Helen Gynell.com

  graphic design blog

The Prevalence, Appeal, and Use of Graffiti-Inspired Images

During Art Basel at the end of 2012, I spent a half day in the Wynwood area on foot admiring and photographing graffiti. After seeing so much great art up close, the overwhelming prevalence and staying power of graffiti-inspired images in all areas of graphic design finally hit home with me, and I was enthralled. Graffiti has ceased to be a separate art form and become an art 'movement'. We can no longer categorize graffiti as anything but art. I took over 300 photos that day! (View the complete album.) This is just a sample of what is there . . .

Art Basel 2012 Wynwood graffiti Sylvester Stallone aka Peace Rambo Art Basel 2012 Wynwood graffiti green eye Art Basel 2012 Wynwood graffiti turban Art Basel 2012 Wynwood graffiti sunglasses Art Basel 2012 Wynwood graffiti golden idol Art Basel 2012 Wynwood graffiti ghoulish face with grate in head

Moving Art off the canvas and out of doors is immeasurably impactful. So is the impermanence of the effort. Scale and detail are as important as color and subject. The idea that you could plan what you are going to create, but then expand it because the wall you end up painting it on is big enough, is so cool! No more being limited by a smaller canvas. It was hard to tell sometimes where one painting ended and another began, or if the same artist did all the elements of one wall, like this one:


Some paintings played with the elements of the wall, or building, and its surroundings.


The collaborative element on composition extended to whole blocks. There are rooms upon outdoor rooms with such a mix of styles, some of it random, some of it seeming intentional in placement. 


It was hard to leave because it was so otherworldly. Sure the buildings were in disrepair and there was lots of trash. Somehow it all fits. Even the trash looked like art. No surface escaped.

It makes a statement about the sustaining nature of humanity despite its mortality. "The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long" came to mind because while there are famous paintings that have hung indoors and hung around for centuries, these works of art know no such constraints and therefore are free to 'shine' out in the world until time or vandalism dulls their brilliance. (The wall below was defaced.)


The risk that someone could come along and ruin what might have taken days or weeks to complete is part of the rush I would imagine, as well as doing something that was once considered a crime of defacement. Now, however, it is so prevalent that its influence is everywhere: from clothing to music, to furniture, to a lifestyle. It made me wonder about how the artists travel from city to city. Have paint will travel. Oh to be young again!


The concept of inspiration extended to a wall or building as a blank canvas is so appealing to me. It screams "I'm alive!" "I was here." "This is me." More like you add the piece to who you are than you leave a piece of you behind. 

The fact is that not only has art gone outside, so has advertising. Of course, there is guerilla marketing . . .

. . . but beyond the concept of a clever placement, big brands are just posting outside, period, on subway cars and walls, even sidewalks.

Even high fashion is incorporating graffiti and grunge to great effect:

It all began for me with the 2011 Ford F150 truck ads and the laying of images and textures. The whole collage-like beat-up look started appearing everywhere, even in places that didn't imply 'muddy truck'.

As Detroit crumbled, beautiful images came out of its state of decay. Suddenly, every background seemed to be dirty and/or have layers. Grunge was the new white space. There was even a new brand of makeup "Urban Decay".

And then, just as I was completely enthralled with graffiti, in January 2013 Wired magazine had this clever cover mix with robotics.  (They already do great things with the collage/layering look.)

Up until this WIRED cover and article, I felt like this Svedka Vodka ad was
the only robotic image in mass circulation, but now it's popping up everywhere.  I think we'll see much more of robotic images, so be on the lookout for it.  I don't think it's something you can incorporate into everything, but, like graffiti, it will sure look cooler if you can.

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