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"graffiti" Tag

Subordination to the tool

Friday, February 19, 2016

« Biff » is a typeface, created in 1999 by Swedish designer Jonas Williamsson for the Lineto type foundry. Jonas Williamsson is part of the art and design collective REALA.

“Biff” is a font based on the aesthetic of the early (80’s-90’s) NYC graffiti, the description of the font on the Lineto website mentions in a direct way the throw-up graffiti style as main reference.

BIFF - by Jonas Williamsson

Big, simple and round letters were very common at that time, when the material available and the circumstances it took place in did not allow graffiti writers to do complex and precise pieces. Before it became the well documented worldwide culture it now is, graffiti started as a way for young uneducated urban populations to leave a trace of their existence or for gangs to mark their territory. Subways became the main vector of this « street signalization » because they travelled the city, passing from a neighborhood to another, going from the projects of the Bronx, to the wealthy streets of the Upper West Side.

80's graffiti on NYC's subway

This local phenomenon has been well documented at the time (1983) in the famous movie “Style Wars

In this context, the visibility and the ability to be easily read and recognized while using basic high-pressure spray-cans and painting fast in order to avoid getting arrested was more important than a proper styling of the letters, giving birth to the « bubble » style, also called « throw-ups ».

Throw-up style nowadays

Hand writing and drawing symbols are very ancient and codified practices, present for thousands or more years in the Western countries as well as in Asia or in the Arabic world. In Europe calligraphic handwriting based on the ancient Greek and cursive Roman scripts developed in the Middle-Age (around 600 AD) by Monks, using tools such as brushes or calligraphic pens on parchment, which allowed the writer to give a lot of contrast to his letters (switching between more thin or thick lines within the same letter). These tools and the calligraphic use that was made of them gave birth to Gothic typefaces, that can be recognized by their large amount of angles and ligatures. The first bible Gutenberg printed was made using Textura characters (also called “Blackletter”). Although cut from wood the letters still resemble hand writing. Gutenberg even enhanced that feeling by cutting the letters with small variations.

Detail of Gutenberg's bible

Textura Gothic Font

At the end of the Twentieth century, while New-York’s graffiti scene was getting a lot of attention from the medias and artistic world, influencing the arrival of similar movements (in style and in attitude) all around the world (especially in European capitals such as Paris, London or Copenhagen), writers in Sao-Paulo started developing a singular approach of this practice. Influenced by the artworks of heavy-metal bands coming from the West, they reinterpretate these Gothic typefaces (which are less and less used all around the world, exception made for these confidential subcultures) by using a mono-linear tool (spray paint) that does not allow any variation in the thickness of the line. Even their approach of graffiti writing and tagging is different than in New-York where it was all about the signature.

Heavy metal artwork

Sao-Paulo writers (also called « Pixadores ») are closer to a classical writing logic, rather than a signing logic, copying an ancient font and paying a lot of attention to the space between letters and lines. The surfaces they choose to write on are also quite peculiar. By climbing and risking their lives, the Picadores draw their letters in a systematic and performative way on the faces of the tall buildings and towers of the city, creating impressive compositions, each group or individuals passing one after the other on a same spot.

In the same way “Style Wars” documented New-York graffiti scene, a movie like “Pixadores”  is a historically significant trace of Sao-Paulo’s writing phenomenon.

Tagged wall in Sao Paulo

Nowadays, typography is still developed based on classical calligraphy and Latin capitals, using the shape and contrast of regular calligraphic pens, while the worldwide writing practice is mainly made using mono-linear tools like BIC pens or round-tip markers. This gap between a common contemporary behavior and the survival of this old way of dealing with typography is very real.

