The World of Street Art: Graffiti

The World of Street Art
May 23, 2008
Morning Rae Ferris

The United States is made up of many diverse multicultural societies. Many societies unable to have access to the art worlds, have invented opportunities to express their emotions and feelings. Thus, graffiti was created for individuals not only to express their feelings but also their political and social views. In this research paper, I investigate the realm of street art and how it is positively beneficial to the society as a whole. The research methods used in this paper are historical data collection and a n interview.
Society has always labeled graffiti a nuisance. The general public has always thought of graffiti artists as out of control gang members, who wanted to devalue the neighborhood. There is much research on the history of graffiti and the problems that are associated with graffiti. The reasoning for this research paper is to prove that graffiti has positive effects on the society as well as the individual artist.
Research Question
Is street art positively beneficial to society and the individual artist?
In my extensive research, I have gathered information on the history, the types, examples, and the benefits of graffiti. I have conducted an interview with Ink 187, a former tagger turned graffiti artist. I have also experienced and photographed the graffiti art park in downtown Eugene, Oregon.
Street art is a term that can be associated with the art forms of graffiti. Today, graffiti is more than an art form. It is a way of expression, a way of political views, a way of cultural idiom, and a way of life. Graffiti produces many forms including, traditional, stencil, sticker, poster, video projection, street installation, and even flash mobbing.

New York, tagged trains, 1970s.

Traditional graffiti has many techniques. Hunter explains, “Street Graffiti have various well known styles. The styles may be a result of time constraints or as a way of marking territory. The style of the artwork itself greatly affects the look and feel of the piece, these include styles like: “Wildstyle, Blockbuster, Throw-ups, Fill Ins, and Pieces” (2008).
Wildstyle [See picture below] is a form of stylization that clutters all the letters together, making it hard to read. Blockbusters are created on entire walls, making it hard for other graffiti artist to use the space. Hunter finds, “Throw-Ups and Fill-In are graffiti that are done quickly, sacrificing detailing style for time. This is the most common form of graffiti that can be found. It is often made in only one or three contrasting colors and the letterings are in bubble or block form” (p. 1). Hunter also observes, “a ‘Piece’ is a form of graffiti art that has a very elaborate design. These pieces tend to take time, therefore there are fewer pieces created illegally in public places because the artist runs the risk of being caught in the act of making it” (2008 p. 1).

Although everyone may see graffiti on the streets or on the side of trains, not everyone can read and understand what is trying to be conveyed. Graffiti Verite’ explains:
The artists are primarily speaking to each other. They have a style called ‘wild’ – [a] calligraphy that you look at and can’t quite understand or figure out. That is because it is not for you. They are communicating in code to each other. The stuff that you can understand is meant for you. If they make it so clear that you can understand it, it was meant for you (Bob Bryan, as cited in ‘Graffiti Verite’, 2004).

Graffiti has influenced many genres of American culture. According to Serjeant, street art “traces modern Los Angeles graffiti back to the 1930’s gang culture of the city’s tough east side. Graffiti later became the visual expression of hip-hop culture that began to take shape in the 1970’s and which penetrated street fashion, music and dance” (2007 p. 2).
In the 1990s, prominent figures started to emerge in the world of graffiti art. Heckman found: One such figure is the notorious Daniel Ramos, who in 1991 became a central figure in the city’s struggle over its own image. Daniel Ramos was not a star, a politician, or a leader of industry – but before he even appeared in the news, he had trafficked illegally in making a name for himself. A teenager from the projects, Ramos was more widely known as ‘Chaka,’ a graffiti writer credited with over 10,000 tags from San Diego to San Francisco (Heckman, 2008).

Chaka at work, from TACO blog.

In my Interview with “Ink 187” as known as “Oiler”, who used to run the streets with “Chaka”, another well-know graffiti artist in Los Angeles, California. When I asked Oiler [See picture below] what the name “Oiler” meant, he simply replied with a smile, “Because I was too slick”. I asked him what “Ink 187” meant and he said that “Ink” referred to his love of tattoos. The “187” stood for his friend Chaka who was killed by a moving train. During my thirty-minute interview, he expressed deeply his passion for the art of graffiti. He wanted to make clear that there is a distinct difference between a “tagger” and a “graffiti artist”. He defined himself as a “graffiti artist”, someone who expressed his emotions and feelings through his artwork. He added “Graffiti artist create murals”. He defined that a “tagger” was someone who writes “chicken stratches” and makes the city ugly; they make graffiti look bad. Serjeant finds that graffiti artists “struggle to make people understand it’s an art for, but when we paint on someone’s mural, how can anyone accept us when we’re destroying art” (Besk, as cited by Serjeant, 2007).

Ink 187 has a past of misdemeanor offenses in the state of California. He expressed that his was expelled from the state of California because of his graffiti presence in Los Angeles. Today, Ink 187 has put his past behind him in order to better his life and his future. He mentors young graffiti artists in North Portland, trying to get them to practice graffiti art legally. His goal is to keep his graffiti on paper and t-shirts in hopes to make it as big as Mark Ecko. He feels that graffiti art is very beneficial if you use your talents legally.

Graffiti artists convey their passion through the means of their artwork. In the Graffiti Verite’ Journal, a graffiti artist was interviewed about his feelings towards the art of graffiti and this is what he said:

It’s an expression of my mind. It’s my mind coming to reality. It’s a thought comin’ to reality so people can see it. It’s the manifestation of a thought, so everybody to see what I’m thinking. Why is it important for anybody to really give a shit about what you’re thinking? Really it’s for me, you know what I’m sayin’, it’s me showing the world, it’s like me yellin’, Well, you know what I’m sayin’, it’s me yellin’ to the whole world….I exist, I’m here (Hoshino, 2002).

