Curated by Vandalog Editor-in-chief RJ Rushmore on the 50th anniversary of modern graffiti, ALL BIG LETTERS approaches the medium as fundamentally entangled with its tools. Investigating graffiti as a site of stylistic innovation where the sense of place, the excitement of sport, and the search for fame intersect, the exhibition considers primary yet lingering questions about the medium: Why does graffiti look like that, and why is it on my wall? ALL BIG LETTERS suggests that every aspect of graffiti can be understood as an effort to maximize reputation through novel uses of instruments and other innovations.

Video Produced by Peter English
Archival Video of Jordan Seiler by Aymann Ismail / Courtesy of Slate Magazine
Smart Fools Video by Smart Crew
Music by Watermark High

ALL BIG LETTERS celebrates and demystifies graffiti at Haverford College’s Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery.

How far would you go for your art? Would you pick a lock? Scale a building? Risk arrest? Those are just some of the occupational hazards of a graffiti writer. And for the (mostly) kids who birthed and grew this contemporary folk art movement, the recognition is worth it. To illicitly spraypaint a pseudonym on enough public spaces to earn a reputation requires taking risks, thinking creatively, and being resourceful. But to those outside the graffiti world, their work can be misunderstood or underappreciated. So the first show of 2017 in Haverford College’s Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, ALL BIG LETTERS, showcases graffiti in an effort to demystify its tools and strategies.

The birth of the movement can be traced back roughly 50 years to when kids began “tagging” public spaces all over their hometowns of New York and Philadelphia. The illegal artform flourished in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and as visitors to any big city or small town in America today can see, it is still thriving. The tools, methods, and styles have evolved over time, but artists’ goals remain the same—to be seen and not to be seen, at the same time.

Curated by Vandalog Editor-in-Chief and Haverford alumnus RJ Rushmore ’14, ALL BIG LETTERS traces this history with photos of BLADE’s eye-catching pieces on subway trains from the ’70s hung near images depicting Philadelphia graffiti writers GANE and TEXAS at work earlier this decade. The exhibit also acknowledges and investigates the surprising variety of tools that artists use. Custom lock-picking sets crafted to open bus shelters and D.I.Y. supplies, including pressurized PVC pipes filled with paint, homemade markers, and a special spray can with bike mirror affixed to it, so artists can see what’s going on behind them, will all be on display, alongside the works those tools are used to create. ALL BIG LETTERS is less about the art of graffiti and more about the craft of writing it.

ALL BIG LETTERS features the work of more than 20 artists in one gallery. It showcases the graffiti of Adam VOID, BLADE, CURVE, EKG, FAUST, and NTEL, as well as stickers and other art and artifacts from Loiq, Evan Roth, Lee George Quinones, Smart Crew, stikman, and DB Burkeman. But it also presents graffiti in its natural habitat—out in the world—in photographs by Martha Cooper, Aric Kurzman, Katherine “Luna Park” Lorimer, and Steve Weinik, alongside some tools of the trade created by Jordan Seiler, Egg Shell Stickers, Fumakaka Crew, and Biancoshock.

ALL BIG LETTERS will be on view January 20, through March 3, at Haverford College’s Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery. On Friday, January 20, to celebrate the show’s opening, there will be a talk at 4:30 p.m. followed by a reception at 5:30 p.m. There are two programming events being held in conjunction with the show: a curator-led walking tour of the Philadelphia Brewerytown neighborhood, a local flashpoint for street art, graffiti, and sign painting, on Feb. 18, and a Do-It-Yourself zine workshop with Adam VOID on Feb. 26. For further details:

ALL BIG LETTERS is supported by the John B. Hurford ’60 Center for the Arts and Humanities.