Issue 3: Local edition!
Monday, 18-Jan-2021 09:05:47 PST
graffiti took SF by storm around 1984. San francisco is a perfect city for graffiti: it has a large transit network that provides a great canvas for writers, and a small geographic size that's easy to cover and be very visible.
it's such an easy way to express yourself and have a creative outlet. it had the thrill of being illegal, and a way to be connected with others who shared the same interest. all you need is something that will lay down a line: large ink markers, grease pens, shoe polish. tags are simply a word or name that is written with style: a modern-day graphic artist's typographic wet dream.
Fame is what it was all about. this was a way to be popular not just with your friends, but with people you never met. in order to achieve fame, you had to be up -- highly visible. another aspect that would gain attention was style. perfecting your letters was worked on endlessly. one of the main reasons that the older generation didn't understand the allure was that they couldn't decipher the characters. we were fascinated with coming up with new alphabets or creating a language that only those that were in would understand. this may be the reason so many people in our generation are attracted to jobs that deal with typography and encryption.
it took guts to really get 'up' which was one of the attractions. when someone mentioned that they saw your tag on a bus on the way to school, there's a certain pride in that. some people had no problem with taking chances. on a crowded bus, kids would pull out dripping ultra's and start writing on the window next to a woman in a business suit. the smell of the ink would fill the bus, and everyone would be watching the rear-view mirror to see if the driver was paying attention. kids were obsessed with covering as much of the bus as possible. getting on the bus only to look up and see a tag above the drivers seat was a rush.
tagging quickly became more organized. the desire to be 'up' was greater than ever, and the logical path was to bomb in numbers. A group of kids would plan a Saturday night busyard raid that would be visible city-wide come Monday morning. San Francisco has many yards where it parks its off-duty buses, the most famous being the 'underground' yards. School would be abuzz with stories of being chased out by the Burns, and how 'so and so' didn't make it. With the common bond of tagging, groups of kids would form 'crews.' (see the sidebar on crews) Now it wasn't only about which tagger was 'up' most, but which crew was. graffiti got big.
If the older generation hated tagging, they were confused by 'peicing. a peice -- short for masterpeice -- is a decorative mural done with spray paint. It's hard to argue that it isn't artistic, even if it is illegal. Most peices are done on public and private property, usually during the late hours of night. peices took the tag to its next level. with the use of more color, larger canvases, and specialized paint caps, a word became a peice of art. Also, there were unspoken rules of respect between the writers. if a wall got covered, the next person would go 'over' one of the oldest, or more whacked ones first. feuding taggers or crews would purposely go over a rival crews work. this also applied to tags.
always looking for a gimmick that would make them stand out from the rest, taggers and peicers would come up with a new twist. TBC was famous for this. Never known for great peices, they would often call themselves out by being the highest on the wall or tagging in places that were dangerous to reach.
and some people became famous for an even simpler feat: being the first to peice on a prime spot. Hot spots would often be named after the first masterpeice, like naming a street after a famous person. Dug has the dubious honor of naming 'psycho city,' one of, if not THE, most well-known spot in California. This became the meeting spot for writers on the weekends. you would head down there and meet the people who practiced the art. (sidebar on graffiti spots)
because these works of art had short life spans, a new group of people began to hang out there. photographers would capture the art but not necessarily participate in its creation. it was always a great feeling to go snap pics of the newest peices to find that they had been gone over the next day. often, it would be possible to meet some of the more famous artists by becoming known as someone with a good scrapbook of photos. i used mine as my photography class final!
It's no coincidence that some of these artist went on to become highly desired muralists. Crayone and Twist are so talented with spray paint that they are often hired to decorate store fronts or club walls. Twist was someone who stood out from the bunch. He painted characters and objects, such as his famous screws, rather than words. and it was obvious that he was a talented artist, using the spray cans deftly to create beautiful images that had detailed shadows and shading. a few others became famous for doing intricate 'throw ups' -- quick murals that used one or two colors -- all over the city. one of which was reminisce and her horses.
when i got back from college in 1993, things had definitely chnaged. graffiti had seen it's hayday. at its height, it seemed that taggers would never be discouraged by the tactics that the city used to 'buff' them. but in the long run, the city had more stamina. as people grew older, they didn't have the time or energy to keep it up. it was a downhill battle. one by one, all the great lots got fenced up and all the buses got covered with anti-graffiti paint. sure, there's still the artist's who prefer to work with cans of spray paint, but it's more confined, and often 'legal.' then there's the kids who write on postal stickers at home and stick them to buses later. somehow, that just feels like a copout. but, i'll never forget the most insane example of determination as the ORFN tag in the duboce tunnel: for almost a half mile of train track, the tag ORFN is repeatedly connected over and over no taller than half an inch.
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