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What are the Origins of Graffiti?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 23, 2024
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Graffiti originated in ancient Italy as inscriptions and drawings on sculptures and walls. In fact, graffiti was found in 1851 in the ruins of Pompeii. Painting on sidewalks, and other forms of graffiti, is still common in Rome today. Whereas Romans consider graffiti as a form of urban art, many westerners consider it vandalism unless property owners give consent to the graffiti artists. Graffiti may include drawing, painting, and writing, or a combination of the three.

Tagging is a form of graffiti used to put a 'name tag' on public areas and is thought to be used by some gangs to mark territory. The origin of tagging goes back to the 1970s when a mail carrier in New York made a goal to ride every bus and subway in New York. He wrote his name and courier identification number, Vic 156, to mark each bus and subway he took. Others began to follow Vic's example and tags grew more prevalent, larger, and much more elaborate. Tagging as graffiti moved from buses and subways to walls and all types of outdoor areas.

The old Belmont trolley tunnel in Los Angeles was a popular spot for taggers until, despite over 2 years of protests to save it as a modern cultural landmark, the graffiti covered tunnel was torn down. The tunnel was frequented by homeless people, gangs, and drug addicts and had appeared in many films. Graffiti artists and taggers from other states and other parts of the world had traveled to paint at Belmont. Los Angeles police dismissed the graffiti as tagging by vandals, but art groups appealed to the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission to help save the tunnel.

"Aerosol muralists" are graffiti artists who paint large, commissioned murals on urban walls, usually on the sides of businesses. The murals can be very beautiful and graphic, attracting much attention from potential customers in the area. Aerosol muralists use aerosol spray paint as it gives an airbrushed look to the mural. Sometimes house paint, rollers, and brushes are also used. The murals usually relate to their surroundings. For example, a mural on the side wall of a Greek restaurant would most likely have a Grecian theme.

Musical Expert is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon155802 — On Feb 24, 2011

that information is awesome. it was also very helpful for my project.

By anon87057 — On May 27, 2010

"Seen" is actually the aurelia rising king and godfather of graffiti. it was because of him that graffiti was 'seen' in new york subways and trains from his early childhood to even now. just look him up. "Sl1M"

By anon35813 — On Jul 07, 2009

In America around the late 1960s, graffiti was used as a form of expression by political activists, and also by gangs such as the Savage Skulls, La Familia, and Savage Nomads to mark territory. Towards the end of the 1960s, the signatures—tags—of Philadelphia graffiti writers Cornbread, Cool Earl and Topcat 126 started to appear.[15][16]. Cornbread is often cited as one of the earliest writer of modern graffiti[17]. Around 1970-71, the center of graffiti innovation moved to New York City where writers following in the wake of TAKI 183 and Tracy 168 would add their street number to their nickname, "

By anon35812 — On Jul 07, 2009

Graffiti and tagging are the same we are all street artists who express ourselves through art-- its either grow up sellin crack or you can paint-- i painted.. But cornbread was the first real tag artist he tagged the jackson 5 jet and an elephant at the philadelphia zoo (where he's from) then vic 156 followed suit and soon by taki 183 graffiti started in philly and spread to new york soon after

By anon25021 — On Jan 22, 2009

hey i need take 183's email if he has 1? im doing research on him for a school project. sopleasegive it to me if you have it. btw im a graffiti artist as well tag name FLO 723

By AuthorSheriC — On Dec 20, 2008

anon23225: According to the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), TAKI 183 "made graffiti famous" but "the origin of tagging" belongs to Vic 156.

UIC's website lists their sources as B-Boys.com and the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute which is an educational partnership between the New Haven, Connecticut school district and Yale University.

Wikipedia defines a tag as "a form of signature used by graffiti artists."

By anon23225 — On Dec 18, 2008

Hi, I've been spending over a month writing a research paper on graffiti in NYC from the mid 60's to the early 80's. All textbooks, encyclopedias, and even first person references from some of the breakthrough artists themselves cite TAKI 183 as the foot messenger who started tagging, which then led to the evolution of graffiti. I hope this is helpful.

By malena — On Mar 20, 2008

Anon10030 -- I think you're confusing tagging and general graffiti. I think people say TAKI 183 was the guy that made graffiti popular in like the 70s or something. But I think the article is right when it says that people say the first tagger was VIC 156.

By anon10030 — On Mar 18, 2008

not VIC 156 but TAKI 183 was the person which you are writing about

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