When did Stencil Graffiti Begin

Stencil from Paris, France

The stencil graffiti subculture has been around since the 70s and evolved from the freestyle graffiti seen in the New York City subways and streets. Social turmoil ruled the United States in the 1970s. This social instability gave rise to anti-establishment movements under the direction of punk rock bands. Bands, such as Black Flag and Crass, and punk venues would stencil their names and logos across cities and became known as symbols to the punk scene.

As the graffiti culture spread with the rise of hip-hop in the 1980s, so did the emergence of the stencil graffiti genre. Stencils began to appear in cities all around the world from New York City to Melbourne, Australia. However, the artist stayed anonymous and tagged their work with alias names, giving a mystery to the subculture.

Today, this form of secretive art is still secretive, as the identity of Banksy, the most famous graffiti artist, remains unknown to the public. Thanks to those who preceeded him, Banksy has become an icon to street art. To this day, he is still faceless to the public, yet still manages to come up with innovative ways to display his art. Below are a few street artists who have created landmarks in the graffiti world.

Stencil from Venice, Italy

John Fekner

The first traces of stencil graffiti were first seen with the work of John Fekner, an innovative artist who was the first to move his art outdoors. Fekner would spray paint stenciled words, symbols, dates and icons pertaining to the environmental and sociological concerns. He painted his stencils in New York City and also in countries such as England, Sweden and Germany.

One of Fekner's most famous pieces of art was his stencil "Wheels Over Indian Trails" on the Pulaski Bridge near the Queens Midtown Tunnel. It stayed there from 1979 to 1990, when Fekner painted over it. For 11 year, those words welcomed commuters and visitors to New York City.

Blek le Rat

The grandfather of stencil graffiti, Blek le Rat became a shadow of the Parisian streets during the 1980s. Influenced by the graffiti artists of New York City, le Rat was convinced to create something of his own. As a result, le Rat developed life-sized stencils.

Le Rat's stencils haunted the Parisian alleyways. They were dark figures or shapes that often startled city dwellers. His stencils waged a guerrilla war on the Parisian population. He once stenciled a swarm of silhouetted rats in the subways of Paris that started from the outskirts of the city and then night after night, they slowly made it toward the center of Paris. They were everywhere, and it annoyed and bothered many Parisians. Blek le Rat's style became the inspiration for today's most notorious street artist, Banksy.


Like many street artists, ABOVE tried to find a way to stand out and make his identity known in the streets. He is widely known for his political and social stencils and for his wooden "arrow mobiles." Beginning in 1995, ABOVE would stencil freight trains in California. At the age of 19, he moved to Paris where he started his trademark arrows, which he painted all over the city. ABOVE organizes tours where he travels around the world painting stencils in major cities. His work has become popular through his Web site.


As stencil graffiti's most well known artist, Banksy has certainly made a name for stenciled art. Banksy was born in 1975 in Bristol, England and began practicing free hand graffiti in 1992. By 2000, Banksy began doing stencils, which is when he started being noticed by the public.

His stencils earned Banksy national attention as they set out to shock the public. Many of Banksy's stencils comment corruption in society through humor and ironic images. A rat advocating anarchy often represents Banksy's political messages. In 2005, Banksy set out to the West Bank where he painted stencils on the wall that separated Israel from Palestine. These stencils that represented freedom received international attention.

Banksy will forever be known for his ever-shocking innovative street art and exhibits. His work has become more popular over the years as celebreties, such as Angelina Jolie and Christina Aguilera, have spent thousands on Banksy's art.