Archive for the ‘tags’ Tag

Berlin: name-writing

Berlin surfaces are written on to a degree I haven’t seen in many places… Tags, whether words or icons, are everywhere. The city’s lack of cash (Berlin is hugely in debt) means that graffiti, postering, stencils and so on are rarely removed, but simply layered over each other or gradually fading away. And so the walls (and many other surfaces too) are filled with images and words, many of them the names of the author or artist.

Lots of these are tags: tagging in Berlin has both an idiosyncratic history and quite distinctive contemporary forms. When reunification occurred after the taking down of the Berlin Wall in 1989, many in the former East wanted to participate in graffiti writing, and began to develop styles and tags. For many, however, it wasn’t an invented tag name that they initially practised: one artist showed me scans of pages from his black book from the early 90s, as an artist growing up in the newly unified, former East Germany, he wrote brand names, instead of tag names, before he developed his own tag (the notebook was filled with ‘Diesel’, ‘Reebok’, ‘Nike’ and so on). But then Berlin style developed very quickly (many artists looked to cities such as Prague for inspiration, after initially being influenced by Brooklyn, New York and so on) and huge block letter throw-ups developed in 90s, many of these still being done or fading but visible still, on train lines especially.

Right now, I’m told there’s a fashion for the so-called ‘ugly’ style of tagging, writing as if in a ‘toy’ style. Interestingly, many tags are very simple, but their significance lies in the prolific range of places that they have been written (this would apply to many, many artists, including Brad Downey, Charlie Isoe, PiTR, 6 and others); other tags are amazing because they have been placed on rooftops or high on walls. Some have developed beautiful forms and shapes (such as the stencilled tag of xoooox); others have used icons s a means to get up all over the city (especially someone like Kripoe).

There’s tons more that could be said about Berlin’s culture of obsessive name-writing, but for now, here is a selection of my favourites…

The insanely prolific tags of Brad Downey:

The equally prolific French artist, PiTR, whose tag features here in the toilet of a cafe on Kastanienallee:

Some nice placement here, low down to the ground (as were all the tags by Isoe that I saw):

Kripoe’s iconic fists, followed by his equally iconic rollerskate:

And the little face drawn by Prost (which means ‘cheers!’) all over Berlin (usually laughing, although sometimes angry. This shot shows the archetypical smiling Prost icon:

Here’s an elegant stencil showing xoooox’s tag:

The utter simplicity of a tag that’s reduced to one digit: 6’s tag, here done on paper and pasted high up on a wall:

And along with the memories of Paris provided by seeing PiTR’s tag all over Berlin, here’s the tag of one of my favourite French artists, L’Atlas:

Berlin: city of memories, city of history, city of names.

Lapse of time Part I

While I’ve been walking around New York these last 2 weeks and looking at what’s on the walls right now, I’ve been remembering some of the amazing art I was fortunate enough to see in previous years here. Here are some of the highlights from a visit here back in 2005:



The London Police

'Crime Scene' by Leon Reid

A super-elegant tag...

Some of these pictures were taken on a walking tour organised by Marc and Sara Schiller, of Wooster Collective (these occasional walking tours must have introduced hundreds of people to the pleasures of street art in New York over the years).

My visit to New York in 2005  took place during a time when a great diversity of techniques in street art were being explored. Metal scupltures bolted to the sidewalk, the manipulation of street furniture, the layering of tags and stickers and wheatpastes and tiles in doorways, the development icons as tags – it felt like a really exciting time and place. I think that’s one of the important things about street art: it has the potential to render any streetscape more interesting, and the artists who work in the street are continually adapting their techniques to new places, new constraints, new possibilities. Sometimes the result is disappointing, sometimes it’s a bit meh, sometimes it’s just astounding. But the flux that street art creates, whatever the aesthetic success of the end result, means that the contours of the city (which go unnoticed by so many of its inhabitants) are repeatedly drawn in sharp relief, for those whose eyes are open to them.