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City Journal Contemplates Inscriptions of Crisis

City is a journal of provocative, cutting-edge and committed insights into, analysis of, and commentary on the contemporary urban world. We record and analyse ’the city’, cities and their futures, and urbanization from multiple perspectives....

Against the wall
Introduction to the Special Feature: Inscriptions of ‘crisis’: Street art, graffiti, and urban interventions

Anna Carastathis &Myrto Tsilimpounidi
Published online: 08 Jul 2021

[a quick excerpt] In March 2011, large-scale demonstrations erupted in the city of Daraa, prompted by the arrest and detention of children who were accused of writing graffiti against the regime on the walls of their school. The protests in Daraa were said to have broken through the ‘wall of fear’ (Masalmeh quoted in Sterling 2012), sparking the people’s uprising across Syria. Watching these expressions of dissent unfold through our computer screens, we were reminded of a song we grew up singing, referring to the resistance to the colonels’ dictatorship in Greece (1967-1974): ‘the street had its own history/someone wrote it on the wall with paint/it was a single word: freedom/later they said that children wrote it’ (Mitropoulou 1974).

Alex Vallauri (1949-87)

Vallauri Postal God

>NEW< Alex Vallauri on Stencil Archive

A few weeks ago, we got an email asking if the Stencil Archive featured stencil work from Brazilian artist Alex Vallauri. We didn't, so an instant online search ensued. In a brief Wikipedia entry, it is noted that Vallauri traveled to Sweden in 1975, saw graffiti, and returned to Brazil to paint walls. He then traveled to New York City in 1982 and landed in to the hot scenes of Manhattan while the city was covered in graffiti, stencils, and pop art. He flew back to Brazil and never stopped painting walls, mostly with stencils, until his untimely death in 1987. The book "Alex Vallauri Graffiti", by Joao Spinelli, was published in Brazil by Bei press in 2011.

As always, Stencil Archive appreciates it when loved ones, fans, and artists themselves reach out to us. Since art in urban streets has a history that runs deep, and precedes the all-seeing internet, this project continues to help connect the people, places, methods, and events that enrich the knowledge and celebrations of this technique and art form.

Stencil Archive at 20: Some of the First Street Flicks

Mao in Basel
One of the first!: Basel, CH (1995)

In the early 1990s, I spotted a stencil in Clemson, SC while driving to meet up with some friends. I knew what the stencil was a symbol for, because I knew what J.R. "Bob" Dobbs' head looked like. Turns out, the Church of SubGenius had put a stencil of "Bob" in their 1983 book The Book of SubGenius. For some reason, I thought about that Clemson stencil enough to drive back to the town weeks later with my camera so I could take a photograph of it. Like most illegal public art, "Bob" had been buffed.

Then, in 1995, I managed to save enough money before getting laid off in Atlanta, GA to take a budget trip to Europe. I had decided to make it an art, graphic design, and art history trip, which was a great self-taught way to learn and develop an eye for my own creations. Landing in Amsterdam, I found amazing rave flyers, fresh graffiti, and other imaginative public advertising. I also enjoyed the van Gough museum. 

I found much of the same in Berlin and elsewhere, and then also started noticing stencils in the streets. I didn't find many; I did not go to Paris on this trip, but I did snap a few along with the graffiti, ads, etc. One of my first-ever stencil photos was in Budapest:


I had a roll of color film in my camera and snapped the above photo without thinking much of what it meant, what a stencil was, and even the now-forgotten "Bob" stencil from about four years earlier. On a later date, I snapped a few in Basel, Switzerland. They were obviously political images, and I didn't think much of them as I added these photos with the other art from the trip.

I finally got hooked when I randomly ended up moving to San Francisco in 1997. After a few weeks on a couch, I got a sublet in a house in the Mission District. Walking around all the time to discover the City, I found stencils everywhere. I started taking my big DSL camera with me, trying to conserve my photos to save money on film and development. I chose not to snap graffiti and murals, and began to focus only on snapping photos of stencils. Many of these early film snaps have been scanned and rescanned for the Stencil Archive project, and the best now have their own archive here.

One reason Stencil Archive has a "one stencil in one photo only" policy is partly because I tried to only take one photo of a stencil while using the film camera. Seeing the repetition, like Jr.'s Budapest stencil, was fascinating, but I didn't have the time or money to snap all the extras I saw during my wanderings. In 2002, at the beginning of the digital camera era, Stencil Revolution let anyone post as many photos of the same stencil as they wanted (much like social media today), so I took that film-based rule I had and made Stencil Archive a more curated site.

Stencil Archive at 20: Fresh Uploads

Alfred E. Neuman
After contributing to Doug Gilford's massive Mad site, he finally contributes to the Stencil Archive!

A rare note on submitting photos: The flicks keep coming! With almost 26,000 photos on Stencil Archive, they mostly come from our own photographs (you'll usually see the Stencil Archive logo watermark) and travels. Many friends have kept looking for stencils and sending me photos, while TXMX sends his annual photo hoard from Hamburg, Italy, and beyond, around January of every year. And, out of their kindness of sharing alike, Jaime Rojo at Brooklyn Street Art keep snapping stencils during his wanderings. Recently, many new stencil photos come from social media sources. As for artist-direct submissions, social media has mostly taken that over and our new artist uploads are from other sources. We try to give thanks to all of the above with every upload. And the work put into formatting the files, prepping the uploads, searching and organizing, and posting and sharing is always done while listening to music. The past five years or so, the work has been done while spinning vinyl. Getting up to flip sides makes a good break about every 20 minutes :P

Thanks to: Doug Gilford, Mark Cort, Brooklyn Street Art, @StreetArtUtopia; @Emily_Lykos; r/stencils; u/Mirudos

Spinning: Art Blakey (TJM); Animal Collective

Argentina (just one)

Estonia (just one)

Pro-Ukranian by ZooN and DelysiD

Pro-Ukranian in Hamburg

Getting hot in the UK

Israel (just one)

Fillmore St., SF

Hayes Valley, SF

Pacific Heights, SF

Eclair (just one)


Oregon (just one)

Swoon at the Met

Tennessee (just one)