Art that seems to have derived from cave paintings, dating anywhere between 30,000 and 40,000 years old, has come full circle to a recognized art form that lives outside museums and galleries—that is post-graffiti or street art.
Mainly symbols or depictions of animals, primitive cave paintings, like those found in southern France or outside Sydney in the Black Fellows Hands Reserve—a protected national park featuring ancient aboriginal art in the form of cave paintings—later gave way to a wider variety of mediums and subjects as man evolved.
Invented in the 1400s by the Holy Roman Empire, the printing press not only changed societies as information and ideas were shared with a broader audience, images and words could be mass produced from metal or lithographic plates—scratched limestone. Revolutionary since art had always been a singular, unique piece.
And as paintings evolved into large murals, such as Diego Rivera’s commissioned works in New York in the 1940s, perhaps they inspired artists—with natural talents who didn’t fit the mold of studio artists—to become street artists.
Whether the word graffiti originated from the Greek graphein, to write, or the Italian graffiato, scratched, graffiti artists “write” on urban surfaces—walls of buildings, bridges, or the sides of rail cars—to express themselves. And they’ve been increasingly regarded as artists in their own right with voices yearning to be recognized, but often unable to expose their true identities ironically because of the medium.
But times are changing—in 2009, 150 artists exhibited 300 pieces of graffiti art at the Grand Palais in Paris—an obvious acceptance of the art form by the art world. And in 2011, Exit Through the Gift Shop, a Banksy film, was nominated for an Academy Award.
Street art has evolved in and of itself—from 2-D paintings, stencils and stickers, to 3-D mosaics, yarn bombs, installations and video projections.
And in the meantime, traditional graffiti art has been adopted as its own graphic art style.
additional films on the subject:
Stations of the Elevated, 1980, the earliest documentary about subway graffiti in New York City features music by Charles Mingus
Against the Wall, aka, Quality of Life, 2004, was shot in the Mission District of San Francisco, stars and was co-written by a retired graffiti writer.
Piece by Piece, 2005, the history of San Francisco graffiti is documented from the early 1980s to present day.
Infamy, 2005, graffiti culture is defined by the experiences of six graffiti writers and one graffiti buffer.
NEXT: A Primer on Urban Painting, 2005, covers the graffiti culture on a global scale.
RASH, 2005, features street artists in contemporary Melbourne, Australia.
Bomb the System, 2002, a drama about a crew of graffiti artists in modern day New York City.
Bomb It, 2007, a graffiti and street art documentary filmed on five continents.
Jisoe, 2007, shares a glimpse into the life of a Melbourne graffiti writer Justin Hughes.
Roadsworth: Crossing the Line, 2009, features Montréal artist Peter Gibson.