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Tapping the Source

Click here for "The Rise of the Seventh Letter," by Shelley Leopold.

If this is the only book on graffiti you’ll ever own, pick up two. The spine on my copy is already broken from overuse.

Graffiti L.A. is a collection of photos by Steve Grody, soft-spoken man of mystery, martial-arts expert and graffiti historian. Who could predict that such a unique set of sensibilities would produce the most amazing, comprehensive archive of Los Angeles street art to date? As a hobby photographer, Grody, in 1990, undertook the heady task of cataloging art that would not otherwise have been recorded by ingratiating himself with young artists who would otherwise not have been known. Seventeen years later, he compiled the information into a format that is both intensely reverent toward its subject matter and easy and interesting for the rest of us to grasp. Accompanying the vivid photos are oral histories ranging from old-school cholo writers through the hip-hop era to now — including various AWR/MSK members. Grody also provides us with a record of graf-crew roll calls, of artists both active and inactive, and a well-informed “anatomy of a piece.”

All the techniques and aesthetics of our local aerosol-painted landscape radiate here with bright, beautiful photographs of work, some of which existed for only a couple of hours. For all the influence and seniority that its artists carry, New York has not yet achieved such a recorded history. I’m sure they are jealous. We are lucky. Any clever art-history professor will include this as a required contemporary text.

GRAFFITI L.A.: Street Styles and Art | By STEVE GRODY | Foreword by JAMES PRIGOFF | Abrams | 304 pages | ?$35 hardcover | More than 900 color photos, one full-color map.