Beyond the Streets Saatchi Gallery

Beyond the Streets: A visual history of graffiti

We speak to graffiti historian Roger Gastman about curating Saatchi Gallery’s new show, which explores street art’s enduring influence on the wider art and brand worlds

“Graffiti has so many cultures and stories,” says Roger Gastman. “There are people that could talk to me forever about cave-painting Egyptians; I’m not going to tell you you’re wrong but I’m defining graffiti as writing your name over and over again for the sake of fame. Not gang graffiti, not political graffiti, ego fucking driven graffiti.”

As a graffiti historian, Gastman has dedicated much of his life and career to the art form, which first came to the fore during the socio-political turmoil of the 1970s. Faced with a bleak economic situation, young people in cities including Philadelphia and New York opted to challenge authority and, quite literally, make their mark by painting graffiti on buildings and public transport. By the late 70s, the street art movement had spread across the world.

Like many graffiti artists, Gastman’s introduction to the art form came during his teens. Growing up in Maryland in the early 90s, he spent much of his time going to punk rock and hardcore gigs with his friends, many of whom were already doing graffiti. “I started screwing around with graffiti also, and by the time I was in ninth grade I had stopped playing all sport,” he says. “Graffiti became the sport, graffiti became the addiction. We were out late at night doing graffiti, we were stealing spray paint, we were doing all the bad kid shit.”