Required Reading: Top 10 Books About Graffiti


Opening this weekend, the first major American museum survey of graffiti and street art, Art in the Streets chronicles the evolution of the urban art movement from the 1970s through today. MoCA’s groundbreaking exhibit features works by dozens of working artists, including Shepard Fairey and Swoon, but for anyone who can’t make it to the show, we’ve compiled a list of must-have books on the topic. From the 1987 book Spraycan Art to The History of American Graffiti, our required reading list gives you everything you’ll need to stay informed about the past, present, and future of graffiti art across the globe.

1. The History of American Graffiti

Shepard Fairey calls this recent book by Caleb Neelson and Art in the Streets co-curator Roger Gastman “the first truly comprehensive history of graffiti’s secretive, illegal culture.” Considering Fairey’s contributions to the movement — not to mention his indisputable street cred — we’re not about to disagree.

2. Trespass. A History of Uncommissioned Urban Art

This Taschen tome features rare images of urban art by people like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, with a preface by Banksy. Before The History of American Graffiti, Trespass reigned as the go-to guide for street-art aficionados, and remains a valuable resource today.

3. Subway Art

The graffiti writer’s bible, Subway Art features 239 full-color photographs by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant, all capturing the vibrant street-art subculture in full form.

4. Spraycan Art

First published in 1987, Spraycan Art captures urban art in NYC subways and around the world, helping to make graffiti the global culture it is today.

5. Street World: Urban Culture and Art from Five Continents

With more than 500 photographs, Street World is an exhaustive survey of urban art, documenting the phenomenon from the USA to Brazil, South Africa, and Mumbai.

6. The Faith of Graffiti

Thanks to writer Norman Mailer, The Faith of Graffiti is one of the first books to put graffiti into social context. Plus, a huge portion of graffiti’s early history would have been lost, were it not for Jon Naar’s photographs published inside.

7. Obey: Supply & Demand: The Art of Shepard Fairey

A must-have for any urban-art collector, Shepard Fairey’s monograph covers his work over the course of 17 years, with insights from culture critics like Paper magazine’s senior editor Carlo McCormick.

8. All City Writers

For anyone interested in European graffiti, All City Writers is an indispensable field guide, with an equally unique and unconventional packaging design.

9. Banksy: Wall and Piece

A definitive guide on the UK’s celebrated street artist Banksy, this book features his iconic illustrations, stencils, paintings, and much more.

10. Graffiti Art Coloring Book

For anyone who’s secretly wanted to become a street artist, the Graffiti Art Coloring Book includes black-and-white images from the likes of Shepard Fairey, Dondi, Lady Pink, and Mike Giant — providing nearly all the tools necessary to becoming a graffiti artist, but without all the legal woes.