Color Packs a Punch

Graffiti is defined as: “writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place.” Yet, something seems amiss in this definition. Contrary to popular belief, graffiti is not primarily a territorial marker for gangs, and although considered vandals, graffitists are not necessarily malicious. The original purpose of such public writing was simple: to achieve fame.

Let's Go Back To The Roots 

The birth of modern graffiti is attributed to “the King”: Taki 183, a Greek youth who was raised in Washington Heights and gained fame by writing his name (“tagging”) in strategic places during his runs as a bike messenger. He achieved city-wide recognition and inspired fellow writers when a 1971 New York Times article titled “‘Taki 183’ Spawns Pen Pals” took interest in the phenomenon of response tagging that his tags sparked.

NYC, thereafter, became the world’s graffiti epicenter and experienced a boom of writing in the 1970s and 80s. Writers sought to one-up each other by reaching wider audiences and creating bigger, better, more colorful pieces. After realizing that trains were, in fact, moving canvases, writers targeted subways to advertise their pseudonyms. The government has since tried to eradicate the expansive vandalism. Though the vivid works of art no longer span the length of subway trains, graffiti has established itself as an organic, thought-provoking, and even inseparable part of the urban landscape.

A Safe Haven

Graffiti’s underground fan club can now ogle in the daylight at 5 Pointz Aerosol Art Center, Inc., an outdoor exhibit space located in Long Island City, Queens where pre-approved graffitists can legally and comfortably create elaborate pieces in a collection of art that is continuously changing. The exhibit is actually the exterior of a 200,000 square foot factory building under curator, Jonathan Cohen.

The gallery space hits spectators unannounced. With no preparatory sign or gate, the works’ vibrant colors pack a punch within the first few seconds of viewing. From a monumental and realistic rendering of Notorious B.I.G. to an interesting interpretation of Alice in Wonderland, 5 Pointz has a plethora of imaginative and stylized works, melded together on one giant building. Every crevice is potent with pigment and each detail is worth examining.

As of March 2011, the building’s owner, Jerry Wolkoff, announced plans to redevelop the space into high-rise residential buildings. Although 5 Pointz still stands today, the exhibition seems to have a ticking time bomb—so, take your pilgrimage….before it’s too late.

Article by Margaret Wong