The History of Los Angeles Graffiti Art
Volume 1, 1983 - 1988
By: Robert "Wisk" Alva and Robert "Relax" Reiling
Review Date: May 9th 2006
Reviewed by: duncan
This book is hefty, at 444 pages, in hardcover. It weighs over 6 pounds (I only know this because it says so on the US Customs delivery note). If you're familiar with Graffiti World (probably the largest ever graffiti book when it was published), picture something that's slightly thicker and a bit wider. You won't want to carry it about in your rucksack too often. And it's only Volume 1 in a planned four
volume series. If the next three books are anything like this one, that'll be an impressive amount of space it's going to take up on the bookshelf.
The authors, Relax and Wisk, are a couple of old school LA graffiti writers, who've taken it upon themselves to create this book documenting their graffiti scene from 1983 when they first became involved in it, to the present day. Volume 1 covers just the first five-six years.
The first 220 or so pages are taken up with 'Experiences', interviews with almost 60 different graffiti artists from those days talking about how they got started, and lots of stories and history. Each of these is illustrated with several photos, including a lot of more recent work as well as obviously stuff from the 1980s.
The next part of the book is the 'Writers Spotlight', where the authors pay tribute to some of their favourite artists from that time who made a special contribution to LA graff. Eight artists featured here, each one getting a double-page spread showing photos of their pieces from back in the day.
Then it's almost 100 pages of photos of pieces, broken down by year, presented simply with the names and dates under each photo. This part is interspersed with a couple of small anecdotes of graffiti battles as told by the participants on both sides.
Then a 70 page chapter of old blackbook sketches.
Finally this is followed by a couple of stories, about the heavy bombing that used to happen on the LA buses, and about an influential youth club, the Radiotron, which got a lot of people into hiphop at the time. Then some copies of old graffiti fanzines and newspaper articles, and some RIP pieces.
The book also includes a DVD, which is about 2 hours long. It has about 30 graffiti artists talking over slideshows of their pieces, detailing how they happened, their progression at the time etc.
Ok, that's the facts, but what did I think of it?
The first half of the book is fairly text-heavy, but it's written in a nice easy reading style. Although these 'experiences' are based on interviews conducted by the authors, it's been transcribed here as 1st person narratives. There's enough photos to keep it visually interesting. A lot of these pictures are more recent than the 83-88 timeframe the book covers, and show that the artists are still producing excellent work 20+ years on.
The second half of the book is almost solid photos, and they've done a good job of documenting the whole period, showing a wide range of pieces, characters, throwups and sketches. A lot of the pieces shown here are talked about by the artists on the DVD, giving us an extra layer of understanding and meaning to the work.
The authors have kept the layout straightforward, and let the pictures, and the writers, talk for themselves. Rather than give us an outsider's view on the art, like many other books of this nature, they're assuming we already know what we're looking at. This isn't a coffee table book for people who think they know about 'street art', this is about thoroughly documenting graffiti art, for graffiti artists to appreciate.
Although some of the early work is a bit rough around the edges, most of this graffiti still holds it own against today's standards. Anyone who loves graffiti will get a lot out of this book. Clear some space on your shelves for parts two, three and four!
The book is available to buy from their website: www.thehistoryoflosangelesgraffitiart.com
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