A Short History of Train Graffiti

Updated: Oct 11, 2021

Art forms and mediums almost always evolve from humble beginnings. Train Graff and its history are no different. Where the term 'underground' can be taken both literally and conceptually. This particular type of graffiti developed in the grimy subway systems of New York City and spreading out like veins to major organs of a much larger sub-culture. This was extreme street art, and the artists felt like they had a moving canvas that could be seen by millions......


One of the most often mentioned origins of the street art movement was the New York Subway system during the '60s and '70s when tagging erupted, this somehow was able to tell tales of the troubling world above and what was unfolding. The sides of trains coming in and out of stations became moving canvases. Graffiti as an art form started from within the marginalised and the marginalised had a message.


1970's New York was plagued, plagued with tags and scribbles. The fact that the scribbles and tags were so freely applied and covered public property with what seemed to be no punishment added to the sense of lawlessness about the city. After all, 1970's New York was widely regarded to be an unsafe place. Women were thought to carry Mace in their handbags and customers would routinely ask the taxi driver that just dropped them off to wait and see that they got into their home/apartment safely. Half a million people had lost their jobs in the manufacturing industry collapse, unemployment was sky-high and people had very little money. What else was the bored youth going to do...?


Some of the early creatives used their time and few feet of canvas to spray jokes, displays of lettering, epigrams, social commentary. It's thought that the leader of the Rolling Thunder Writers Crew, Bill Rock once did a whole coach carriage with Jean-Michel Basquiat. Pink Lady was the leading figure of the female graff scene.

In the early '80s, the graffiti scene moved away from the subway, instead of moving to freight trains where the artists were happy for the adequate substitute.


Freight transports regularly crisscrossed America delivering wheat, fuels and other goods around the country. Their accessibility and broad cultural significance continued enticed open-minded individuals who would later on use them for their urban art. As Rene Champion, one of the boys who had road box cars stated years later "The sight of that train, the smell and sound of it make me wanna cry. It reminds me of the freedom of the road."


Once the Subway Train Graff era ended in the '80s, The Freight Train movement became the most widespread of the art form. Even having multiple sub-genres in itself. It is a sub-culture within a sub-culture due to many graffiti artists working exclusively on freight trains.


Train Graffiti forms an important part of Street Art History, which in itself is interesting enough. Because it is so intrinsically linked with American Culture and ideals, the general disillusionment of the youth at the time and the economic squeeze meant that it was only a matter of time before people created some of the most underground art in creation.


Why not take a look around at some of my Street Art pieces in my online store here!


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