sitte and Ebenezer Howard (designation “culturalist” has the stamp of Françoise Choay). The term was used (in the broad sense) to identify the “refinement” of certain traits carried by urban planners to draw the city.
Given the difficulty of framing the wall inscriptions written in absentia of the authorities and owners on the concept of public art, we are witnessing a resurgence of the designation of “Street art”, which now includes all kinds of creative expressions in the collective space. The name thus acquired a new meaning and aims to identify the art that is practiced in urban context on the margins of public institutions.
Besides graphite, urban art also includes living statues, musicians, jugglers, clowns and theaters. Few vehicles are meant exclusively for this type of art. The blog on street art, for example, depicts the daily lives of these people in the form of chronicles.
Street art as a form of communication
Urban street art is considered to everything that encompasses the different artistic expressions that are represented in the street in protest or as a simple artistic representation of an aspect of popular and traditional culture of a particular area or simply the most prevalent social movements in each territory.
Precisely, because of this urban nature and reflection of society that lives in every area with the advantage of being located in public places, urban art aims to surprise both periodic and faithful viewers. Street art has been usually used to convey a striking revolutionary message that condemns society with irony and invites the community struggle or administrative condemnation. However, there is some argument with regards to the real purposes of the artists’ currently involved in public space.
This urban art can be reflected in many different variations: graffiti, street theater, street music, etc. Since the 90s, the street art is spreading in almost every city of the world, but exist predominantly in New York, London, Barcelona, Berlin and Mexico City, among others. It is from this period that becomes more important the work of a diverse group of artists who have developed a mode of artistic expression on the streets by using various techniques (murals, stencils, posters, stickers, etc.). Most of these arts included a political message, which started to become rampant with the student riots in Paris in the 60s.
Certainly, without a second thought, the best expression of street art is graffiti, the historical development of which we will study below.
Street Art History
Learning about the historical development of street art, one must make a differentiation and perform two different evolutionary explanations: a brief history of the concept of urban development and historical evolution of graffiti as the highest expression of street art.
Urban Street Art or Urbanism as a Concept:
The term planning, in strict sense, is a neologism created in 1868 by the Spanish engineer Ildefonso Cerda, in his General Theory of Urbanization, which means the science and art of urban planning. This is the first meaning of the term urbanism coined to designate a new discipline emerged in the late 19th century, as the practice of revolution and building of the city in the industrial age. The term “planning” is a scientific model of the city, a discipline of constitution and selfless critic with systematic pretensions. But faced with this first sense, original and restricted, term planning is also used in a much wider and inaccurate to refer to everything related to the city (urban morphology, attitude, regulation). Consequently, the term extends and applies to all urban societies of the past (Greek urbanism, Roman, etc.). Thus, it leads to a history of urbanism and urban art history through different cultures.
After 1945, the planning has known as an unlimited expansion both in theory and real. The city has become the topic of study and experimentation of many experts, among which includes historians, engineers, geographers, writers, architects, sociologists, and philosophers. As a result of this competition, today urbanism is regarded as a multidisciplinary science covering an area of study and extensive practice.
Here, we are interested only in consideration of city from the point of view of art history, to the point that our discipline has a distinct specific point of view on the city as a work of art. On this line, the pioneer was the French professor Pierre Lavedan, who coined the concept of Urban Art to designate the different systems of planning and realization of the city over time. As an art historian, Lavedan understand the city as a space-time continuum, as the result of the evolution of urban forms.
The urban art (street art) is a word invented to indicate anything that refers to the morphology and architecture of the city, the architecture and urban spaces considers two together that is, from the traces of streets and squares to the volumetric compositions of buildings, not to mention the historical monuments, sculptures, street furniture, etc.
It can be considered as the beginning of an “archaic graffiti” to Roman times as it was a widespread custom of occasional writing on walls and columns, and found multiple registrations in Vulgar Latin with governmental slogans, offenses, statements or announcements of love and so on. Throughout history, there have been some nods to this type of written expression on fixed surface without continuity. Talk about brands of sailors and pirates with their pseudonyms or initials marked on the stones of visiting caves, some graffiti found in Tunisia during World War II or about a jazz musician in clubs in the United States in the 50s.
In 1960, Cornbread (Graffiti artist from Philadelphia), along with fellow Kool Earl helped define the role of graffiti. First it began to attract the attention of a girl he liked, but soon it became a mission full time. The exploits of Cornbread soon were made public by the press creating a feedback that made journalists propose ideas that later would make the graffiti itself.
However, the best known history suggests about a young messenger who lived and worked in Manhattan and traveled to various regions of New York, began to write his name on the cars, walls and everywhere he visited, also referring to the street where he lived: the 183. It began to be noticed by many people and in urban areas discussed raising questions and philosophies. Sign or tag “Taki 183” got so infamous that in 1971 a reporter from the New York Times tracked him until he was able to locate and interview, with the consequent impact of the article among children and youth in the city, which were launched to create their own tags in imitation. Different other authors of this period are underlined as: SEN TFK, Franquean 207, Tree 127, July 204, Cay 161, Junior 161 or 181 Eddie.
The first half of the 70s graffiti history as a pioneer was known as there were twists of style and popularity among writers. They began to extend the signatures or tags of the writers themselves as a way to become known among locals and visitors. The tags were not a simple name, but the writers wanted to echo their own flair in the creation and expression of their nickname as graffiti. Also, at this time graffiti artists made their own depots and sidings drawings and wagons full of signatures. In this era of splendour and explosion of ideas in the world of graffiti, we were establishing certain canons to follow among the most prestigious writers (thickness of the letters).
In the second half of the decade of the 70s, the influence of graffiti was spreading far and wide across the United States and began to raise small attempts at expansion in parts of Europe (London, Berlin). The Madness of graffiti in New York was such that in 1975, it began to discuss the granting of title “All City King” as the most important artist of the city. However, that title was very difficult to award it to one graffiti and disputed among several highly relevant (Temp 169, FSK, or Nose among others). The media was acquiring importance of graffiti made in 1977; the ABC television show on how traveling trains painted by the New York subway. Portraits made by artists like Diablo, Lee and The Fabulous Five had the “social approval” of people who had a close relationship with the world of graffiti.
In the late 70s, the MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority) in New York began its fierce fight against graffiti and began to take measures such as installing new fences more sophisticated in the garages of the subway, cars or covered wagons with resistant paint and raised vigilance. This did begin to weakening graffiti and graffiti artists sought some tricks to keep going in this certain fight. Others pursued alternatives such as traveling to Europe to introduce this sub-culture in the old continent (this fact is one of the components of the further dissemination of this culture in the old world, apart from others, especially those favored by media).