The History Of Street Art In 1000 Words Or Less
Graffiti has been around ever since humans first decided to scribble on the walls of caves but modern street art have some very clear origins. In the last century, street art became a subculture, a fringe art and eventually a respected medium. Look back at the history of street art with us and see where it all came from.
Modern street art came from artists covering the sides of New York subway cars in pieces in the Seventies and Eighties. This wasn’t the first time a culture like this existed though. Before that was the Boxcar culture of homeless people who travelled in train cars in the late 1800s. This meant there were a lot of people with time to kill hanging out around these trains. A lot of the drawings done during this era weren’t artistically focused, many were coded warnings to other drifters about the area. Some incorporated graphic elements similar to those that would crop up during World War II and later.
Kilroy To Cornbread
During the second world war, a simple picture with the accompanying text ‘Kilroy was here’ spread amongst Allied soldiers. Servicemen would sketch the picture wherever they were stationed. Pictures of Kilroy could quickly be found across Europe, Africa and The Pacific. Kilroy raised a lot of eyebrows among the Axis forces who poured a significant amount of money into figuring out who Kilroy was. There’s even a story of Stalin being enraged to find Kilroy in a Moscow bathroom.
Once Kilroy became a pop culture figure it was only a matter of time before others followed the lead. It was nearly twenty years before Cornbread showed up to follow in Kilroy’s footsteps. Cornbread was fourteen year old Darryl McCray. He spread the line ‘Cornbread loves Cynthia’ around his home town in North Philadelphia to get a girl and the moniker stuck.
The Cornbread tag became a common sight and McCray is often credited for taking the idea of tagging away from gangs. Historically, gangs had used their tags to mark areas. Cornbread was the first person to make their individual tag and spread it around.
His friends were the first to take notes from him and began spreading their own tags. It soon spread beyond his friend group and snowballed into the modern style of tagging.
New York – 70s
The most famous period of the history of modern street art, nearly every big name in early street art came from New York in the seventies. While the Chicago Mural Movement was gaining slowly gaining a following, the scene in The Bronx exploded. A movement lead by young people with few other outlets, it was a hotbed of creativity.
Artists like Jean michel Basquiat and Dondi were among those who pushed graffiti into a medium with huge creativity.
Street art had barely found its feel in New York when the city authorities came down hard on it. For kids who had grown up in dilapidated areas that the city did nothing to fix up, the idea of being told they couldn’t make art out of it caused a lot of conflict. The artists at the time fought back against the authorities. They managed to create an entire medium right under the noses of the people trying to kill it.
Blek Le Rat and The Rise of Stencil
Paris artist Blek Le Rat first showed up on the scene in 1981 and his stencil work spread across the city quickly. His technique allowed him to work on pieces quickly and in higher numbers. He was one of the early people to see street art as a movement and called it a democratisation of art.
His techniques made an enormous impact and set up stencil work as one of the foundations of the history of street art.
Modern Street Art
The greatest compliment you can pay to the work of the early names in the history of street art is how difficult it is to sum up modern street art. The support networks and equipment they can access means that a lot more is possible today. Modern street artists can do nearly anything they want thanks to the work of their ancestors in the industry.