Graffiti dates back to ancient times, prior to written language. The word “graffiti” is derived from the Italian “graffito”, which means “a scratch.” Graffiti can be found etched into the stones of walls and monuments in ancient Greek and Roman cities. The Alexamenos graffito, graffiti purported to be the earliest known image of Christ, was carved into the wall of a room outside Rome sometime around 200 AD. In the 9th century Viking mercenaries scratched graffiti into stone at the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul.
Modern graffiti, the kind we associate with spray cans and gangs, first sprang up in the early 1960s in Philadelphia and quickly spread to New York City, covering subway trains, inside and out with what were known as “tags”. Tagging quickly became competitive with the graffiti artists trying to outdo each other with multi-colored, stylized tags, moving from subway cars to buildings, bridges, and even rock formations.
|Banksy's Girl with Balloon|
However, in the 1970’s graffiti began transforming from gang tags to street art when it became part of the hip-hop subculture, beginning in The Bronx. Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring were instrumental in bringing graffiti mainstream and moving it from the streets into art galleries. Today the elusive Bansky is carrying on what they started. Nowadays, instead of painting over graffiti, many major cities are commissioning artists to decorate the sides of buildings.
The old form of graffiti never truly died, though. It’s alive and well inside public restroom stalls were you often find crude commentary scratched into the paint of the metal doors. Normally these messages are of the “For a good time call…” variety but not always. The other day I found myself in need of a visit to the ladies’ restroom in Penn Station, Newark. This is what I saw in the stall I stepped into.
|"Learn Proper Grammar" bathroom stall graffiti|
(And yes, this is the first time I’ve ever whipped out my phone to snap a picture in a public restroom, but can you blame me?)