The extraordinary development of Urban Art in Europe (1/2)
Sarah Guilbaud • Posted on October 6, 2021
Following the United States, Graffiti arrived in Europe in the early 1980s: The Netherlands with Amsterdam and England with London and Bristol are the first affected by the virus. Explanations.
The prehistoric caves, Lascaux, Pompeii, the Mexican muralism movement... Walls have seen all kinds of colors since the dawn of time! But the Graffiti movement was officially born in the United States, first in Los Angeles in 1930, where gangs marked out their territory with wall inscriptions, and then in Philadelphia in 1965, where the first tags appeared. The (love) story is well known: to attract Cynthia's attention, Cornbread floods the city with his signature. The “Graffiti writing" is initiated, also by Cool Earl. The movement is then extended in New York where Taki 183 and Blade One open the way. Very quickly, everything is a pretext to create. In the street, on pavements, walls, subways, trains, graffiti, stencils, posters, stickers... each one follows the other. Different styles appear and a few pioneers have a big impact on everyone: Seen, Dondi White, Futura 2000, Cope2, Lee... One can see them everywhere!
The influence of a movie and a book
Initially signatures, tags gradually acquire artistic qualities, this is the beginning of the "Style Writing". Trains fuel the competition and a war of styles is started when everyone begin to add colors, shapes and 3D effects to stand out. New York paid the price until the 1980s. Unprecedented at the time, the movement is soon echoed in Europe. In 1982, the virus spreads via the cult movie "Wild Style" by Charlie Ahearn, which makes a strong impression. But also through the book "Subway Art" by Martha Cooper and Henri Chalfant which came out in 1984. Futura 2000 is not left out either when he recorded the song "The Escapades of Futura 2000" with The Clash and created a great emulation in Europe. In 1981, he follows the music group on tour, goes through Paris and the Netherlands, his influence will be huge.
The decisive role of a Dutch gallery owner and Amsterdam
In Amsterdam, Yaki Kornblit plays a major role: he is one of the first gallery owners in Europe to exhibit the biggest names of American graffiti. In the early 1980s, he collects works by New York graffiti artists and brings them in for exhibitions. We are in January 1983. Dondi White, Futura 2000, Crash, Daze... are there. Kids from Amsterdam too. They meet the artists, exchange ideas and knowledge. Among them, Shoe and Delta, early “Writers” in a city already covered by thousands of tags, awaiting the progressive arrival of murals. They all adopt the New York style and then, in 1985-86, there is a real explosion in Amsterdam where many artists follow suit.
In Great Britain, from London to Bristol
At the same time, in 1983, the Graffiti movement is sweeping over Great Britain. Pride and 3D lay the foundation of what will make crews like the famous “The Chrome Angelz/TCA”. A scene is formed, once again under the influence of Futura 2000. In the midst of the emergence of Hip-Hop, Mode2, Inkie, Brim, Zaki, Scribla, Nick Walker... are getting noticed. London's former “Covent Garden” market become a real playground for different types of artists: music, breakdance and art are getting mixed while graffiti become more and more popular. In Bristol, the crew "The Wild Bunch" appears. In 1985, the first European exhibition with British graffiti artists is held at the Arnolfini Gallery. Years later, Bristol, which is since known for being the Banksy's city, welcomes graffiti, stencils, posters, murals, and customized street furniture. All kind of urban art forms are exhibited in this open-air museum which, since 2008, is hosting the "Upfest", the largest Street Art and Graffiti festival in Europe.