What is Wildstyle Graffiti?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Wildstyle graffiti is a form of graffiti which involves the use of highly stylized letters. To the casual eye, the writing is often utterly mysterious and indecipherable, but each graffiti artist actually follows a set pattern and technique, which means that wildstyle graffiti can be interpreted by those in the know, or people with the patience to decode a wildstyle piece. This type of graffiti is probably the most famous found around the world, thanks to its complexity and high level of detail, and numerous examples can be found in urban areas.

Wildstyle graffiti can be understood only by those in the know.
Wildstyle graffiti can be understood only by those in the know.

This style appears to have its origins in New York. Some noted practitioners include Tracy 168 and Zephyr, among many others. As often happens with trends in graffiti, wildstyle started appearing one day and slowly spread through diffusion, as visitors admired the style and retooled it to their own purposes in their hometowns. This technique is very technically challenging, and people generally need a high level of skill to attempt it.

The style is characterized by the use of letters which have been dramatically transformed. They may be distorted, covered in ornamentations such as arrows and dots, and otherwise embellished. Classically, the letters also interlock and overlap, creating a dense mass which may be embellished with contrasting colors and other ornaments. The artist may sign his or her alias and the date at the bottom of a wildstyle graffiti piece, and some artists add three dimensional elements which cause the piece to pop out visually.

Each artist develops his or her own version of wildstyle graffiti, with individual versions working almost like fonts. People who are familiar with the work of particular artists can often identify signature elements in their work, which means that even unsigned pieces may be recognizable. However, the writing is usually impossible to read for people who are not members of the graffiti and street art community, so wildstyle graffiti could almost be considered a private language.

Graffiti or “tagging” is a controversial form of personal expression. Graffiti artists write and draw in public spaces, demanding the attention of passerby with their work. Some people view graffiti as vandalism and a nuisance, and in many cities, graffiti is punishable with a fine. In other regions, the art is actively promoted as a way of encouraging people to express themselves in nonviolent ways, and to add to the collective public dialog with their work. One interesting thing about graffiti is that it is an ever evolving and changing form of artwork, with pieces constantly transforming, rather than remaining static.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


thank you anon49981. i am notorious bik (not big) and i am the NB you are talking about from sly artistic masters. Thank you for upping me like that. I greatly appreciate it. the style known as "wickeds" or "wickets" came from our wild styles. Peace! --nbik


excuse me, but you are seriously mistaken. wild styling started (just like regular tagging) in philly in the mid 70's by a crew called sly artistic masters - led by the incredible NB (Notorious Big). while not as well-known as CornBread, NB and his crew are just as well respected in graff circles by true graff historians.

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