Stencil graffiti is a form of graffiti that makes use of stencils made out of paper, cardboard, or other media to create an image or text that is easily reproducible. The desired design is cut out of the selected medium and then the image is transferred to a surface through the use of spray paint or roll-on paint.
The process of stenciling involves applying paint across a stencil to form an image on a surface below. Sometimes multiple layers of stencils are used on the same image to add colours or create the illusion of depth.
Those who make and apply stencils have many motivations. For some, it is an easy method to produce a political message. Many artists appreciate the publicity that their artwork can receive. And some just want their work to be seen. Since the stencil stays uniform throughout its use, it is easier for an artist to quickly replicate what could be a complicated piece at a very quick rate, when compared to other conventional tagging methods.
Stencil graffiti began in the 1960s. John Fekner was one of the first stencil artists to place his work outdoors, starting in 1968. Fekner's stencil Wheels Over Indian Trails greeted motorists and international travelers arriving in New York City at the Pulaski Bridge Queens Midtown Tunnel from 1979-1990. The message remained untouched for 11 years, until Earth Day 1990, when Mr. Fekner, feeling the piece had run its course, painted over it.
Blek le Rat's first spray painted stencils were seen in Paris in 1981. He was influenced by the graffiti artists of New York City but wanted to create something of his own.
Australian photographer Rennie Ellis documented some of the earliest examples of stencil art to appear in Sydney and Melbourne in his 1985 book The All New Australian Graffiti. In the introduction to the book, Ellis noted that US photographer Charles Gatewood had written to him and sent him photographs of similar stencil graffiti that had recently appeared in New York City, leading Ellis to speculate that:
- "... unlike our subway-style graffiti, which is nothing more than a copy of a well-established New York tradition, the symbols of Australia and America had originated separately and unknown to each other."
Over the years this form of graffiti has become a worldwide subculture. The members are linked through the Internet and the images spray-painted on the urban canvas they place throughout the world. Many of its members connect through blogs and websites that are specifically built to display works, get feedback on posted works, and receive news of what is going on in the world of stencil graffiti.
Stencil graffiti is illegal in some jurisdictions, and many of the members of this subculture shroud their identities in aliases. Above, Banksy, Blek le Rat, Vhils, and Shepard Fairey are some names that are synonymous with this subculture.
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C215 Community Service, Criteres ed. 2011