The Urban Artist: Expressing With Graffiti.Modern graffiti started in Philadelphia and moved to the Bronx in the '60s as a way to make a name. It wasn’t a throwback at authority or a cry for help; it was a statement to the neighborhood, the city, and the world…a simple “I am here.” As hip-hop began its meteoric rise, graffiti evolved into one of the crucial elements of the culture’s unconventional staples: D.J.’ing, M.C.’ing, B-boying (break dancing), and graffiti. Soon graffiti became a surging force, with underground celebrities and masters becoming known in all the major cities.
One master, LADY PINK, described the emerging graffiti scene:
“I think graffiti writing is a way of defining what our generation is like...traditionally artists have been considered soft and mellow people, a little bit kooky. Maybe we’re a little bit more pirates that way. We defend our territory—whatever space we steal to paint on, we defend it fiercely.”
Although fighting for the right to paint was invigorating, it caused problems. In 1972, the mayor of New York, John Lindsay, brought the issue before the country, calling graffiti taggers both mentally ill as well as insecure cowards. However, like all things cutting edge and underground, people in the art world began to take notice. By the time the '80s swept in, graffiti art was not only in museums but sold for thousands of dollars.
The face of a graffiti artist has changed from the masters of the sixties to anyone willing to pick up a spray can. Today’s graffiti still reflects underground culture but also implies gang wars and street life, which has tarnished its brilliance to some degree. One such face that has not been detracted by graffiti’s bad rap is Ryan Sasso, a junior at Chaparral High School. He is a lacrosse hockey player, a skater, and an artist. Among Ryan’s many artistic achievements, he recently won an award for his sketch book featuring mostly graffiti art.
“I kind of just got started on my own; I like the graffiti style of art,” Ryan explains. “I learned by trial and error.” His trials and errors are now in places of pride; his work hangs mostly on the walls of his room, on album covers, and in the homes of family and friends. “I also paint on canvas, and I’ve worked to not be just some talentless guy.”
Dictionary.com defines art as the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance. People may not agree that graffiti is art. To some, it may always be a destructive cry out against supremacy, a stolen space for infamy and gang promotion.
Although vandalism and street-war deaths are a sad consequence; ironically, graffiti was originally an expression of life and freedom. Over the last forty years, the graffiti revelation has spread across the country and across cultures, forcing the public to take another look at the definition of art.
Let them critique, but the bottom line will always remain the same: Graffiti Is Art.
The following graffiti art is compliments of the artist, Ryan Sasso '08 of Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, Arizona.
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