Illegal Typography

Illegal Typography

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Illegal Typography

Enter TAKI 183, a kid that lives on 183rd street in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan. The number means just that, TAKI lives on 183rd street, therefore he chose his number street as a sign of location, as a base saying " yo' kid I'm from 183rd ". TAKI works as a messenger, going through all 5 boroughs of the city. When he travels he writes his name on all of the stations that he came upon, he was "up" (name being written everywhere). Which is an important part of graffiti, but this objective does not have any importance at this time.

In 1971, a reporter from the New York Times looking for a story, tracked TAKI down and interviewed him. As a result the article was hot, this gave TAKI his 15 minutes, and sparked a citywide rush of all of these kids wanting fame that TAKI received. Kids were very impressed by the notoriety of a name that appeared all over the city, therefore they now realize the pride they felt in seeing and having their friends see and talk about whom they saw up.The kids also realized that in order to get fame they must go beyond the neighborhood. This began the frenzy of competition for fame. As hundreds of kids following what TAKI did, even though he followed someone named JULIO 204, that was writing graffiti for years, but never outside of his neighborhood. Realizing that they can use the transportation system for free advertising, is just what the writers needed for a mass audience. Their names traveled outside of the neighborhood, and increased their fame 1000 fold.

Though I lived in Chicago I followed a similar path. New York is considered the birthplace of artistic graffiti, even though the act is preformed all over the world before 1960. The history of graffiti is recent and brief, but has a monumental place in the art world. It is the only art movement that is illegal. And it does not contain a series of welfare kids from torn and broken single-parent homes that are screaming for attention. The phenomenon differs from all other sorts of writing on the bathroom wall of a run-down bar. In New York 1960, teenagers began to write their names all over, I mean everywhere, soon are more surfaces written on then open space. All of these names are appearing, but they were nicknames, few choose to use their real names.

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The uses of a nickname are to create a public identity for the streets also so that using their real names would not catch them. During this time there are two separate cultures being indirectly created; graffiti writing and gang writing, that usually marks a certain turf, (now called blocks) in which the gang would control.

With this information, I hope that others will understand one of the aspects of the Hip-Hop culture, which is graffiti. On countless occasions I have read and viewed the use of the subculture in an incorrect manor, therefore this information will be true to the game. Also it is important that this art form is not viewed as a trend or just something to do, or is part of a cry for attention. This art form has provided ways for artists to receive full scholarships, have major museum exhibitions, and other positive exposure that results in lucrative careers.

Freshman Year

By this time graffiti writing already has a tradition that is paved by several generations of writers. The new writers are in a situation to always be the best, from the standards that were established. But others that are learning to adopt original styles.

Therefore the writer is in a constant position of out doing their selves and others. Even though this is all of this competition, and drive to be original, one must always remember the history. And who did the first landmark whole car that is painted by HONDO. There are a few early pioneers that are very important also, such as, PHASE 2, STITCH 1, Barbara, Eva, and Stay High 149.

After learning the important writers in the subculture, the train system is another learning aspect of graffiti. The trains in New York City are the major vehicles of free advertising that consisted of three basic lines. The IRT-Interborough Rapid Transit, the BMT-Brooklyn Mass Transit and the IND-Independent Subway System. Presently all of these lines are the MTA-Metropolitan Transit Authority.

The subway is network that acts as a communication system for the graffiti writers. Early on the younger writers began to watch trains long before they begin to paint themselves. The toys usually study on one line that has high rider ship, for maximum exposure, but is unable to paint on the twos and fives. (Train lines only for the best graffiti writers).

Graffiti writers are real quick to learn the system, and must know every line, stops and lay-up spots to be a knowledgeable writer. By learning the system, it easier to gain access the to train yards. There are many ways to enter the train yards such as; cutting holes in the fences, through manholes, and using abandon stairwells for entry and escape. The trains are placed in categories among the writers. The favorite lines are the ones that travel throughout the whole city, so that everyone can see the graffiti writers' masterpieces, which are the twos and fives. Also the flats, since the side of the trains are flat and smooth, making it easier to paint on. While painting, graffiti writers must avoid drips at all times in order to receive a level of respect.

Graffiti writers come up with a very unique and special vernacular, usually metaphors relating to war and a form of violence. These words reflect a sense of destruction, as in destroying the MTA with vandalism, but the subculture is not violent. (The subculture has a negative label "tagged" onto it as being a violent culture, due from the rap lyrics, the riots at the concerts and the nationalities that are involved. But similar things are happening in rock music, especially the satanic lyrics, the use of sex drugs, and involvement of depression and death. The media makes rock music to be an all right outlet for the youth.

Bite-to take another writer's style and use it as your own, with out given recognition or getting permission.
Buff-a system that any transit system uses to remove graffiti from a train.
Burn- to win a war that is graffiti related, or a highly detailed piece.
Burner-a nicely done window down piece, on the side of a train.
Def-the best, very good.
Getting up-writing on train or bus.
King-the best graffiti writer on the line.
Lay up-a location where trains usually are parked for a period of time.
Piece-a painting on a train or wall.
Rack-to steal, usually paint or markers.
Throw up-a cleverly painted outline of name or initials.
Top to bottom-a masterpiece that covers the side of the train.
Toy-a beginning writer or one that is lacks style or knowledge.
Writer-one that practices graffiti.