Other forms of graffiti, like three dimensional sidewalk chalk, is used to question the conventions of the “relationship to the urban environment” (WebUrbanist, 2007). As many onlookers pass the physical dimensions of the art piece they question its creation. Three dimensional chalk artist, like Mark Jenkins “has done an impressive series of surrealistic street art projects. Many of his works focus on subverting typical images of people and the city” (WebUrbanist, 2007). [See picture below]

Graffiti can be used as a means to revitalize the city. William explains:
I am a keen believer that ‘controlled graffiti’ has more benefits than negative impacts on the society. It is true vandalism is not welcome in the society. However, there are many graffiti writers who treat graffiti art as a form of community beautification. By community beautification, I consider graffiti art in urban ‘dead spaces’. The help to spice up abandoned urban blight and educate the public on social issues.
(William, 2008).
Take the case of the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network (PAGN). In 1984 PAGN, recruited Stanford graduate and muralist Jane Golden to help address the city’s graffiti problem. Jane Golden’s duty was to positively connect and alter the abilities of graffiti artists’ to help restore the beauty of Philadelphia. Thus, the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program (MAP) was founded. Today, Philadelphia is the home to more murals than any other city in the world, displaying over 2,700. MAP’s goal is to diversify the communities of Philadelphia by fulfilling their mission statement. Interestingly, American for the Arts observed, “successful programs recognize and involve the community in which the youth live” (2003). This program displays an avenue in which graffiti art can make a positive impact on the community and the artist. [See picture #9 below]

Philadelphia, MAP Project.

There is a need for more positive outlets for graffiti artists like the organization of MAP. Instead of cutting down public graffiti boards communities need to encourage graffiti artists to use their talents positively. In Peterborough, UK, a community graffiti board was torn down because local residents complained by saying, “I agree that youngsters should have somewhere to go, but why has it got to be on two boards in the middle of a park? It is such as waste of money” (Briggs, 2008).
In Eugene, Oregon, the city has established a graffiti art park located downtown behind the train station. This graffiti park provides ten large-scale boards in which graffiti artist can share to expose express their work. The graffiti park imposes no threat to the natural environment and the park is surprisingly garbage-free. [See picture #10 below]

Eugene Graffiti Park, from the Daily Emerald.
Eric Orr, a respected graffiti artist from New York City, created another positive outlet. Eric, who began writing graffiti in the 1970’s, “received a scholarship to the Art Students League in New York City where he studied graphic design” (Iannillo, 2005). While at the Art Students League, Eric came up with the idea of using icons as personalized tag. Upon graduation, he “began designing logos for people in the music industry like close friend Jazzy Jay” (Iannillo, 2005). He soon launched is career as a prominent graphic artist and designed logos for “impressive clients including Afrika Bammaataa, The Cosby Show, Public Enemy, Fat Joe and Jive Records” (Iannillo, 2005). Last year, Eric, moved to New Zealand to “lead a series of live painting collaborations, including the transformation of the new stage at Otara’s Fergusson Oaks Reserve into a public artwork. Five students from local secondary schools and Manukau Institute of Technology will join forces with Orr to create a graffiti inspired mural with an urban Pacific theme “ (Iannillo, 2005).

In conclusion, more programs that provide positive outlets for graffiti artists need to be created. Although, the negative societal views of street art there are many benefits that have become overlooked. Street art is an expression of ones inner feelings and emotions. If society is not willing to accept and better the world of street art, situations will only become worse. Graffiti artists only want the chance to become recognized and respected as “artists”.


Americans for the Arts. (2003). Youth arts toolkit: Best practices. Retrieved January 27, 2008. from

Briggs, S. (2008). Graffiti board chopped down. Retrieved from the Peterborough Today Web site:

Dawson, B. (2003). Street graphics New York. New York: Thames & Hudson.

Gastman, R., Neelon, C., & Smyrski, A. (2007). Street world: urban culture and art from five continents. New York: HNA.

Gruenwedel, E. (2004). ‘Graffiti Verite’ 101. Retrieved May 23, 2008, from the Graffiti Verite’ Web site:

Haas, R., & Dunlop, B. (2001). The city is my canvas. London: Prestel.

Heckman, D. (2004). Being in the shadow of Hollywood: celebrity, banality, and the infamous Chaka. Retrieved May 23, 2008, from the M/C Journal Web site:

Hoshino, J. (2002). Graffiti art therapy. Retrieved May 22, 2008, from the Graffiti Verite’ Web site:

Hunter, B. (2008). Types of graffiti art. Retrieved May 22, 2008, from the Ezine @rticles Web site:

Iannillo, L. (2005). Eric Orr. Retrieved May 23, 2008, from the Trigger Magazine Web site:

Manukau Institute of Technology. (2007). Top New York graffiti artist creates with MIT arts students. Retrieved May 23, 2008, from the Independent News Media Web site:

The Nograf Network Incorporated. (2008). Nograf: anti graffiti network. Retrieved May 22, 2008, from The Nograf Network Incorporated Website:

Serjeant, J. (2007). Los Angeles graffiti surfaces in bold colors. Retrieved May 22, 2009, from the Washington Post Web site:

Sudbanthad, P. (2005). Roundtable: street art. Retrieved May 23, 2008, from the Morning News Web site:

UrbanStyleKings. (2008). UrbanStyleKings. Retrieved May 23, 2008, from the UrbanStyleKings Web site:

WebUrbanist. (2007). Urban street art installation projects: satirical, sophisticated, silly & sublime. Retrieved May 6, 2008, from WebUrbanist Web site: satirical-sophisticated-silly-sublime/

William, T. R. (2008). Graffiti art – a solution to urban decay? Retrieved May 22, 2008, from the Ezine @rticles Website:


Ink 187 (personal communication, May 22, 2008)


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