The History of Graffiti

“The history of typography, printing and reading are all linked; what else can you find out
about this history that you find interesting? Perhaps you are interested in a particular era,
form of typography or particular area of reading. It might be a wide subject such as the
history of the alphabet, or something very specific such as the use of typography in Film Noir,
comics or American crime novels.”

I began with general reading about the history of typography, before thinking about a specific era, with the help of Meggs History of Graphic Design.

photo 2

I’m not sure if I have made a strange choice here, but what really interests me is graffiti! Obviously, its not a formal style of typography, but it has a complex structure of its own, which does involve typographic elements, which have become more and more refined over the last few decades. Its perfectly reasonable to say graffiti has been around for hundreds, or even thousands of years – the odd roman citizen living in Pompeii left their mark, long before the spray can was invented. But I’m really drawn to modern graffiti, so thats the subject I’ve chosen to explore.

How Modern Graffiti Began

Graffiti sprang up in the late 1960’s, on the New York subway trains. The teenager who started it,  was known as Taki 183, a messenger who lived on 183rd street, Washington Heights. Described as a short Greek-American kid named Demetrius (or Demetraki). His job took him all over the city, and as he travelled, he wrote his name in marker pen on the subway.


Well, who can say. But by 1971 everyone, including the media had taken notice. This prompted the New York Times to run an article about competative vandalism entitled “Taki 183” Spawns Pen Pals. In fact, there is a bit of disagreement as to who first brandished a marker pen – rumour has it a certain “Julio 204″ started writing on property first, but only in his local neighbourhood.

Not surprisingly. Taki 183 has long since retired, but there is a website


He’s now a middle aged man, a bit bemused by his contribution to urban history. I love this later article about him from the New York Times, which explains more.

He comments “I think a lot of what the graffiti movement spawned, early on, was just vandalism and defacement. But later on real artists started doing it, and it did become a true art form.”

So, how did this art form develop?

Over time, seperate styles of graffiti began to emerge. They are now broadly defined as follows:


This is the simple form of tagging, where a graffiti artist signs their own particular signature. Apparently, to be known only as a Tagger, is considered pretty much on the bottom rung of the creative ladder.But you have to start somewhere.

In Brasil, tagging is known as PICHAÇÃO, and due to a lack of paint cans, is often made with a paint roller. So much nicer than my signature.



This has variations, but is usually a form of curved, “bubble” style of writing, like this

10009274_440447862757648_1183907448_a images tumblr_momjanuTMU1s1gatmo1_500

A Scrub means letterforms that are only sketchily filled with colour, as though done in a hurry. Or literally done in a hurry, due to the fact the spray can user is de-facing public property.


These are the pieces of work that have been crafted over hours, and tend to show graffiti at its best.


Not surprisingly, people began to take an interest in this subject as an art form. Graffiti has been extensively photographed, and various people have collected examples of alphabet styles. Or fonts as you might well call them. Here’s a short film by Evan Roth


Graffiti Taxonomy: Paris, 2009 from Evan Roth on Vimeo.

There are so many references and resources online… People discussing graffiti in relation to jazz, and abstract art, channel 4 archive has a “Faking It” episode where a young guy learns to be a “Grafter”, and takes part in a competition. You can even download graffiti style fonts for fun (I did) .


graffiti fonts








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