Simon Arms May 1st, 2013

Through The Years: Street Art That Got People Talking

On toilet walls, on subway trains - both inside and out - on apartment doors, along alleyways and in children’s playgrounds - nowadays every major city in the world is plastered with hundreds of thousands of pieces of graffiti and street art. A piece may be good, excellent even, but if you don’t stand there and study it it won’t have any more effect on you than a single speck of paint on a Jackson Pollock canvas. As this list shows, for a piece of graffiti or street art to stand out it must be special audacious, and always in the public eye.

Kilroy Was Here - Second World War soldiers


The Kilroy Was Here graffiti was supposedly started during World War Two by an American ship inspector called James Kilroy who would write his name on the bulkhead of every ship he inspected. Seeing his name there weeks later the sailors thought it was a hilarious way of marking new territory and soon began writing Kilroy Was Here at every new place they arrived at. Once the American, British and Australian soldiers caught on to the fad, the phrase began appearing on buildings and walls across the world.


Andre the Giant Has A Posse – Shepherd Fairey


While every work of graffiti or street art that catches the public’s attention through its repetition is an exercise in phenomenology -the concept of letting things manifest themselves - Shepherd Fairey’s Andre the Giant must be one of the few directly and consciously influenced by it. In accordance to Heidegger’s theory, Fairey purposely chose an image that had no meaning with the idea that if people saw it enough they would start to look for meaning in it, eventually re-appropriating it into something they could understand.  In this case they turned it into a cultural phenomenon that inspired stickers, t-shirts, mugs and even a film. Shepherd would later use the popularity of the Andre the Giant image to garner attention and support for Obama’s presidential campaign.


Samo - Jean Michel Basquiat and Al Diaz

According to Basquiat the word Samo was born from a stoned conversation he had with his friend and collaborator Al Diaz.


“Where did you get the blow from man.”

“Same Guy. Same old shit”

“Really? Same old shit?”

“Same old, same old”


“Yeah samo. Samo, samo”

No long after it was the word preceding hundreds of abstract phrases Blasquiat and Al Daiz’s were writing on hundreds of central New York city’s walls and buildings.


“Samo was sophomoric.” Blasqiat said. “Same old shit... a logo likePepsi.”


“I wanted to build a name for myself.”

Three years later Keith Haring was holding a party at Studio 57 in honor of Samo’s death.


Up Against the Wall Mother Fuckers

“Destroy the museums. Our struggle cannot be hung on walls. A new spirit is rising. Like the streets of Watts we burn with revolution.”
From an Up Against the Wall Mother Fuckers leaflet printed on October 1966. The purpose of the slogans of the sixties anarchist group Up Against the Walls Mother Fuckers and their followers wrote on the walls of New York was not only to encourage an active rebellion against the state, but also the art of contemporary artists such as Andy Warhol. In their opinion only the dada and surrealist movements of the 1920 and 30s had possessed power to force change. wall-street-is-war-street-Black-Mask


Their name was so synonymous with the anti-establishment movements that Patty Hearst is said to have used it to hold up a bank.


The London based band Crass was supposedly the first band to stencil political slogans and their band name and logo on public areas (the likes of Black Flag and the Dead Presidents were to follow soon after).  Already a big name on the the anarchist punk scene such slogans as “there is no authority but yourself”, made them - despite their rejection of mainstream punk’s no future  - even more notorious. Sadly I could find any examples of their slogans, but below is an example of their logo stenciled on a wall, probably somewhere in London. wall3

If you look closely you will see it has a combination of the Christian Cross and the Nazi Swastika. The Ouroboros - the serpent that eats its own tail - circling its edge traditionally represents something that is constantly re-creating itself, but here the Christian cross blocks it from doing so.

Linda's Ex

lindasex2   Who is Linda's Ex?

Do you think he is ok?

What did Linda do to him?

 These were some of the questions Berliners were asking in the summer of 2003 about the posters of a street artist calling himself Linda’s Ex.  Some people took his suffering so seriously they even ran newspaper ads telling Linda that he “still loves you.” Others phoned into radio shows accusing the artist of being a cad and that it would be a mistake for Linda to take him back. The posters were such a phenomenon you have to wonder how many other people showed up when he finally asked Linda to meet him at a bar. Linda'sEx1

Sticker Lady

Singapore was said to be a conservative Utopia before sticker lady started leaving her stickers on the buttons of the city’s pedestrian crossings. PRESS TO TIME TRAVEL Stickerladypre  



They were so controversial that if wasn’t from pressure from various campaigns, the Singapore government would have sentenced her to three years under the vandalism act (if she was a man she would also have received three lashes). Nevertheless she still faces two years.

The Graffiti of War Project - The US Army


The US army’s graffiti wall in Iraq will never promote the anti-war, anti-establishment call usually associated with the street art movement. But then that hardly seems to be the point. The point is a government institution is promoting street art not only as a genuine form of communication but as a force for change. Already it seems to have encouraged more Iraqis than usual to make their own contributions in towns and cities across the country. Unfortunately from the army's point of view what they end up saying is largely out of their hands.

iraq graffiti

Children of the Grave - Dondi White

In the 70s and 80s Dondi White was the pin-up of the New York subway scene. There were plenty of other great artists – such as Lee Quinones – but it was the work of the good-looking and personable Dondi, the PBS filmmakers showed in their legendary graffiti documentary Style Wars and the graffiti photographer Martha Cooper showcased in her book Subway Art. In fact Cooper called the night she spent in a New York Lots Yards watching Dondi paint a whole car with the first part of his influential  three part Children of the Grave series, the “highlight of my graffiti photographing experience.” Dondi-Children-of-the-Grave-01  

Taki 183


Do you know those tags like Onetooth, 1UP and Nightmoves written in black marker all over the subways and walls of all the world’s major cities? Well if you ignore the Roman historians, the trend was started in 1971 by a New York messenger boy who would write Taki 183 on the walls and buildings of every neighborhood he delivered to. After the New York Times tracked him down and interviewed him, tagging became first a New York, and then a worldwide phenomenon.


Simon Arms

Simon travels through Asia, his camera always ready. From time to time he will share exotic experiences with Noupe's readers.

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