(picture by Martha Cooper)
Graffiti: Style As Defiance
After TAKI 183 got his name in the New York Times in 1971, graffiti took off. "Every new school year was a new graffiti season" says IZ THE WIZ.
To Hugo Martinez, the sociology student and youth gang advocate who in 1972 organized the first graffiti association, United Graffiti Artists, "Graffiti writing is a way of gaining status in a society where to own property is to have identity." Your name was your currency, and you created value by making your mark in the niches or getting into mass production. Here was the logic of reverse colonization, a virus spread by the faceless fellow travelers of roaches and rats. "You started on your street, then you went to the buses. You take over your neighborhood, then you take over your home line, then you take over your division, then you take over all city," says Luke "SPARE ONE" Felisberto.
You wanted fame. To an invisible generation, fame itself was wealth, liability transformed into asset. Maybe you hung yourself off the side of a building or climbed the steel beams supporting an elevating subway station to rock a tag that would make cleaning men scream in frustration and the other writers shake in jealousy. Or you were outrageous enough to hit the biggest, riskiest target you could find, as the pioneering female writer STONEY did in 1972 when she tagged the Statue Of Liberty. You tagged everywhere you went. Inside the cars, you and other writers staked space as if it were a turf to claim with your names. Train riders would treat your tags as invasions of their daily anonymity.
Still only a few tags, like those of the spliff-star saint STAY HIGH 149, could really register much louder than the dull ad placards. The "pieces", on the other hand, were personal pageants of light, line, and color, rolling billboards for the self. And when writers added style to these, it was like they had begun printing million-dollar bills. Soon, hundreds of kids were scaling barbed wire fences, leaping instant death on electrified third rails, and running from police just to piece cars in the train yards and layups in ever bolder detail and wilder style.
Taken from Can't Stop Won't Stop - History Of The Hip Hop Generation by Jeff Chang