Graffiti On Trains & The History

Graffiti On Trains & The History

Graffiti as we know it first became popular in New York in the 1960s. While it was generally illegal in most cities, graffiti's countercultural symbolism has made it a lasting creative outlet for artists who want to go against the grain by resisting authority and social norms. Being the first museum of its kind, the Museum of Graffiti hopes to let you know more about the history of graffiti today. From trains, subways, and tagging, read below to see how this popular art form has evolved.


Graffiti's First Appearances on Trains

The first train graffiti was much simpler than the colorful designs that make up large portions of many train cars today, which was limited mainly by the more basic art materials available then. While drawing on walls has existed in some capacity since the hieroglyphics of ancient times, early train graffiti emerged around the Great Depression. During this time, riding freight trains in search of better opportunities in other parts of the country became common, and many riders made simple chalk drawings to pass the time and as a means of communication with past and future riders.

Early train graffiti was as simple as "artists" using paint to sign their names on subways, and this simple beginning quickly evolved into more complex designs. These designs also became more elaborate as brighter and more interesting shades of spray paint were developed and utilized by the young artists.

Subway Graffiti in New York

Graffiti has a history of not being the most welcome art form, especially among the owners of the property it is painted on. Yet, graffiti creates a sense of belonging among members of underrepresented groups; their art is instantly recognizable by other members and serves as a creative outlet for them. Claiming and tagging these trains also creates a sense of "ownership" by creating the illusion that they have a genuine connection to the property.

As a focal point of New York culture, the city's subways quickly became a major target for graffiti. More so than in many other major cities, people of nearly every class use NYC's subways frequently, and this mingling creates a prime opportunity for less-visible groups to be seen. Subways also travel long distances throughout the city, which means that they function similarly to a smaller-scale version of freight trains as far as carrying art around the city and exposing it to a wide range of viewers.

While subway graffiti has been significantly reduced since its early days, it covered much of the interior and exterior of many cars during the 1970s and 1980s. We recognize great train painters like Lee, Blade, Comet, Seen, and Sento. Freight train graffiti, however, is now more widespread than graffiti in many subway systems. Although you will still find some graffiti in most major cities, it is much more difficult to find a freight train that does not have brightly colored letters on nearly every car. This phenomenon is not limited to the United States but has spread around the world.

See How Far Graffiti Has Come as an Art Form

Spending a day at the Museum of Graffiti is an excellent way to learn more about how train graffiti has evolved and dig deeper into the positive elements that early forms of this type of art were intended to have. Our train sections highlight innovations and important moments in global train painting. Book your visit today to explore one of the most unique attractions in the Miami, FL, area!


Image Credit: Vova Wasabi, Shutterstock

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