The names of graffiti writers are mutant words. Half-verb, half-noun, they distill both language and identity into concentrated archetypes: the trickster, the hero, the villain, the romantic.
The name is written over and over again like an ancient incantation: whispered tags on lampposts and newspaper stands, multi-colored howls traveling through space and time on the side of a boxcar.
Some writers issue directives, inscribing commands into the surface of the city: Plant Trees, Jesus Saves, Revolt, Stay High 149. The Los Angeles-based writer Revok suggests an action already applied, or a path to be followed. Cope 2 indicates a name that’s been handed down-- the suffix “2” showing the lineage of an ongoing struggle. The name Sever is a refutation, a rending of the social contract.
Other writers root their identities in the language of time-- an appropriate concern in an art as ephemeral as graffiti. Timer, Dash, Fast. These are names that evoke a counting down, or a speeding vector.
The graffiti name as onomatopoeia is nowhere more evident than in the writer Echo, whose name makes visually explicit the trajectories of sound and light colliding against the walls of the city.
Norman Mailer said, “The name is the faith of graffiti,” when he wrote on the subject in 1974. And this faith is practiced on the walls of cities, in train yards and privately in sketchbooks. But, what does the name say about the faith of the writer? Does it point toward anything? Or nothing? Or, like so much else in graffiti, is it an amalgamation of both—the vandal’s alchemy, the quest to turn lead into gold... or art?