The origins of graffiti writing, come in a number of shapes, sizes and urban languages, as most reference the time presented at the release of Style Wars and Subway Art, when graffiti found its colourful expressive nature. And while this expression has existed for many years before the era of Kase2 and Mare139, the decade prior is one which rarely gets as much exploration. In his first helmed production, (graffiti historian) Roger Gastman attempts to tell this sometimes forgotten age of writing, by crafting a well put together documentary brimming with unmistakable personalities – who can only be welded from such a lifestyle. Uncovering the golden innocence of graffiti throughout New York and Philadelphia from 1967 to 1973, Wall Writers gives its viewers a smorgasbord of rarely seen photo albums, news coverage and candid interviews, wrapped around a suitable narration from (fellow American art-outcast) John Waters. Having assisted in the releases of three documentaries previously (Infamy, Exit Through The Gift Shop, The Legend of Cool ‘Disco’ Dan), Gastman manages to tackle this heavily debated history at a steady pace, providing plenty of insight and eye candy with each moving chapter, sharing the core values of writing by the writers who established them. Whether it be the elusive Corn Bread or the dedication of Taki 183, this shared retelling of graffiti’s formation. by these men and women, through poverty, race and gang violence, is a powerful one. With all the negative stigma associated with this culture, this documentary is proof of one of its more positive roles within society, as second generation immigrants find a bond among the many teams and burroughs spread across this financially unstable time period. While not as talented as their modern day counterparts, these pioneers possess a bond of respect, that still influences those who participate today. Touching on the artform from it’s heedless origins to the inevitable acceptance into the contemporary art world, the film strides in displaying the balance of both positives and negatives found in the formation of this culture, as the void of the restrictions (later assisted by the fusion of hip hop culture) makes for a defiantly free expressive culture.
As a documentary, Wall Writers is a solid entry into this rarely used format (within graffiti), as it’s bare bones approach let’s these individuals share their story, one that has laid the foundation to this day. Gastman has extended his resume from curator to publisher and now, director – by producing this very special document, one that can firmly sit as a starting point – to all that has followed it.
WALL WRITERS is available now, exclusively via the streaming services below.
More information on Wall Writers (including the accompanying book) provided at the links below.