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L.A. Graffiti Black Book

David Brafman

This collection of unique works by 151 Los Angeles graffiti and tattoo artists represents an unprecedented collaboration across the city’s diverse artistic landscape.

Many graffiti artists carry sketchbooks, called black books, and they ask crew members and others whose work they admire to inscribe their books with lettering or drawings. A few years ago, the Getty Research Institute invited artists, including Angst, Axis, Big Sleeps, Chaz, Cre8, Defer, EyeOne, Fishe, Heaven, Hyde, Look, ManOne, and Prime, to consider the idea of a citywide graffiti black book. During visits to the Getty Center, the artists viewed rare books related to calligraphy and letterforms, including works by Albrecht Dürer and Leonardo da Vinci. The artists instantly recognized the connections to their own practices and were particularly drawn to a liber amicorum (book of friends), a form of autograph book popular in the seventeenth century. Passed from hand to hand, it was filled with signatures, poetry, and coats of arms, like a black book from another era.

Inspired by this meeting of minds across centuries, these artists became both creators and curators, crafting their own pages and inviting others to contribute. Eventually 151 Los Angeles artists decorated 143 individual pages. These were bound together into an exquisite artists’ book that became known as the Getty Graffiti Black Book. This publication reproduces each page from the original artists’ book and recounts the story of an unprecedented collaboration across the diverse artistic landscape of Los Angeles.

David Brafman is associate curator of rare books at the Getty Research Institute. He is coauthor of Insects and Flowers: The Art of Maria Sibylla Merian (Getty, 2008) and a contributor to Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on China’s Silk Road (Getty, 2016). 

“Inspired by the blank sketchbooks (often called black books or piece books) that graffers carry, share and collaborate together on, as well as the 17th century European autograph books known as liber amicorum (Latin for “book of friends”), this new volume represents the collaborative nature of art in the streets.”
—Lina Lecaro, LA Weekly

“A fine document of an interesting culture and legacy.”
—Steve Grody, author of 
Graffiti L.A.: Street Styles and Art

“What makes this project so provocative is how it draws connections between 17th-century vernacular art practices, the social/collaborative nature of contemporary street art, and the importance of documentation and archives.”
—An Xiao Mina, Hyperallergic

“This Getty Black Book not only serves to offer its audience a historic compilation of this unique Los Angeles art culture, but, also, the sentiment of each stand-alone artist.”
—Karen McDonough, UP Magazine 

“Presumably convinced that a serious moment was at hand, the graffiti artists signed on and were each given several sheets of paper to distribute among their worthy colleagues. . . . There were two results, the first being a handsome volume containing all of the work. Placing graffiti art into a book is like pinning a butterfly in a display case: the ephemeral is now enshrined into the permanent.”
—Bondo Wyszpolski, Easy Reader News

“A lively compilation of styles that capture the energy of the field, while creating a formidable record of its time and place. I wish more arts institutions engaged with artists this way, and the book contains a frenzy of aesthetics and visuals that seem perfectly suited to continue the manuscript and illumination traditions that are already major threads in the Getty collections. More of this, please.”
—Hrag Vartanian, Hyperallergic

176 pages
10 x 8 inches
168 color illustrations
ISBN 978-1-60606-698-0

Getty Publications
Imprint: Getty Research Institute