Life is a Circus

Calligraphy and the Art of Tagging

The ancient art of calligraphy is hitting the streets with a new approach.

Calligraphy has a history that’s literally thousands of years old. Today, it has entered a new era through the much-maligned tradition of tagging.

The practice of calligraphy extends back at least 3,000 years. It is thought to have been first practiced in China, where special characters were carved in animal bones and tortoise shells. Eventually, this practice gave way to brushing ink onto paper, and it spread to Japan, Korea and other places, at each step taking on new characteristics. Many languages in other parts of the world, including Arabic and Hebrew, were recorded in hand-written script and illustrations.

The word calligraphy itself emerged in Europe in the Middle Ages, to distinguish carefully drawn styles of writing from regular handwriting. Steel nibs began to replace brushes, and specific calligraphic styles (such as Roman cursive, Uncial script and Gothic script) were developed by those transcribing sacred “illuminated” texts.

Flash forward to the 1970s, when tagging first appeared on inner city walls in Philadelphia and New York. Rival gangs developed specific tags, or signatures, to mark their territories, and tags became a fundamental part of graffiti and street art. As the surfaces on which calligraphy appeared evolved, so did the tools used to create it – now including spray paint and the likes.

Street artists today still use individual tags to sign their work. More recently, with the work of artists such as the Lorem Ipsum collective of Montreal, more stylized and refined forms of calligraphy traditionally found on paper have become part of the street art vernacular.

As society and art evolve, this ancient form evolves along with them, allowing artists to experiment and express their individuality in surprising and delightful ways.

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