After learning the vocabulary, the graffiti writer must prepare to gather all of the necessary tools. The system is changing therefore the supplies are different now. As the transit authority continues to remove graffiti, writers are always steps ahead, to make their a permanent impression. The number one choice is spray paint. But before using paint in the yards the younger writer is practicing. Spray paint comes out of the can quick, so the writer must be fast and have style. The paint covers large areas in a short time, but it is the noisiest of all mediums used for graffiti. There is also an endless supply of colors. To paint a whole car it takes 20 cans of paint, depending on the detail of the drawing. This becomes very expensive, but toys usually rack paint for the older writers, for a sign of being a serious writer.

While the toys rack paint they are learning how to tag with pilot markers. Pilot markers are one of the favorites among writers. This marker has a screw off top that allows you to refill it with pilot ink, and with other homemade inks. The manufactured ink is the only ink on the market that writes opaque on glass. Griffin shoe dye is also used to fill the marker with. The pilot ink and shoe dye made this the most permanent substance that is used for graffiti. Making a homemade marker is part of the arts and crafts period of school, in which students are ask to bring a couple of house hold items. The best items are empty glue sticks, and a deodorant container, that is used up. The bottom of the container is sealed with strong bonding glue, and taped at the bottom. The inside is tightly stuffed with cut up strips from a chalkboard eraser. Then the ink or griffin is poured into the homemade marker. This is my favorite weapon for destruction, the drips cause the visual impact. As though I am making a mark on society.

Every writer is in competition and there are many people becoming involved. Therefore it is imperative to have a form of order. The rules must be followed in order to graduate. The first rule of graffiti is not to go over another persons' piece. This is the most disrespectful act in the realm of graffiti. There are a few cases when going over is all right and that is, getting the permission of another. But a writer can paint over a wall or train that has a bunch of tags or throw-ups on it. One must completely cover up everything with a burner or by doing a whole car. There are many writers that are competition for space on walls and on the train.

Sometimes a form of payment with money, but this is usually settled with paint. If there is not a discussion about this, sometimes a fight may ensue.


Along with the rules, there is also respect. Give respect when it is due, and to the people that have invented graffiti. And to the writers that have paved the way for style, and the doors that are being opened for writers to come. No matter how much a younger writer improves and becomes well respected, they must know the history. Therefore the younger writer is set out to maintain style and attitude to set examples for the future writers. Younger writers cannot piece up on the line, but tags and throw ups are permitted. Therefore writers usually practice out on the street before moving up to the next level of painting trains.


New writers have more experienced writers as mentors, and go under their guidance. After a period of learning the history, street bombing, and racking paint for the older writers, they are allowed to go to the train yards with their mentor. They are there just to observe and to be a look out. While in the yards the writer is getting familiar with the conditions, the noises, and schedules of the transit workers. After a period of time, the older writer allows the toy to paint the fills or the background colors. This is to learn how to control the paint, under the conditions of being in the train yards. The graffiti writer is usually given a larger and more detailed area to paint. By now the skill level has improved, and the mentor gives the up and coming writer sketches, to learn how to develop concepts on their own.

The review period is critical, for the younger writer. At this point they have developed their own style, and techniques. And maybe meet a number of other writers in similar situations. Even though everything is been done, the writer must maintain a certain level of style, or develop one. Since space is very limited one must come up with a way to stand out from the others. And style is the only way that notoriety can be achieved. A writer must have visual impact such as; doing throw-ups, block buster pieces in monumental size, to gain fame. Also another way to get fame from other writers and the public is to write a social, racial, or economical messages along with your name. The writer must abide by the rules that were set, and continue to follow them throughout the entire writing career. By following these aspects, one will become the next TAKI 183.

The Real World

The history is the only aspect graffiti can fall upon. With out it graffiti would fall through the cracks and end up on some floor waiting for some know-it-all person to claim it as though they found it and possibly use it, and win receive some sort of fellow- ship or receive an award for creating a new and lively art form. But this is where I come in and hopefully other graffiti artist stand up, expose the history, and write to editors of certain publications that continue to have the wrong information about the subculture. Also artist can send there work out into the market to get the opportunity to create artwork, and therefore the company has original graffiti art by a true graffiti artist not by an illustrator that was chosen from a stock book.

In many thick art books, there is usually a small section on graffiti, and oh I wonder why? These books usually list artist, Kenny Scharf, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring (a pass close friend) as graffiti artist. No…No…No…they were just artist that wrote on walls and other objects from time to time. They missed the whole thing, from rules to trains. Therefore there is a problem, and that is the history has been altered. If someone reads about those artist and others that fall in that category, they will believe what they have read, and what is the big deal…well it overshadows the true masters of graffiti, LEE, FUTURA 2000, PHASE II, SEEN, and others.

There is the fashion industry, which is using graffiti as though it is crayon being picked from a Crayola box. Many top fashion houses are using it, which they have the right to, but when they are interviewed and ask what or who inspired them, the designers never say. They over-play their themes and color schemes, with such quotes as, "oh I was inspired by the New York night," or as I was reading the autobiography on Dr. F. Porsche, on my Corinthian leather chase I had a vision of using spray paint like designs," "yeah right!" Fashion Designers are always running out of ideas, taking another culture and turning it into their own with out giving the source any credit, in which should be addressed.

Works Cited

Chalfant, Henry and Prigoff, James. Spraycan Art. London: Thames and Hudson, 1987

Cooper, Martha and Chalfant, Henry. Subway Art. London: Thames and Hudson, 1984

Toop, David. The Rap Attack. Boston: South End Press, 1984

Witten, Andrew and White, Michael. Dondi White Style Master General. New York: Harper Collins, 2001
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