“We lived in a gray Spain and suddenly we were filling everything with colour”: how graffiti conquered the eighties
The fashionable dance was the break dance; the dream of many kids, some Nike Jordan; the novelty among adolescents, rap. And then, at that moment in 1984, graffiti invaded the Spanish streets. This is what the exhibition teaches It all started in ’84. Origins of graffiti in Spain, open until November 1 at the National Museum of Anthropology in Madrid. “There are two ways to tell the story of graffiti. People who don’t do graffiti look for antecedents in cave painting, in the Romans. But that’s not it: it’s a signature made with style and clandestinely,” says Francisco Reyes, doctor at the Complutense University of Madrid, author of the first thesis on the subject in Spain and curator of this exhibition, which brings together pioneers of this field. movement like Kapi, Fini, Larry88 and Zeta to rebuild history. “Those of us who do graffiti know where it all started. It was a boy named Cornbread, who started writing his name on the walls of Philadelphia in 1965. From there he went to New York and then to the rest of the world”.
In Spain, it would take a little longer to arrive. It was at the Torrejón de Ardoz military base, where an American jumped over the fence and did the first graffiti on Spanish soil. It happened in 1976: the signature of a certain Michel was accompanied by the drawing of the character Guille de Mafalda in a primitive style typical of the seventies. The keys to the genre were already there: “Graffiti is the getting up and its message is the style”, in the words of Kapi. Translation: the getting up it is to make yourself known, and the message is the sensation generated by the style of the letters of this firm. Differentiating it again from other ways of painting a wall: The street art, he urban art or murals have other purposes and a much older origin.
The other cultural novelties of the time—hip hop elements, like the break dance, rap and street fashion—helped shape the invention. He break dance, for example, it appeared for the first time on Spanish television in One two Three, 1984. The fever break it was so big that the tv show Toccata (1983-1987) included for two years the dance contest to all break (1984-1986). Other signs came in the form of music: the Radio Vinilo station, which Roberto Azorín Durruti had just founded at the request of the Serrano Súñer family, was one of the first to put on rap that year. “We recorded it on the typical cassette tape. That’s how we got hold of songs that weren’t in Spain”, recalls Reyes. When rap vinyls arrived in the country, many had graffiti on the covers, which, in a world without internet, was an important source of information. “If we got a vinyl with a graffiti, we tried to copy its letters, and we invented others to get the alphabet from there. We were creating from the little information we had”, recalls Fini, a graffiti artist from Seville.
Another graffiti artist of the time, Kapi, remembers that an appointment at the American Institute of Barcelona in 1985 helped to curdle the story: it was an exhibition of graffiti photographs of the New York subway by Henry Chalfant that inspired many kids of the time. : “The breakers and some punks who used to do stencils go to that show and start doing graffiti from there. It is there where everything begins in Barcelona ”, he assures. From there, people joined from different sides. In 1987, TVE broadcast Style Wars (1983), a documentary by Henry Chalfant and Tony Silvers about New York hip hop culture, which brought new artists to graffiti. “Henry Chalfant used to go to Barcelona a lot because he had a relative here. We became friends and he sent us material, which gave the city the advantage for a year or two. The generation from the capital is another case, the greatest influence is Muelle, a native who had a unique style in Madrid”, says Kapi.
He is referring to Juan Carlos Arguello, known as Muelle, who began to write his name solo in 1981. Many of those who came out later imitated his style or at least one of its elements, according to Reyes. “They made calligraphic letters with a marked R, a spiral or an arrow. Call flecheros either autochthonous and they are the first to do graffiti, but it is not considered hip hop. If you pay attention, they don’t have the structures of colored letters, with the bubbles of American graffiti”. Yet it was one of the few non-American contemporary graffiti cultures, making it an anthropological treasure. Later, with the popularization of hip hop, most abandoned the local practice and adopted the new codes, which turn out to be more complex, interesting and fun.
The graffiti boom really came in 1988, when graffiti flooded the city streets, in a desperate race to be seen in a city that seeks to erase them immediately. “We lived in a gray Spain and suddenly we were filling everything with colour, spinning our heads and doing crazy things”, celebrates Reyes. Street fashion accompanied that revolution. “You had to wear thick laces on your shoes because they did it in the movies, but there was no one to make them, so we did it ourselves. The Mercedes and Volkswagens in our neighborhood didn’t have badges because people stole them to wear as pendants like the Beastie Boys did. And the Jordan shoes were a dream, I spent two birthdays and a few Reyes saving to buy them,” says Reyes.
Now, the MNA brings together everything that can be gathered from that period: clothes, shoes, belts, vinyl records, cassettes, concert posters, sketches, correspondence… There are also photos of the first graffiti in Barcelona, Alicante, Seville, Castellón, Malaga, Zaragoza, Majorca and Valencia. In addition, there are original signatures from those years, part of the Lary88 collection, which spent three years going through the metro stations with a cutter cutting people’s signatures from the metro posters. The texts of the exhibition are striking, all made by hand by graffiti artists. Although he does not value whether graffiti is art or not, Reyes affirms that appearing in a museum gives the movement “certain historical value.”
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