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The pioneers of graffiti you need to know

Courtesy: Spray Planet

The pioneers of graffiti you need to know

This post is also available in: Español (Spanish)

The history of graffiti could not be written without the creations made by the pioneers of this movement

The 1970s and 1980s were undoubtedly the decades where graffiti was one of the strong pillars of the hip-hop movement. Indeed, when talking about graffiti, it’s essential to refer to the fearless pioneers who took a spray can and tagged the cities.

These are the most prominent artists in the early days of graffiti
Courtesy: Pinterest

Currently, graffiti can be seen in almost any corner of the world. Some artists migrated from graffiti to street art, design, and even exhibitions in galleries. Hence, we give you a selection of the spray can veterans who left a great legacy in street culture.

Cornbread

Darryl McCray, better known by his graffiti name Cornbread was born in Philadelphia in 1953. He is saidad to be one of the leaders in the history of graffiti. In the late 1960s, he would hit the streets with his friends to tag the walls with nicknames or quotes.

The 15 pioneers of graffiti
Courtesy: The Art Blog

In 1965, McCray was sent to a juvenile correctional facility called the Youth Development Center. Once he got out, he made his way through graffiti and in 1984 he joined The Mural Arts Program, the largest public art project in the United States. He is also featured in the film Bomb It (2007) and was added to the Graffiti Hall of Fame in 2013.

TOPCAT 126

The first generation of New York writers stood out because he assigned a number to his chosen name. That’s how TopCat 126 came about. A character who went out at night and crept into the tunnels that sheltered the New York train wagons.

The graffiti pioneers you need to know
Courtesy: Museum of the City of New York

His pieces became popular as he dedicated his time to tag his bombs on the various subway lines. In fact, he was the first writer to popularize illegal graffiti in New York

TAKI 183

His original name was the Dimitraki, however, to establish himself as a writer, he simplified it to Taki and added the 183, the street number where he lived at the time. In the summer of 1971, an article was published in The New York Times that talked about the TAKI phenomenon.

The graffiti pioneers you need to know
Courtesy: Pinterest

Through methodical and constant work, the tag TAKI 183 was everywhere: on walls, posters, monuments, and public transport. Some of his tags were seen at John F. Kennedy International Airport, in New Jersey, Connecticut, among other places.

Read 163

He was the first writer to write the letters together. Consequently, his tag became a logo, developing the style that would later be perfected and result in the classic typography of the hip hop and graffiti world.

The graffiti pioneers you need to know
Courtesy: Matt Weber

His tags were usually seen next to those of Phase, another contemporary writer to Lee 163. Some graffiti historians attribute that he established what we currently know as wild style.

Phase 2

He is the graffiti legend from the Bronx, whose nickname is linked to a party he organized with his friends. The gathering was so successful that they decided to organize another one, and called it Phase 2. The veteran liked the name so he decided to adopt it as his tag.

The graffiti pioneers you need to know
Courtesy: Lectrics

His work is important because the artist painted in different typographic styles. An interesting fact is that Phase 2 rejected the term graffiti because of its negative connotation. Instead, he would refer to his craft as writing or writing style. Phase 2 is strongly linked to the hip hop culture that came up in the 1970s in the Bronx.

Without the work of the pioneers, there wouldn’t be a strong history of graffiti

Blade

Steven D. Ogburn, better known as Blade, is a famous street artist based in New York. During his legacy, he is estimated to have painted more than five thousand trains with his striking characters. In fact, Hondo 1 took him to Baychester in the Bronx to paint his first train.

The graffiti pioneers you need to know
Courtesy: Pinterest

Best of all, being part of the first generations of graffiti writers in the city had no aesthetic influence. This helped him build a personality and style of his own. In addition, Blade participated in exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, in New York; the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, in Cleveland, among others.

Lee Quiñones

Originally from Puerto Rico, Lee Quiñones is an artist who began drawing at age 5. His early years were spent in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. But it was not until 1974 that he began to tag the New York subway system.

The graffiti pioneers you need to know
Courtesy: Widewalls

In 1976 ten subway cars were painted with a range of huge colorful bombs, which represented a watershed in the way wagons were intervened. However, it should be noted that Lee’s works are part of collections of the Whitney Museum of Art, the New York City Museum, the Groninger Museum, among others. Actually, Eric Clapton bought all the pieces from an exhibition.

Fab 5 Freddy

Fred Brathwaite was born in 1959 in the neighborhood of Bed Stuy in Brooklyn, NY. He is another of the writers (next to Lee Quiñones) who filled the subway cars with bombs and tags. One of his most memorable pieces was made in 1980. He painted an underground train with cartoon representations of giant Campbell soup cans.

The graffiti pioneers you need to know
Courtesy: Laura Levine

Most importantly, many of his pieces began to be exhibited in museums. In fact, along with Futura 2000, Keith Haring, Jean Michel Basquiat, and others, he revolutionized how graffiti is viewed. Alongside filmmaker Charlie Ahearn, he shot the first film about hip-hop culture, Wild Style.

Cay 161

There are not many records on the biography and trajectory of this writer. What we do know is that Cay 161 was one of the children belonging to the generation that adopted graffiti as a lifestyle. Thus, he left his tag all over New York.

The graffiti pioneers you need to know
Courtesy: Weber Street Photography

Later on, in 1973, some of his friends from the Upper West Side began stealing the number 161 because it was so popular. Writers such as SAL-161 and STAG-161 wanted the number’s success. He currently lives in Manhattan and his brother NONI 161 is in prison.

Futura 2000

He is one of the veterans that remains artistically active. We just learned about his collaboration with BMW. Futura is one of the best-known writers. He began in the 1970s and distinguished himself from other artists through his abstract aesthetic, characterized by futuristic space-inspired designs.

Futura 2000 is one of the most active artists today
One of the pioneers of graffiti | Courtesy: Gastv

Futura became world-famous thanks to the publication of the book Spraycan Art and various documentaries, like Style Wars. He is currently a designer and gallery artist. He also collaborates with brands such as Subware, Phillie Blunt, Nike, and GFS.

DAZE

Chris Ellis is a graffiti artist from the 70s who, like all his fellow artists, started tagging the city’s trains. In 1981, his work was featured in the group exhibition Mudd Club Beyond Words, which also included artworks by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring.

Daze went from tagging with graffiti to being exhibited in galleries
The pioneers of graffiti | Courtesy: Flickr

That’s how graffiti got into the galleries and the following year Daze had a solo show at Fashion Moda in the Bronx, New York. He then exhibited at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York (1983), the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Copenhagen (1984), the Groninger Museum in Groningen, and the Aldrich Museum in Ridgefield, CT (1995).

Lady Pink

Sandra Barbara, better known as Lady Pink, is an Ecuadorian-American graffiti and street artist. She created most of her work in the 1980s. In her view, graffiti is an opportunity to empower women and a form of rebellion. She was nicknamed the “first lady of graffiti” since she was the first woman to tag the New York subway.

Lady Pink, the first woman graffiti veteran
Courtesy: Sugar and Spice

In fact, in 1980, she created the women’s graffiti group Ladies of the Arts (LOTA). That the same year she participated in the event GAS: Graffiti Art Success. Some of her pieces are exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Brooklyn Museum in New York City, among others.

This post is also available in: Español (Spanish)

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escrito por Fernando Huacuz
Ciudad de México, 1988- En búsqueda constante de urdimbres visuales y narrativas en espacios públicos y privados. Arte, cultura y rocksteady un must.
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