5 Things To Know About Graffiti Art

A New York City Airbnb experience with James Top, famed graffiti legend tells us all the things we thought we knew about graffiti art, except that we don’t
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A metro ride in the wrong direction took me an additional 30 minutes to reach my destination – a spot right above the Central Park North train station outside Dunkin Donuts where the meet-up was supposed to happen. I eventually caught up at one of the pit stops by connecting with the participants via a mass text message on Airbnb’s messaging platform.

Yet, in a time before Instagram and messaging platforms were available, self-expression were often not encouraged and messages came encrypted in the form of graffiti art.

Graffiti artists incorporate stars and symbols into their own unique tag or signature.

"If These Walls Could Talk" is a group tour led by James Top,  an artist with The Odd Partners crew that offers an insider's look into the history of graffiti art.  The 2.5 hour journey starts from Central Park North on foot, via trains and buses through the neighbourhood the artist grew up in, before ending in Harlem.

Here, five things to know about graffiti art, as told by James Top.


1. Graffiti art are always, if not almost at junctions

Crossroads and junctions are the equivalent of the Instagram golden hour as they allow the graffiti artists' work to be viewed by more people.

Also, the nature of graffiti art is often temporary as other competing artists may choose to have their artwork over one that is already done. Exposure will have to be well-thought out and maximised as much as possible.

2. Street art came after graffiti art

According to Top, “Graffiti art is all about the characters but street art can be just about everything else,”  and that is the way to tell the two apart. With graffiti, the artist focuses on creating his or her own style of writing, and it’s mostly about conveying a message be it social, political or personal.

Unlike street artists who require a stencil and other media to produce an extensive piece of wall mural, graffiti artists pride themselves on their skills and prefer to work with nothing but the spray cans. You can however, see graffiti and street artists collaborating on a piece of wall mural.  

3. Tagging and bombings are different

Tagging is liken to the unique signature of a graffiti artist. The same way you include numbers in your usernames on the internet to make it yours is the same reason why some graffiti artists include numbers and symbols into their tag. 

At some point in the late ‘80s, graffiti artists were all after fame and recognition which led to gigantic tags that are referred to as “bombings”. The “bombings” are usually done overnight, less complex and feature characters with a solid colour fill and contrasting outline. 

4. Graffiti are used to make social and political statements

Which is why anti-graffiti organisations prefer to call graffiti a form of vandalism to eradicate anti-government activists and weed out political opponents who may have used graffiti as a tool to spread ideas.

5. Graffiti artists prefer to impress other artists

At some point in our tour, there was a graffiti mural on the side of a elevated railway track which looked quite impossible to get on to without climbing five storeys up. “It is to mostly impress other graffiti artists and I would never risk my life doing that,” Top said.

The idea is to surprise the rest within the graffiti community, and make them question how someone could get to that spot at a public site without getting arrested. 

A group photo of James Top with the participants of "If These Walls Could Talk" Airbnb experience.

All photos are shot on Huawei P10.

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