Everybody knows those writings on the wall that seem like some problematic teenagers or gangsters wrote them. Known as graffiti, it is a type of art genre in the form of drawings or writings made on a wall or other surface. They’re generally made within public view without permission from the authorities.
Nowadays, street graffiti is often associated with gang activities, vandalism, antisocial movements, and anarchy. However, their rough, exaggerated, and most absurd design elements eventually spawned new sets of fonts inspired by them: graffiti fonts. The surreal outlines, shapes, and vivid colors in your typical neighborhood street art make some members of this font family quite hard to read. Given that graffiti is more of an art piece than functional typography, readability is rarely a considerable aspect.
Graffiti: A Brief History
Graffiti as an art genre is actually older than we think. The oldest wall paintings ever recorded came in the form of hand stencils found in Maltravieso Cave in Spain, dated to be older than 64,000 years. The oldest animal figure ever painted was found in the Maros-Pangkep karst formation of South Sulawesi, Indonesia. That over 43,900 years old painting depicts several human figures hunting an animal figure interpreted as a pig.
Fast forward several millennia later, the Ancient Romans and Greek buildings bore witness to people’s power as they wrote their names and protest poems on them. That era might be the first time graffiti was ever used as the people’s voice.
Early 1960s Philadelphia might be the birth date and place of modern graffiti, which reached New York by the dusk of the decade. The new art movement truly gained popularity during the seventies, however, when people—especially street gangs—began “tagging” their names on buildings across the city as a means to assert territorial dominance. These ‘tags’ weren’t originally referred to as ‘graffiti’—a term that would later be coined by The New York Times and novelist Norman Mailer—gang members referred to them simply as ‘writings’.
Nevertheless, graffiti was considered an art form, and galleries in New York began acquiring graffiti in their collections. Alas, the then-mayor of New York, John Lindsay, started eradicating graffiti from his city, banning them altogether.
A Misdemeanor or a Cultural Movement?
Considering the origin of modern graffiti, it is easy to accuse graffiti—and by extension, graffiti artists—as a nuisance by authorities and the general public. There used to be a time when the presence of graffiti signifies the existence of gang activities in the area, and people were not quite a fan of them. However, when done right and under proper regulation, people could easily appreciate the chaotic intricacy of street art.
On the other hand, graffiti as an art form can be used as a means to express the artist’s identity and creativity, achievements, and social connection. According to Ismael Illescas in an article published by UC Santa Cruz news center, it enables “marginalized, ostracized, and invisibilized” youths to be visible.
In a separate article published by patimes.org, artists have used graffiti as an act of socio-political commentary and critics. For example, graffiti promotes peace and unity in post-apartheid South Africa. Meanwhile, artists voiced their resistance against “the establishment” in Italy using murals and wall stencils.
Graffiti Fonts for Your Design Project
Graphic designers have created quite a number of graffiti fonts inspired by said characteristics. Here are some of them:
The rough brushstroke of this graffiti font is suitable if you need an organic, hand-drawn feel to your design.
Need a logo for your skateboard crew? This one’s for you.
Are you designing a logo for an event inspired by the street culture of the late-90s and early 2000s? Look no more.
This font is suitable for a rising hip-hop artist heavily influenced by street culture.
Need to create an impression for your social commentary? You might need this graffiti font.
Due to their history as one’s mark of existence, graffiti as typography has quite exaggerated and intricate designs.