Longtime New Yorkers remember that riding the subway wasn’t always the shiny experience it is today. Back in the 1970s and early 80s, a group of ghetto kids—armed with spray paint and the pre-PlayStation impulse to create—turned trains into giant, moving canvasses. Thus marked the birth of wild-style graffiti, whose complex letter forms turned the artists (or “writers”) into local celebrities—and enemies of a bureaucracy seeking to regain control of its transit system.
Some 20 years after a mid-’80s crackdown started to deliver spotless trains, graffiti artist Carlos Rodriguez and New York design firm Code and Theory have teamed up to (virtually) rebuild the streets that sparked the movement. Style Wars (www.stylewars.com), which launched in November, is as close as you’re going to get to a tour of the New York City streets circa 1982.
The website takes its name from—and was inspired by—Tony Silver’s 1983 film, Style Wars, which is available for purchase here in its 2003 two-disc DVD format, Style Wars: Revisited, featuring additional footage and interviews. Rodriguez, associate producer of the DVD and Style Wars’ cocreator, says the site pays respect to the pureness of intent in the moment before graffiti was embraced by the mainstream.