The idea of street art, free of conventions and rules, was much liked by the revolutionary-minded cultural figures of the early 20th century. In their 1918 Futurist manifesto, Vladimir Mayakovsky and David Burlyuk proclaimed art free of museum walls. They urged citizens to paint the walls of houses so that the street would become “a festival of art for all. At the time, however, this was as far from a manifesto as it got.
Art historian Alexander Ostrovsky from Bristol will explain in detail in this article where and when street art in the modern sense of the word appeared, and how it is related to the war.
What is street art and what is it?
By this direction we mean:
- Wall drawings;
- Images in public places and on various objects;
- Street installations;
- Posters, etc.
Everything that is an urban style of visual art can be referred to this trend. There is a widespread misconception that graffiti is the only manifestation of street-art. However, this is not the case. Graffiti is only one of the types of street art, but not the only one.
History of Street Art
Modern street art has many faces: graffiti, mini-sculptures, posters, stickers, murals, but its history began with a little drawing and writing that went viral. More specifically, with a character named Kilroy.
Kilroy is the most famous graffiti character and part of 1940s-1950s popular culture. He has a bald head and a very long nose. He is always peeking out from behind a wall. He is accompanied by the inscription Kilroy was here.
Where he first appeared is not known. But we know exactly when: in the early 1940s, during World War II.
According to the most popular version, the idea belongs to shipyard inspector James Kilroy. In his line of work, he had to count the number of rivets installed by workers and leave a check mark on each one. The workers were paid by the piece for each rivet, so they knew how to erase the inspector’s marks. Then Kilroy began adding his signature and a simple figure next to each item he checked.
Where was Kilroy
American soldiers fell in love with Kilroy. He appeared on military vehicles, bomb crates, house walls. And also in the most unexpected places where Americans have left their mark: on the summit of Everest, on the Statue of Liberty, and, as they say, even in moon dust. Kilroy seems to have really been everywhere.
The character is rumored to have interested German intelligence and Hitler personally, who considered him a cipher or a secret agent of the enemy. Stalin, during the Potsdam Conference, allegedly discovered the graffiti in his own bathroom and ordered him to find out who Kilroy was.
The Lover from Philadelphia
A more modern version of street art appeared in American Philadelphia in the late 1960s. A young man named Darryl McCray, nicknamed Cornbread, fell in love with a girl named Cynthia, and the inscription Cornbread Loves Cynthia appeared in all areas of the city.
The graffiti created by the street artist was very disliked by the authorities, but his idea was taken up by the local youth. Spray-paint was available at that time and soon the city was filled with texts and drawings in all colors of the rainbow.
Subsequently, inscriptions on the walls of buildings began to be called tags. The first tags consisted of the pseudonym of the artist-rater and the street number, such as Julio 204 or Topcat 126. They were a kind of tags, which reported that this or that rater lived here.
Courier from New York
In the late 1960s, a seventeen-year-old courier from New York under the pseudonym Taki 183 went beyond his neighborhood and painted many objects in the city, subway and airport. His work cost the state dearly and interested journalists. In July 1971, the New York Times published a piece about the writer that ignited interest in street art.
From Philadelphia and New York, graffiti tags, and after them other types of street art, spread across America. In the early 1970s, a real battle for territory broke out between street artists. Street artists competed with each other for the right to be the best. To make their style recognizable, they started using new elements and fonts. That’s how the culture of modern street art was born.
Types and techniques of street art
The division into styles can be observed mainly among graffiti. The following techniques are distinguished:
- Writing – the process of applying graffiti without reference to the style. Includes absolutely all kinds of graffiti;
- Bombing – fast drawing in extreme conditions;
- Tagging – the signature of the artist, his nickname.
Besides the technique of application, there are also kinds of graffiti, which differ in style:
- Bubble-letter – graphics using large letters and volumetric shapes that look like bubbles;
- Throw-up – New York style, which involves the use of two colors and simple shapes;
- Character – Character depiction in the style of a graffiti artist;
- Wild style – one of the most common types, involving the application of complex drawings. Requires a high level of skill;
- 3D-style – the image in the style of 3D, as well as optical illusions.
There is a huge variety of techniques for drawing and making installations. New directions regularly appear, artists try to find their own style and stand out from the crowd of other writers.