Subcultures had often inspired the 20th century avant-garde - as it was also the case with a tendency that would become famous as the Graffiti Movement. The movement, which had its origins in the USA in the late 1970s, had its heyday in the mid 1980s in the USA.
The Graffiti Movement is characterized by a style that is geared at graffiti in public spaces, thus attaining a completely new esthetic. Just as graffiti itself, the art of the Graffiti Movement, which had become detached from the wall as the image carrier, is also extremely multifaceted in styles; a common feature is the often used accentuation of signs and symbols.
The motivation of the graffiti, its roots can be traced back as far as into the ancient world, goes from self-portrayal over destruction, mischief and political or social propaganda to an individual artistic expression. Especially in the 1970s, some real works of art were made on inornate house walls, on trains or subway cars, their creators, active under an artificial pseudonym, became heroes of a whole generation. The art trade also discovered graffiti in the 1980s, many artists would soon follow its call and went the path from subculture to commercial art as gallery sprayers. Some sprayers, such as the Zurich artist Harald Naegeli (born in 1939) became famous in the process of graffiti's popularization, with their individual style. They are no longer regarded as criminals but as important artists.
Main representatives of the Graffiti Movement, both in panel painting and graphic art, were two artists who died at a young age: Keith Haring (1958-90) and Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-88). Both had their roots in illegal graffiti activities and continued this style also in painting and graphic art, where it would mix with elements from Pop Art or Neo-expressionism. Keith Haring and his examination of graffiti, attained an almost primeval simplified, visually effective character code, whereas Jean-Michel Basquiat attained an extremely expressive style.
Not only in the USA, but also in Europe would graffiti soon infect the art of the 1980s. Artists worthwhile mentioning are A. R. Penck (born in 1939) or Rémy (Rémi) Blanchard (1958-93) and Robert Combas (born in 1957) of the "Figuration Libre".