From The Streets To The Wrist
In 79 AD, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius buried Pompeii under innumerable tons of volcanic ash, instantly extinguishing the lives of the inhabitants, but also preserving the ancient city until it was rediscovered in 1748 by a Spanish engineer. On the walls of this ancient city, an archeologist discovered some of the earliest examples of graffiti, specifically a touchingly crude paean to the broken-hearted, which read, “Let all who love go to hell! I want to break Venus’s ribs with a club.”
Since time immemorial, man has felt the compulsion to elucidate his Freudian id, and pour the inner mechanics of his consciousness onto the public walls of those edifices to civilization known as cities. And whether the motivation was political such as the graffiti that emerged after the May ’68 student protests in Paris or the signifier of a broader cultural evolution such as the graffiti by Futura 2000 that accompanied the emergence of the hip-hop scene in New York in the early ’80s, graffiti has always been one of the most visceral methods of artistic communication.
Revered artists such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat were prolific graffiti artists. The French 123Klan have parlayed their street cred into a wickedly successful design firm that has collaborated with the likes of Nike and Lamborghini. At various times, IBM, Sony, Coca-Cola and even the Nasdaq have sought out graffiti artists as a way to connect with the youth audience. But it is, in particular, France that has embraced and elevated the art of graffiti to the realm of high art. In 2015, Harlem-born graffiti artist JonOne (née John Perello) was commissioned to paint a graffiti version of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité that was hung in the Palais Bourbon, the seat of the French National Assembly.