Books in the MCL: SPRAYCAN ART. Henry Chalfant and James Prigoff. 1987.

The legendary SUBWAY ART illustrated book by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant was the first to summarise graffiti writing, documenting the initial simple name-writing and the subsequent development of the motifs into masterpieces on the New York subway. Alongside films such as Style Wars, Wild Style! and Beat Street, the book exported the previously local phenomenon and thus gave the starting signal for a global graffiti movement.

SPRAYCAN ART from 1987, published three years later, shows the effects that the graffiti boom had worldwide in the meantime. Henry Chalfant and James Prigoff clearly focus on mostly elaborately designed legal New York wall productions, also by well-known train writers such as LEE, SEEN, T-KID or REVOLT, who did not yet play a major role in SUBWAY ART. In these Hall of Fame pieces, murals and commissioned works, figurative motifs are more in the foreground and the focus is on the high level of craftsmanship that the writers have now achieved.

In addition to the Five Boroughs, the events in American cities such as Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles are also highlighted. Although the New York writers were influential in shaping the style of the first graffiti wave, independent styles appeared in London, Amsterdam and Paris just a few years later, especially in Europe. Alongside the lettering, traditional motifs such as comic figures, subway trains or Bodé characters nevertheless dominate most of the images, following the example from overseas.

SPRAYCAN ART not only documents the rapid spread of the writing movement from Berlin to Sydney and Cleveland to Barcelona in the mid-1980s, but also showed the New York founders that their culture was not merely imitated, but adapted, understood and further developed. Two years before graffiti on the subways of the Big Apple was to come to a standstill, the illustrated book presents works on walls as a now almost equivalent form of graffiti.

Text Sascha Blasche Fotos Sebastian Kläbsch

Find the book in the MCL