Although it is a common thought that graffiti is the use of stylistic symbols or phrases painted on a wall by a member of s street gang, not all graffiti is in fact gang-related. Graffiti is actually merely a visual communication involving markings or paintings in a space by an individual or group of people. While many see graffiti as illegal and antisocial behaviour to gain attention or to seek thrills, it is often an expressive form of art.
Derived from the italian, graffio, meaning to scratch, graffiti is actually the plural form but is often used in the singular. With a long history, markings have been found in Roman ruins, in Mayan cities, rocks in Spain that date back to the 16th Century and medieval English churches. The reason why people associate graffiti with illegal gang activity is largely because during the 20th century in Europe and North America graffiti was used by gangs to claim territory, to boast about crimes committed, for memorialising dead gang members and for challenging rival gangs as a prelude to violent confrontations. Graffiti has been prominent in urban centres and cities around the world, however, it was particularly prevalent in Europe and the United States within the subways, on billboards and walls. The form of graffiti that was particularly popular in the 1990’s was tagging, people would ‘tag’ a symbol to mark territory in order to attract the most attention possible from neighbouring parts of town.
Other forms of graffiti are the public art form, with things like murals by famous artists like Banksy. Graffiti in Hispanic neighbourhoods also elaborates on this style and is regarded as a form of urban art. The question whether these forms of graffiti are innovative forms of art or a public nuisance are the topic of much debate today. New York also has been a place where this style of graffiti has become incredibly popular. Artists like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat created elaborate multicoloured pieces of art using spray paint on buildings and subway cars to define the urban landscape. This started the art world's fascination with artists who functioned outside the traditional channels and because of this recognition, their work parlayed into successful careers as painters that were represented at top galleries.
Today, most jurisdictions around the world have laws that prohibit graffiti and deem it as vandalism, with punishments being quite severe. Because of this many cities around the world have large clean up efforts to stop graffiti in certain parts of the city, but instead have free walls to provide and legal space for artists and urban youth to express their artistic creativity.
Check out our full list of properties that feature graffiti here.