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History of graffiti

Being a powerful tool in provoking engagement of urban inhabitants with the surrounding environment, modern graffiti first emerged in Philadelphia in 1960es. In those days graffiti was one of the forms gangs used to mark their territory by writing their names (“tags”) on walls. The term graffiti was first used by “The New York Times” and long suffered from being linked to the “Theory of broken window”. Graffiti is probably the most dynamic, ever changing form of art that is incredibly sensitive to the surrounding vibes, let it be political or economic situation worldwide or very specific to the place.

Banky’s political murals on Bethlehem Wall, Israeli West Barrier

However, debates whether graffiti was an art or vandalism never stopped. The recent years proved that it is truly a powerful way of shaping mindset, beliefs and expressing political views.From tags on walls by gang members, graffiti truly grew into a diverse and provocative form of urban street art. Local authorities in many cities around the world are trying to find a right balance between ‘vandalism’ and ‘art’ by allocating special spaces within urban area for graffiti artists to paint. Sometimes these areas are quite large, represented by entire dismissed industrial structures and lands. Some of the most famous graffiti sites include London Graffiti Tunnel under Waterloo station, Hosier Lane in Melbourne which recently was named a ‘street art capital’ and many sites in Lisbon, Paris, Berlin and other European cities. Graffiti continues to state its position in the world of urban design and the case of 5Pointz Complex is a great prove to it.

5Pointz Complex, an abandoned factory in Queens, was made a popular tourist destination by graffiti artists. However, the structure was demolished by its owner (click the image to read more)

Graffiti grew into a distinctive form of urban art animating entire streets or even neighbourhoods and is now represented by famous graffiti artists like Banksy, Blek le Rat, Shepard Fairey and others. The most successful graffiti sites are highly visited by tourists putting graffiti tours around cities on the hotlist for any visitor.

Where in London?

One of the most interesting locations in London to graffiti as an urban art lays right in the heart of the capital, in a tunnel under Waterloo station. This train and underground station hosts more passengers per year than any other station. But I wonder how many of those 99 million people who use it every year know about this greatest legal graffiti ‘canvas’ lies right underneath? This spot was first used by graffiti artist Banksy back in 2008. However, his works are now covered by hundreds of other murals and is ever changing.

London graffiti tunnel runs right under Waterloo Station, busiest station in UK
London graffiti tunnel, one of the 11 legal graffiti walls in London (click the image to see full list of legal walls)

Another London neighbourhood where street walls are bursting with colour splashes is Brick Lane in Shoreditch. Artwork here is not only represented by truly impressive masterpieces, but also raises issues of poverty, social inequity, homophobia and other contemporary world problems. This interactive map will help you find the locations of most of the Shoreditch wall murals. Alternatively, there are guided tours offered by famous graffiti artists. The average life time of a graffiti artwork in London is only around 4 weeks, therefore it is always something new and exciting to see.

Shoreditch, London. Florence based, French street artist Clet Abraham is constantly surprising London with his innovative stop sign stickers proving street art isn’t just for walls
Skulls at Brick Lane, London

The other place where graffiti and other street art can be found is Camden. Street walls at this vibrant and eccentric neighbourhood portray various themes, such as political issues, celebrities, British culture and more. Camden is one of the most visited places and not only for its bars, pubs and markets, but also because of a unique urban environment that is created there by urban street artists


Camden High street




School of Architecture
Planning and Landscape
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne and Wear, NE1 7RU

Tel: 0191 208 6509


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