ARTICLE – Who is the actual first writer ?

A little month ago, we discovered the existence of Stevie Wonder “Down to Earth” album cover, released in 1966 and on which you can see a black tag in the middle distance. Media that relate the graffiti history have always introduce Philly writer Cornbread as THE graffiti pioneer ( he proclaims himself indeed the first writer ever. Click HERE to watch a video about him). He’s supposed to start tagging in 1967, that is to say one year after Steve Wonder album was released. Puzzled, we decided to post this picture on Lectrics Facebook page to see how people would react and try to get more info (thanks Cap d’Origine for his participation). Unfortunately, we didn’t learn more about this tag. We forwarded the picture to our friend Freddy, from the US graffiti website Whatyouwrite to learn more. Freddy shared the picture on his Instagram and got in return some really interesting info. We get to know that the picture was shot in Detroit by Frank Dandrige. Joe58 would have realized the tag, either using a brush or a bomb. Nothing sure about that… Anyway Philly writer Nise wrote a interested text about the origins of graffiti and the first tags in his town. Here are his words, pretty interesting (check the comments on WYW Instagram HERE):

I believe the general distinction is trying to determine when the first person with aerosol took the concept from writing their name once or twice in the area, to the concept of a “tag”. I think that’s when talk of Cornbread as the “first” comes about. But I’m sure in lots of hoods in the 60s in many cities there was probably already examples of someone writing a nickname and a year on a wall with brushes – but no examples prior to cornbread of a person traveling to other neighborhoods to try to get “fame” from it. At least that’s my understanding. I know even from hearing my own father’s anecdotes going to school in north Philly in the late 60s, that TITY and DR COOL were the names he knew as “famous wall writers” already before 1970 in Philly- so even Cornbread had contemporaries. I think people get too hung up on trying to give all the credit to one person or one city- like anything it was probably more of a gradual evolution- cornbread just had the additional benefit of being documented in a bunch of articles, which provides a bunch of indisputably time-stamped proof of how early he was making an impact – but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t others before him or elsewhere per se. All in all it seems like it was a perfect storm of things somewhere from the late 50s to early 60s where aerosol was more available, postwar suburban flight and civilrights riots had gutted the hoods, that the seed was germinating in many places – by 1970 pretty much everyone was getting on board. A lot of this eternal Cornbread debate also ignores the history of gang writing in LA, which also should be mentioned- the “cornbread origin story” is really more limited to the splitting the hair of the origins of east coast aerosol graffiti between NYC and Philly – not necessarily all modern graffiti. Even with my local bias aside, I think it’s silly for anyone not to acknowledge that 99% of the credit for the development of what this culture is today goes to NYC.

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 Il y a de cela un peu plus d’un mois nous découvrions l’existence de la cover de l’album « Down to Earth » de Stevie Wonder sortie en 1966 et sur laquelle on peut voir un tag noir dans le second plan de la photo. Les médias qui retracent l’histoire du graffiti, nous ont toujours présenté le writer de Philadelphie Cornbread comme LE pionnier du graffiti (lui-même d’ailleurs  s’auto-proclame comme le premier guerta. Voir la vidéo à son sujet ICI). Il aurait commencé à tagger en 1967 soit un an après la sortie de l’album de Stevie Wonder. Curieux de cela, nous décidons de poster la photo sur le Facebook de Lectrics pour connaitre les réactions et obtenir plus d’informations. (Merci à Cap d’Origine pour sa participation). Malheureusement, pas vraiment d’information sur ce tag. Nous transmettons la photo à notre collègue Freddy du site dédié au graffiti US, Whatyouwrite pour en savoir plus. Freddy diffuse sa photo sur son instagram et on obtient du coup quelques informations interessantes. On apprend que la photo est du photographe Frank Dandridge et aurait été prise à Detroit. Le tag serait de Joe58 réalisé soit au pinceau soit à la bombe. Rien n’est sûr… Dans tout les cas le writer Nise de Philly à écrit un texte interessant sur les origines du graffiti et des permiers tags dans sa ville (déjà présent à la fin des années 60). Voici ces propos plutôt interessant (en anglais – plus d’info sur l’Instagram de WYW ICI) :

I believe the general distinction is trying to determine when the first person with aerosol took the concept from writing their name once or twice in the area, to the concept of a “tag”. I think that’s when talk of Cornbread as the “first” comes about. But I’m sure in lots of hoods in the 60s in many cities there was probably already examples of someone writing a nickname and a year on a wall with brushes – but no examples prior to cornbread of a person traveling to other neighborhoods to try to get “fame” from it. At least that’s my understanding. I know even from hearing my own father’s anecdotes going to school in north Philly in the late 60s, that TITY and DR COOL were the names he knew as “famous wall writers” already before 1970 in Philly- so even Cornbread had contemporaries. I think people get too hung up on trying to give all the credit to one person or one city- like anything it was probably more of a gradual evolution- cornbread just had the additional benefit of being documented in a bunch of articles, which provides a bunch of indisputably time-stamped proof of how early he was making an impact – but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t others before him or elsewhere per se. All in all it seems like it was a perfect storm of things somewhere from the late 50s to early 60s where aerosol was more available, postwar suburban flight and civilrights riots had gutted the hoods, that the seed was germinating in many places – by 1970 pretty much everyone was getting on board. A lot of this eternal Cornbread debate also ignores the history of gang writing in LA, which also should be mentioned- the “cornbread origin story” is really more limited to the splitting the hair of the origins of east coast aerosol graffiti between NYC and Philly – not necessarily all modern graffiti. Even with my local bias aside, I think it’s silly for anyone not to acknowledge that 99% of the credit for the development of what this culture is today goes to NYC.

 

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