Hieroglyphics to Street Art: The practice of drawing and painting on walls
As we know it today, street art has its roots in the ancient practice of drawing and painting on walls. Hieroglyphics, graffiti of Pompeii, and the 5 Pointz of New York all serve as early examples of this practice. Hieroglyphics, the ancient Egyptian system of writing using pictures, paved the way for other forms of writing, including graffiti. Pompeii, a Roman city destroyed by a volcanic eruption in AD 79, has provided historians with a wealth of information on the daily life and customs of the ancient Romans, including their use of graffiti. The 5 Pointz of New York was a building in Queens known as the mecca of graffiti. In various places on this planet, there are locations where such art is on public display as a reminder of life and existence.
Image: Hieroglyphs_British Museum
Hieroglyphics is a system of writing that was used in ancient Egypt. Hieroglyphics were first used around 3200 BC and remained in use until the end of the fourth century AD. Hieroglyphics were used for religious texts, historical records, and literature. The word hieroglyphics comes from the Greek words "hieros" meaning "sacred" and "glyphein" meaning "to carve." The term "hieroglyphics" refers to the writing system used in ancient Egypt. The hieroglyphic script is made up of pictures and symbols that represent sounds and ideas.
Graffiti of Pompeii
Image by Ancient World Lives
Pompeii was a city in ancient Rome that was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. The city was buried under a layer of volcanic ash, preserving many buildings and artifacts. The graffiti of Pompeii provides a unique insight into the daily life and customs of the ancient Romans. The graffiti was often written in charcoal or painted onto walls, including everything from simple messages to elaborate artwork. The graffiti in Pompeii covers a wide range of topics, including politics, love, and everyday life.
The graffiti of Pompeii is also notable for its use of slang and colloquial language. The graffiti reflects the spoken language of the people rather than the more formal written language used in official documents. The graffiti also provides insight into the social dynamics of Pompeii. Some graffiti was written by the upper class, while slaves and other lower-class citizens wrote other graffiti.
5 Pointz of New York
Image: 5 Pointz by Max Touhey
The 5 Pointz (unlike The Five Points, a neighborhood in Manhattan in the late 19th century) signifies the five boroughs coming together as one, but because of its reputation as an epicenter of the graffiti scene, the industrial complex has united aerosol artists from across the world as well.
The building was initially constructed in 1892. The property was bought in 1971 by Jerry Wolkoff, who had yet to make redevelopment plans. After purchasing the property, Wolkoff leased the space to a company that created 8-track tapes, CD covers, and phonograph accessories through the early 1990s. Wolkoff was approached in the 1990s for permission for the factory to be used for legal graffiti work, which he granted.
After 40 years of ownership, the Wolkoff family decided to develop the 5 Pointz site, stating that allowance of the murals on the building had been for temporary purposes. That site redevelopment had been planned ever since it started to be used for graffiti.
New York's international graffiti mecca 5 Pointz was erased overnight in 2013 when the paintings were buffed over on the orders of the property's owners. The five-story warehouse complex in Queens, which has hosted a curated selection of graffiti since 2002, was a popular gathering place for art fans; its murals were a familiar sight to New York subway passengers as they passed through the Long Island City neighborhood. But city officials granted Jerry and David Wolkoff, who own the building, permission to demolish the site.
In 2020, a New York City developer was fined $6.75 million for destroying the works of 21 graffiti artists at a Queens warehouse known as the 5Pointz complex. The artists were able to obtain damages, for work, they create legally is destroyed!
Image by Oakland Artist @flor0509
Street art is a form of art that is created in public spaces. Street art includes everything from murals to graffiti to stencils. Street art has its roots in the graffiti subculture of the 1970s, but it has evolved into a distinct art form. Like graffiti and murals, street art expresses political views, makes statements about society, and provides a voice for the disenfranchised. In the 1960s and 1970s, graffiti became a tool for urban youth to mark their territory and express themselves. It wasn't until the 1980s that street art began to gain recognition as a legitimate art form.
During the 1980s, street art exploded in cities like New York, London, and Paris. Artists such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat were at the forefront of this movement, creating graffiti and street art that was both political and artistic. Haring's bold, cartoonish figures became iconic symbols of the era, while Basquiat's raw, emotional style captured the mood of the streets.
Have you noticed any street art in your neighborhood or city? If so, what message or story is the art displaying? Remember, every street art, graffiti, or mural is a reminder of life and existence.