Poetry News

Vice Reminds Us that London Graffiti Artists Were Poets

By Harriet Staff


Art historian and publisher George Stewart-Lockhart writes for Vice, with a sharp reminder that graffiti writers in London in the 1960s were more poet and revolutionary than artist. Favoring text over graphics, the original graffiti scriptors painted politically charged agitational messages. From Vice:

London’s graffiti culture hasn’t always revolved around big bouncy graphics and Shoreditch street art tours. Forty years ago, in the wake of the 1968 Paris riots, London was engulfed by a wave of politically charged and poetic statements, scrawled on the corrugated iron fencing and dilapidated buildings of Notting Hill by members of the disillusioned post-war generation.

Their style was unlike the one beginning to take off in New York at the time. Where Manhattan’s trains were sprayed with the kind of wildstyle you’re now likely to see in shoe shop window displays, the focus of London’s graffiti writers was the message; style wasn’t important. They were more Blake than Basquiat.

The culprits weren't “artists” in the sense they are now, but poets, playwrights, political revolutionaries, and the saxophonist from Madness (who I’ll get to in a bit).

Those familiar with the burgeoning graffiti scene of the time (not that there was really much of a “scene," per-se) would be acquainted with the work of the Wise Brothers. Dave and Stuart Wise were better known as part of King Mob, a mutation of Guy Debord's Situationist International, and were responsible for a number of the period's most iconic pieces of graffiti.

Start your week off right and head to Vice to read more about the early days of the London graffiti scene, and check out some of Roger Perry's long out-of-print The Writing on the Wall that chronicles this era.

Originally Published: September 29th, 2014