13 November 2014
Behind the Urban Artwork: Ethnography Essay Graffiti, the phenomenon that is observed all around the world began in New York during the late 1960’s. Taki183 who is one of the most influential graffiti writers in history inspired many kids all over New York. The fame and infamy that could be gained from "tagging" their names caused many pupils to start this event. The goal of “tagging” was to have one's name in as many places as possible, and as kids competed against each, the amount of graffiti on trains erupted.
When choosing what to do for my ethnography study, I decided to step into the shoes of a graffiti artist and see how it was like to be one. Many graffiti artists I know paint because of different reasons and develop their identity through this art form. Dr. Meike Watzlawik, from the Department of Developmental Psychology at the Technical University of Braunschweig, Germany states that this identity development depends “on their motivations as well as their abilities” and can also “be observed within a given group of graffiti painters.” In this study, I wanted to examine graffiti within a developmental foundation. I already had a couple of friends who were part of the graffiti scene, so I asked for help from them and I was able to tag along with them when they went to go have a painting session. I asked them what I should do to prepare before we went to go paint, and they told me that I shouldn’t wear anything that I wouldn’t want getting ruined and that I’m going to expect a lot of walking. I was nervous and excited because I was going to experience something I’ve never done in my life. There was a lot to learn when it came to graffiti. There were different types of graffiti designs and styles that I had to educate myself on. Tagging is the simplest form of graffiti and is basically the graffiti writer’s signature or a crew’s name. A “throw-up” is a little bit more complicated than a tag and usually is associated with having two or three colors, but is not as elaborate as a “piece.” A stencil is just a quick way to put up somewhat complicated pieces. Stickers (Slaps) are quick and easy ways to throw up a tag and allow artist to take their time on the artwork. Wildstyle is a style of writing that was made by graffiti artists like Tracy168, Stay High149 and Zephyr in New York City. This type of style is extremely complicated and is not easy to read. It features arrows, spikes, and curves that many artists have a hard time understanding. A “piece” is a graffiti painting and is hard to do because of the amount of time and effort that is put into it. A blockbuster is used to cover a very big area in a small amount of time. It often consists of block letters and is usually done with paint rollers. The last style of graffiti is called heaven because it is a piece that is put in a very hard-to-reach location. Because these locations are so dangerous and hard to reach, graffiti artists who successfully get their piece in such a spot will gain a lot of respect from other fellow artists. Being an artist myself, I like to expand my skills through different types of art forms and I never did realize how many types of art forms graffiti had, so I had a lot to learn before the day of the paint session.
I was curious about what graffiti really meant to graffiti artists and what types of rules they had in this scene, so I asked my friends a lot of questions about it. I interviewed a couple of graffiti artists and asked them how they got into graffiti, why they like to graffiti, and if there had been any moments where they confronted a problem relating to graffiti. Many of the people that I interviewed wanted to be kept confidential because they didn’t want anyone knowing who was behind the illegal graffiti on this island. The first person I interviewed told me that they got into graffiti from family. They started to graffiti around 2008 and it is what allowed