Jim Prigoff
Mural in the L.A. Artists District, by artists How and Nosm Author: Jim Prigoff
2021

Jim Prigoff

Art Historian

from tags to riches

meet jim

Jim Prigoff is an important photographer of street and urban art. He is credited for giving dignity and credibility to an art form that once was considered to be only vandalism. A tribute to his relationship with artists, who were teens when first documented, is the friendship he has maintained throughout their lives. His co-authored book, Spraycan Art, covers the art movement around the world. In Los Angeles in April 2010, the Estria Foundation named him an urban legend.

from tags to riches
Nominated by: Lee Langan MED'99
Class of 2021 Location USA
The Blade Wall at the Geffen Museum
The Blade Wall at the Geffen Museum Author: Jim Prigoff

Graffiti is as ancient as man/womankind. Markings can be traced back to 60,000 BCE. In notable places like Altamira, Spain, and Lascaux, France, outstanding animal images painted in caves date back to 15,000 BCE. In 1804, French soldiers wrote their names on the ruins at Angkor Wat. In 1609, conquistadores left their names on New Mexico’s Inscription Rock.

Modern examples appeared as rudimentary tags in the late 1960s. As the images came out of the subway tunnels and proliferated above ground, I recognized that something significant was happening that needed to be documented. Starting the project in 1984, the resulting book Spraycan Art was published in 1987. It has sold over 250,000 copies. What started as simple tags developed into highly skilled productions. Today artists have a following amongst collectors and museums.

“As the images came out of the subway tunnels and proliferated above ground, I recognized that something significant was happening that needed to be documented.”

- Jim Prigoff

My exploration to locate and document these images satisfied a number of my interests. These include the hunt to find the images, the challenge to photograph them, meeting local community people & artists, and lecturing. Many of the people that I have met have become friends for life.

In the beginning, tags were equated with vandalism. “Is it art or vandalism?” was a common discussion. Through my shows, and my involvements as a lecturer, author, and photographer, I have been credited as a major force in giving dignity and credibility to an art form that has become one of the most important art movements in the past forty years. The street artist Basquiat’s tag was SAMO at first, yet a later day canvas sold for $110 million at auction. I call it “From Tags to Riches.”

never stop exploring

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