A typeface like Gerard Unger’s « Flora » however, is an attempt to approach typography in a more contemporary way (the letters are based on his own hand writing). The website also released an interview with Gerard Unger, a dutch designer who studied and taught for a long time at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. More famous typefaces are designed based on this more contemporary technique of writing like Din Mittelschrift [x] or even Helvetica rounded [x]


The above handmade transformation of a classic fractur and a textura letter type with my Bic pen illustrates clearly what happens when old calligraphic letterforms are re-written with modern writing tool [x]

Little Scratch

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Gra-fi-ti [gruh-fee-tee]: markings, as initials, slogans, or drawings, written, spray-painted, or sketched on a sidewalk, wall of a building or public restroom.
This is the definition of graffiti in the dictionary. Everybody knows it. A tricky topic to work with I thought immediately. How was I going to tell you something new about this?
I started my research by defining what graffiti actually is. Soon I found out that the word graffiti means ‘little scratch’. I thought this was a detail of quite some importance as I assume most people think graffiti is mainly related to spray paint. But for thousands of years graffiti was made by scratching a layer away, revealing the layer beneath it. The first graffiti dates back 30.000 BC.

But also in ancient ‘scratched’ graffiti there is a big difference. For a long time graffiti was in the form of prehistoric cave paintings that were often placed in ceremonial and sacred locations inside of the caves. And we all know the Egyptian wall decorations and that only because of those we know the history of ancient Egypt. Unlike modern graffiti these inscriptions were not made to make a public statement but to visualize their religion or traditions for example. The First ‘modern style’ graffiti survives in the ancient Greek city of Ephesus (in modern-day Turkey). Local guides say it is an advertisement for prostitution. Located near a mosaic and stone walkway, the graffiti shows a hand print that vaguely resembles a heart, along with a footprint and a number. This is believed to indicate that a brothel was nearby, with the hand print symbolizing payment.
Still there was no political or social ideals displayed back in the times. graffiti consisted of Latin curses, magic spells, declarations of love, alphabets, political slogans and famous literary quotes, providing insight into ancient street life.
One inscription gives the address of a woman named Novellia Primigenia of Nuceria, a prostitute, apparently of great beauty, whose services were much in demand.

or a nice example of love ache:

Quisquis amat. veniat. Veneri volo frangere costas
fustibus et lumbos debilitare deae.
Si potest illa mihi tenerum pertundere pectus
quit ego non possim caput illae frangere fuste?

Whoever loves, go to hell. I want to break Venus’s ribs
with a club and deform her hips.
If she can break my tender heart
why can’t I hit her over the head?

-CIL IV, 1284.

When we think of the phenomenon graffiti nowadays, I assume people either think of individual expression (spraying names, political ideals etc on public spaces), or a form of art. Type in the word graffiti in Google and the masterpieces from Banksy immediately pop up. Although people never stopped making graffiti the way they did it in ancient times. we still carve our name and from the one we love in trees, doors and tables.
if we look at graffiti purely as a technique, this was originally scratching. taking a layer away to reveal another layer beneath it. this technique was in the first place used by potters who would glaze their wares and then scratch a design into it.
scratching is even more permanent than our modern graffiti is. spray paint can be removed although it’s quite a intense job, but something that is taken ‘scratched’ away is impossible to recover. A scratched work will stay there forever.

A modern artist using the scratch technique is the young Portuguese Alexandre Farto. He makes huge wall murals by scratching faces out of the surface. he doesn’t only use the surface as a material to work on, he integrates the whole wall, building and even surrounding into his work.

So finally, as a conclusion to this all we could say that the term graffiti actually doesn’t stand for our modern way of making graffiti. Or at least that it’s a different way of approaching it. It is a phenomenon that over the time lost a lot of it’s original characteristics.
A little heart scratched into a tree comes closer to graffiti than a mural from Banksy does..


Saturday, September 12, 2009

The exhibition at the Zuiderzeemuseum made me think of the term Folklore and it’s definition. What is folklore exactly? Is it a period in time or a certain style? There was clothes, drawings and design objects at the exibition as well as graffiti from Shoe. Is that Folklore too? For me folklore is a period of time, with a certain way of style that we can look back upon. We don’t think of folklore if we look at ourselves today! We are not in a kind of folklore YET, we will be in the future, for sure. But not today. And graffiti will be a part of our folklore too, because it is a big part of our culture, but that time hasn’t come yet. Maybe in a 100 years people will look back at us and talk about the funny way of our communication; ‘HAHA they used walls and paint to express their feelings.” But not today, we don’t see graffiti that way, for us it is normal, it is just something that is there. As it was for the people wearing ‘kraplaps’ and the traditional clothing. They didn’t look at themselves, surprised, they way we do now. Graffiti is our culture, not our folklore. Yet.

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