Masters of Invention

Fridays–Mondays, 11am–5pm, 24 March – 29 May 2017

The art and importance of graffiti, from the tombs of Egypt, to the walls and subways of New York and Philadelphia and beyond are explored by a new exhibition opening this spring.

Masters of Invention explores the place of graffiti writing in lettering and writing culture and the history of contemporary art and graphic design. The origins of graffiti can be traced to the earliest recorded examples of human creativity. The subterranean caves of Sulawesi in Indonesia carry 40,000 year-old marks made by spraying paint around hands pressed tightly to walls and ceilings, and ancient graffiti is there in the tombs of Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, the catacombs of Rome, the ruins of Pompeii and the mediaeval churches of Britain.

The story of modern graffiti began in the inner cities of Philadelphia and New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s; young pioneers created lettering that captivated audiences, beginning with their personal tags before taking their craft to more sophisticated places and earning the title ‘style masters’.

Zaki Dee graffiti from Masters of Invention

Masters of Invention presents new work by a generation of contemporary artists from the UK, Europe and beyond, each of whom explores the creative possibilities of graffiti away from city walls and subways. Among those featured are renowned British artist, Aroe; Dutch contemporary artist Delta; a pioneer of the British graffiti art scene, Mode2; British X-ray artist, Shok-1; legendary Dutch artist, Niels ‘Show’ Meulman; graffiti/sonic artist, Part2ism; celebrated London artist, Zaki Dee; and the pre-eminent figure of European graffiti writing, Bando.

While the show concentrates on new work, it features sketches and photography from the 1980s and 1990s and reaches back to the origins of modern graffiti and further back to the earliest prehistoric examples of ritual mark-making and hand lettering. The exhibition also features exclusive content from the beautiful new book ‘Wall Writers – Graffiti in its Innocence’ by Roger Gastman, the most comprehensive exploration of ‘60s and ‘70s graffiti and its creators.
Masters of Invention is curated by designer, writer, lecturer and former graffiti artist, Errol Donald, who said, “The show is a unique visual history of a letterform that has evolved from humble beginnings, into a highly complex and sophisticated form of design practice that has eluded formal classification and remained faithful to its subversive and mysterious origins. Mark-making provides ways to release frustration, to arrest panic and fear and rage, to seek and be free, to discover the avenues of freedom.”