‘Tag’, used as a noun means a name on the street; as a verb it means to write a tag.
It is a basic human right to have a name. And names are in part poetry, as well as, part magic. There hasn’t been enough written about the artistic and poetics of tags – Psalm first impressed me for the poetry of the word chosen, both in the biblical references, as well as, the two sets of constants bracketing a single vowel.
Think about those big blockbuster exhibitions at the NGV where the artist’s signature is enlarged as a logo, think about all the brand names on t-shirts, trucker caps, etc. that are part of the contemporary world. Think about all this and you find it is not surprising that people want to tag everywhere.
Considering the artistic value of a tag, as calligraphy, as a combination of letters, as the cool status that the name implies.
The artistic history of the tag along with the importance of the artist’s signature – is an important factor in contemporary art. Were Duchamp’s signatures essentially tags? He applied his signature to various objects, not only to his readymades, ordinary objects transformed into art. Duchamp also signed restaurant murals and other things joking about the transformative power of his signature.
And there is a connection between the tag on the street and the European avant-garde tradition. The connection is Brion Gysin.
“Gysin’s final work, completed less than a year before his death, was a ten-panel painting entitled Calligraffiti of Fire (1985), a reworking of an idea first tackled in a small accordion notebook from 1961, now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York… Indeed it is not difficult to interpret a work like Calligraffiti as an immense tag, a signature “across the sky,” in Burrough’s words…” (Laura Hoptman Brion Gysin – Dream Machine, Merrell, 2010, New York, p.65)
Calligraffiti is not an isolated work in Gysin’s art and was influential on Keith Haring. Gysin’s influence on the Keith Haring connects street art with the European avant-garde back to Surrealism. Laura Hoptman in Brion Gysin – Dream Machine argues that Gysin’s calligraphic art, although influenced by his experience with Japanese and Arabic script is simply his initials: ‘BG’ endlessly repeated.
So next time you consider a tag (in joy or anger) consider these words of Brion Gysin; “I may write only what I know in space: I am that I am.”
(For more about the relationship between graffiti and modern art read my post Modern Artists & Graffiti.)