The Writing on the Wall | Visual Art | Hudson Valley | Hudson Valley; Chronogram
Pin It

The Writing on the Wall 

click to enlarge The graffiti art of Flint and Tracy 168 on an abandoned train in Staten Island, circa 1982.
  • The graffiti art of Flint and Tracy 168 on an abandoned train in Staten Island, circa 1982.



Graffiti is a Latin word, points out Carlo McCormick, senior editor of Paper magazine. Obviously, it is not a recent phenomenon. “Historically, some people would claim that the early cave paintings are essentially prototypical forms of graffiti,” observes McCormick. “In other words, this kind of mark-making is perhaps older than civilization—as old as culture.”

And now graffiti art is coming to the Varga Gallery in Woodstock, beginning August 11. This is apparently the first graffiti art show in the Hudson Valley. Artists LSD-OM, Zephyr, Flint, Kr.One, Team, and Whisper are confirmed, and Revolt is a possibility.

As a postwar phenomenon, graffiti parallels the rise of street toughs and gangs. Its present form began in the late sixties, and became known as part of hip hop culture by the mid '70s.

“Most people who walk through a big city, they don’t really notice graffiti,” says McCormick. “They just read it as urban noise. They don’t realize that there’s this whole legion of kids around the world who actually know the whole history of these writers.”

Graffiti writers of the '60s wrote with black Magic Markers, in clearly printed letters. They also used their real names. Later, graffiti would incorporate spray paint and pseudonyms, then cartoon characters, and, finally, elements of Cubism for a technique known as Wild Style. By 1983, only a bow-tied curmudgeon could deny that some graffiti was beautiful.

The artists’ goal was to achieve ubiquity—to be everywhere at once. (This was called “getting fame.”) Of course, working-class teenagers rarely thought beyond the city in which they lived. Braving the dangers of the police and train yards, a citywide community of “writers” developed. (Interestingly, graffiti artists always refer to themselves as “writers.")

Flint was one of the earliest graffiti artists, beginning in 1969. Raised in Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, Flint invented catch phrases such as “For Those Who Dare” and “Bad Not Evil,” which later inspired the writings of SAMO, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s first pseudonym, which he shared with his friend Al Diaz. In 1973, Flint began photographing examples of the artform. Some of his photos will appear in the show.

LSD-OM is the only writer who lives locally. An early member of the Non Stop Action crew, he sees the origin of graffiti as a revolt against President Nixon and the Vietnam War.

The art world recognized graffiti with a show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1974; the exhibit led to the book The Faith of Graffiti, which features an introduction by Norman Mailer. Nonetheless, these artists never had true institutional sanction. Nowadays some major graffiti artists work for record companies or design T-shirts and other streetwear.

Varga’s landlady has given artists permission to paint the former stained-glass windows on the Tinker Street Cinema next door, creating an installation evoking the Church of Saint Julio 204. (“Julio 204” was the first graffiti I saw on the walls of my neighborhood in Manhattan in 1969.)

A panel discussion with Carlo McCormick, High Times editor Steven Hager, and many of the artists will be held on September 8 at 3pm.

“New York City Graffiti Art” will be on view at the Varga Gallery in Woodstock from August 11 through September 9. (845) 679-4005;


Pin It


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Hudson Valley Events

submit event
Time Travelers: Hudson Valley Artists 2018 @ Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art

Time Travelers: Hudson Valley Artists 2018

June 16-Nov. 11 — The works in the exhibition recognize the universal human desire to experience...

View all of today's events

Latest in Arts & Culture

  • Burnette Gallery Champions the Revival of Woodstock As Arts Colony
  • Burnette Gallery Champions the Revival of Woodstock As Arts Colony

    “Fire in the Belly” will open at Burnette Gallery on October 11. Curated by artists Laura Gurton and Carole Kunstadt, this exhibition explores identity, fantasy, mythology, and sensuality through the lens of 26 female artists in the New York region. The artists’ reception will take place during the Woodstock Film Festival at 6pm on October 13.
    • Sep 19, 2018
  • Mommyheads Make Music in Beacon on Friday
  • Mommyheads Make Music in Beacon on Friday

    The critically beloved 1990s art-pop band plays the Towne Crier.
    • Sep 18, 2018
  • Fall Season Kicks off at Lumberyard 9/29
  • Fall Season Kicks off at Lumberyard 9/29

    Lumberyard just celebrated the grand opening of their new 7,000-square-foot performance space in Catskill on September 1. After a short hiatus, the organization will kick off its inaugural fall season on September 29, which promises a mix of dance, performance art, and music.
    • Sep 14, 2018
  • More »

Chronogram on Instagram