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Great art of the 70’s

Great art of the 70’s

Forty years ago author Norman Mailer published an essay in which he declared the graffiti of the New York subway to be “The Great Art of the 70s”. But what happened to the artists and why is there no subway graffiti any more?

“It started with someone just writing their name – someone saw that, and added on to it,” recalls New York graffiti artist Nicer, born Hector Nazario.

“Letters going in front of letters, coming back through a letter, behind a letter, going across a letter… the subways became our playground,” adds Riff170.

New York in 1974 was a city in crisis.

The Mayor, Abe Beame, slashed the city’s budget in a bid to stave off bankruptcy, which meant laying off school teachers, police officers and subway staff.

“They was taking the money from the schools, there was a lot of corruption here, in this community, and so they took the after-school programmes away, and there was no outlets for this. So the outlet became our city,” says Bronx-born designer Eric Orr. “And for the artist guys, those type of creative guys, it became the paint, the aerosol and the marker.”

Find out more

Graffiti writer in NY subway in 1970s

Graffiti: Kings On a Mission was broadcast on Radio 4 on Thursday 7 August

“It was like an explosion. The graffiti explosion. All of a sudden it took over the whole city. I don’t know what happened, but overnight in the early 70s it was from no graffiti to all graffiti,” says another former artist, Flint Gennari.

Eric Felisbret, author and former graffiti artist, says graffiti culture was in a way a product of the civil rights movement. “It was never political,” he says, “but many people were brought up with that, and to express yourself by breaking the law became a natural process for them.”

The graffiti pioneers came from all races, however.

“There were writers that were African American, Latino – Puerto Rico, Dominican, Cuban – Jewish, Asian, and it became one unit – one family,” says another graffiti pioneer, Roberto Gualtieri, the man behind the Coco144 tag.

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