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Writing on the Walls of New York City: Graffiti Letter Forms of the 70s and 80s

Graffiti started in the 1960s in Philadelphia, but was later adopted by defiant youth in NYC a decade later. Names such as Julio 204, Taki 183, and Topcat 126 plastered the walls of NYC that the streets became a backdrop for subversive artistic expression. Graffiti in NYC was ultimately a product of political despair, underground gangster hip-hop, and a drug-crazed counter-culture. However, this debauchery also created new graffiti-style typefaces.

Graffiti-style typefaces are large, bold, and colorful, which emulates NYC culture from the 70s and 80s. Most notably,  the Softie (Fig 1.) and Wildstyle (Fig 2.) graffiti lettering styles dominated the urban landscape of NYC. Softie style or bubble letters (Fig 3.) are three-dimensional, bubbly, and look inflated in letterform. This type of lettering is executed with quick swift and rounded motions. Additionally, softie style is easy to read when compared to Wildstyle. For example, Wildstyle (Fig 4.) contains extended tails, terminals, descenders, and ascenders that turn into abstracted bars, twists, and arrows. Which makes the Wildstyle graffiti lettering extremely complicated to execute on the streets compared to Softie style.

Check out the video “’The History of American Graffiti’: From Subway to Gallery” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEbYFrWUgTQ for more information!

Figure 1. Softie style graffiti

Figure 2. Wildstyle

Figure 3. Rounded letter forms of the Softie style.

Figure 4. The very hard to read Wildstyle

2 Comments

  1. Emily Krause wrote:

    Graffiti is like “rock and roll of visual art”. I enjoyed reading your post and learning about this style of art. It’s interesting that it started as illegal art on a wall and now its accepted in gallery spaces and popularized.

    Saturday, February 25, 2017 at 7:46 am | Permalink
  2. Rozzistar wrote:

    Hi Emily!
    What you are referring to is Antonio Gramsci’s cultural theory of hegemony. Hegemony influences social change by use of institutional (or political, or military) domination. Since, galleries and museums (institutional domination) showcase street art in their spaces, graffiti slowly becomes a legitimized art form.
    Best,
    Megan

    Saturday, February 25, 2017 at 9:02 am | Permalink