This was another piece published in the November issue of The Pebble, under the heading of ‘My Favorite Book.’
Subway Art by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant.
It was a hard decision for me to choose just one book to share with you this month; I was torn between celebrity terrorists and the search for enlightenment. However, I decided to share with you the first art publication I purchased when I was 14, the original bible of graffiti.
Documenting the elusive popularity of the growing movement in its maternal homeland, New York, it coincides and features many of the same artists as the cult documentary ‘Style Wars’. Other publications preceded the book, but ever since Subway art remained different. Probably because its authors, made a deliberate effort to capture the work in situ, sometimes waiting for hours on rooftops for the perfect piece to come rolling by. They also got to know the bombers that were risking their lives for their profession, leading the book to evolve into a personal romanticized portrait of a growing subculture detested by police and government officials.
Cooper herself admits she did not realise what an effect this publication would have once unleashed on the world. “I thought that I was photographing a very localised, unusual, specific phenomenon that could only happen in New York.” Even Shepard Fairy admits the book is one of the main reasons graffiti became a global phenomenon, it was a main source of inspiration for people living in and out of New York City. Since its first publication in 1984, Subway Art has dramatically transformed the landscape of graffiti culture all over the world, as well as welcome associations with graphic design, typography and advertising. It has even received the reluctant title of being the most stolen book of 1988; subsequently every copy I have owned has been stolen from me!
Thames and Hudson made a brave decision to publish this work, at the time no publishers wanted to touch the book because of the bad connotations graffiti possessed. The Original print run was limited to 5000 copies, but the book has been continually in print ever since, and is now celebrating its 25th birthday with a new enlarged version. If you didn’t own it before, make sure you own it now.