From Art to Advertising: Graffiti’s Influence

To the ignorant, graffiti is commonly seen as vandalism: gang affiliated attempts to draw territorial lines and to simply destroy public/private property. And while that is in fact a large part of the graffiti culture, and a part of what spawned the art form itself, in its most modern usage, graffiti is considered a lot more than just scribble used to deface neighborhoods. In fact, graffiti has evolved so heavily, that it has become one of the more creative and unique forms of modern advertising for out-of-home media.

If you were to explore the streets of New York City in the 1980’s you’d be quick to pick up on a very distinct theme. Roads were layered in trash and filth, neighborhoods were cautiously policed, and every wall, bus, billboard and train was dominated by ever-changing layers of contentious graffiti. But from those seemingly repugnant scrawls, graffitists opened the door for the visually inspired to create their own works.

As time went on, graffiti artists really started breaking out, and as they did, single pieces began getting bigger and brighter in awesomely creative ways. Artists developed their own styles, each distinct and noticeable in works. One of the largest hubs where “graffers” could live free and spray hard (without penalty) was known as 5 Pointz. Located in Long Island City, Queens, NY, this former factory became the “world’s premiere graffiti mecca,” attracting aerosol artists from around the globe. Only recently demolished, the 5-story outdoor graffiti gallery allowed artists big and small to freely put up prideful, original works. It was places like this that gave graffiti artists the ability to practice their craft, and form large scale, eye catching works that inevitably impacted passersby whether they liked it or not.

5 Pointz

Though once considered a “low form” of art, today’s street art scene boasts big names with even bigger followings. Today, there is so much cultural support for the protection, preservation and creation of graffiti art, that scattered across New York’s neighborhoods are governmentally protected works. The L.I.S.A. Project is an organization that does just that; their mission is to “bring a diverse group of artists together… to create Manhattan’s only mural arts district,”[1] and through cultural contributions, they commission local artists to brighten up neighborhoods with their creative expressions as beautiful gifts to the city.

Obey, one of the larger, better known street artists, frequently contributes to the beautification of neighborhoods in need all across the world. Recently, he graced my very own neighborhood in Jersey City, NJ with a stunning mural visible to all who exit the Holland tunnel. Also known as Shepard Fairey, Obey has created thousands of influential pieces worldwide. Legal or otherwise, Obey’s work often has a beautiful silver lining. For example, his artwork was brought as a compassionate gesture to address the environmental crisis plaguing our planet. Fairey and his team assembled a symbolic globe of art that hung from the Eiffel Tower in Paris entitled “Earth Crisis.” Fairey told Hypebeast, “My political stance on protecting the planet is driven by my concern for the quality of life for future generations.”[2]

Earth Crisis, Obey
Colossal Media

The world of street art and its huge visual impact has opened the door for advertisers and creatives to explore the medium’s potential by seeing how they can harness the power of graffiti and mural art to reach the public. Colossal Media has been “creating art out of advertising”[3] for over a decade, putting paint on brick all over NYC and beyond. Their brilliantly creative gang of goons, all former graffers, fine artists, and designers, have been filling the empty walls of hundreds of buildings with eyeball bursting murals, all while simultaneously dominating out-of-home media and the creatively expressive advertising industry. Needless to say, Colossal and their team are impressively succeeding in their goal of giving passersby “a compelling [reason] to LOOK UP in this age of looking down.”[4]

Rob Bourke
Lead Graphic Designer
Blue Bite


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