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Potato. Patarto. Graffiti. Graffarti.

The fact of the matter is that we’ve been writing on walls since we lived in caves

Aug 18, 2021

Words: Si Billam
Images: Si Billam

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This isn’t one of those history lessons where we talk about the birth of hip-hop and the dawning of the graffiti culture in the late 70s and early 80s. There’ll be no references to Futura 2000, RUN-DMC, or Herbie Hancock. We won’t even mention subway trains, adidas Campus, tracksuits or Kangol bucket hats. Not one name-drop of Brooklyn, The Bronx, or Queens or Harlem. No digressions into why one innovator added an extra turntable and a microphone to their sound system, nor will I use the word ‘boombox’, ‘rap’, ‘sneakers’ or ‘crew’. Dope will not feature as a reflection of what’s good in this text, nor will phat appear as a unit of measurement. Bad will mean bad and good will not contradict itself in any way. The revolution will not be televised, more likely marginalised.

“The revolution will not be televised, more likely marginalised.”

‘Back-in-the-day’ I wrote a paper containing such references at art college in the UK. My art history teacher wanted an essay on Constable the painter — the paintings, you know the ones, fluffy landscapes adorning the fireplace at every grandparent’s bungalow up and down the country — not on my watch Mr. Can’t-remember-your-name-twenty-five-years-later. Ended up with a D, D for Distinction-forward-slash-Disruptor.

The fact of the matter is that we’ve been writing on walls since we lived in caves, Google it, you’ll see, the oldest of which dates back to the Upper Paleolithic part of the Ice Age — around 14,000 to 40,000 years ago. Yeah, who knew? Well, now you do. Does it change your opinion yet? Nah, me neither.

I’ve recently spent a lot of time driving back and forth between Melbourne and Traralgon. With a lot of time to think while on the road through rural towns and paddocks, there is something comforting about seeing Fookz’s scrawl at the Cardinia Road exit on the Princes Highway. It’s the prelude to hitting exit 18-17 where Cosmo, Hee, Dankz and Maul enter stage right as I edge closer to city culture and away from rural hiphoprisy. The City, that’s another story, but what I love about — let’s call it urban typography for the sake of this piece — is that it’s a voice. It’s someone who had something to say, and for whatever reason they said it. It’s visual chatter — it’s how a subculture communicates — conversational pieces representing a moment in time, post-BC.

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Being a typographer, I can appreciate the flow of the perfect leg on an ‘R’, or the complex outline of a one-colour throwie. You may not like it, agree with it or understand it, but one thing I’ve learned as I’ve grown older is that if I don’t understand something, or it doesn’t communicate anything to me, then I am not the target market (see Snapchat).

Easier to ask for forgiveness and remain anonymous than seek permission.
Ask Banksy.

I’ve pulled out some of the gems we have locally.

“ doesn’t communicate to me, then I am not the target market.”


Bite — To copy or rip off another's style.

Bomb To cover in graffiti.

Burner — A large, more elaborate type of piece.

Caps — Fat or skinny. The nozzle of the can that creates a thick or thin line of paint.

Graffarti (newly coined by me) — Urban typography.

Leg — A short, descending stroke on a letterform.

Piece — A large, complex and labour-intensive graffiti painting.

Scrawl — Lazy, awkward tag style.

Sticker — Also referred to as ‘labels’ or ‘slaps’. Stickers can be deployed more discreetly than other forms of graffiti.

Tag — Stylized signature done quickly, in many areas, and on many surfaces.

Throw-up/throwie — Sits between a tag and a bomb in terms of complexity and time investment.

Toy — An inexperienced or incompetent writer.

Potato. Patarto. Graffiti. Graffarti.
Potato. Patarto. Graffiti. Graffarti.

Gippslandia - Issue No. 19

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