Thursday, 16 March 2017

A THROWBACK TO THROW-UPS

THROWBACK THURSDAY

BY JESSICA SVENNINGSON

Do you remember being a kid and scratching your name into a desk? Or perhaps a wall? Or maybe just the street when your mom brought out the sidewalk chalk?

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This act, which some would call defacing, is an act of graffiti – the act of scrawling your name or some picture you made onto a public surface.

Archaeologists' fascinating quest to decipher medieval graffiti scrawled on cathedral walls.
Graffiti goes back centuries more than most people realize. It can include cave paintings from Australia, where men left pigment prints outlining their hands, and refer back to the Roman empire when the phrase, “painting the town red,” referred to what Roman soldiers did after conquering a new territory.

They covering the walls of the villages with the blood of those they killed, if you didn't catch my drift. Source
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In modern times, it has less malicious roots.
Some say graffiti in North America started with Latin America tribes who immigrated to the states, and would put their language up on walls  to mark territory. However, the only documented credit for where modern graffiti started, and where that credit remains, is with the a collective of teenagers in New York City in the 1970s, who became sick of feeling neglected and forgotten by their city, and decided to do something about it.

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Brooklyn and the Bronx in the 1970s were in rough shape. Fires were burning every day, drugs and dealers were everywhere, and everyone wanted a piece of Manhattan but no one could get it.Then one day, a couple of boys, ages 13 and 14, started drawing together at this bus stop bench at 149th Street Grand Course, where the 2nd and 5th lines crossed. They started in note books, eventually getting artists' journals, meeting there everyday to practice their new-age calligraphy style writings. It was aptly named The Writer’s Bench by the future writers who joined these boys to get their name out there.

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This humble, blocky style bench, meant for commuters, was the place for some of the most prolific graffiti artists in history. 

Its still there now, the same bench from the 70s. It’s covered in tags, has a plate stating its historic significance, and although it hasn’t been used much by writers since the 1980s, graffiti artists from abroad or who were born in the 80s and 90s will still come to pay a visit to this very important historic site.

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The Writer’s Bench was where all the graffiti writers met to sign black books, settle disputes, exchange information about the latest news, and admire or critique each other’s works as it was an ideal view to watch trains 2 and 5 pass by. Lines 2 and 5 had some of the best graffiti art of the 1970s, coming as no surprise as the train yards for both these lines were in the Bronx and Brooklyn.



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It was tough competition to get a good tag on those trains. If you wanted to tag a train while it wasn’t in the yard, over looked by security, you would have to go into the tunnels. Many teenage boys would spend their summers lifting up man holes and finding hidden doors all over the city that lead down into the subway station, dodging trains and police officers the whole time. I am sure plenty got hurt, but it didn't stop everyone else from trying. Fallen soldiers aren't spoken about during a revolution.

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Hip hop and graffiti have always been intertwined, they are both movements that grew in the ghettos, generated by the youth in need for something in their life to give them purpose, and then spread out into the rest of the world. As hip hop music grew in popularity so did graffiti art and vice versa.

There’s a lot of debate between New York and Los Angeles graffiti writers as to who started the movement first. It’s a tough call because both styles and movements began within months of each other. The most popular story is that one teenage boy was watching the news one night at home, and saw a report about the graffiti happening all over the trains of New York, and thought that’s exactly what L.A. needed. However, L.A. doesn’t have any trains, so the boys turned to buses.

Graffiti was, and still is, a way for young men who feel they have no place in the world to ‘get famous’. By throwing their (street)name out there for everyone in the world to see.
Writers would compete with each other to be the best and most famous writer in their city. The only real way to know if you were #1 is if you could walk anywhere in the city core and everywhere you looked, from every angle, you can see you name, whether it was as a tag, a throw-up, a gallery, or a mural. Only then were you truly famous.  
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The boys would say that whenever they saw a train or bus go by with their giant throw-up, or mural, on the side of it, knowing it would reach as far as Wall Street with the men in their suits, it gave them a feeling that they made their mark on the world.
Graffiti started as a way to say, 

“I am here, I exist, and I will be heard.”


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