Street Messages by Nicholas Ganz is a global survey of street artists whose medium is the written word.

The Moving, Playful Poetry of the World’s Textual Graffiti Artists

The Moving, Playful Poetry of the World’s Textual Graffiti Artists

The Eye
Slate’s design blog.
July 23 2015 9:06 AM

The Moving, Playful Poetry of the World’s Textual Graffiti Artists

A street poem by Scottish artist Robert Montgomery, who often posts typographic messages over existing billboards in a protest against advertising.

Courtesy of Dokument Press

In my neighborhood, a broken-hearted graffiti artist with impeccable cursive handwriting is intent on spreading the message that “Love is Dead.” Vying for blank public wall space is the happy-go-lucky soul who conversely is “Drunk on Life” and wants us all to know it.

The streets are also wallpapered with art in clashing styles and colors. But it’s the life-sized textual messages that catch my eye, invite reflection or annoyance, and give tangible form to some deeply felt but unspoken sentiment. Like that larger-than-life fortune cookie message of wall graffiti I spotted on a frigid January while walking home from yet another disappointing evening during a period of upheaval and discombobulation: THIS IS THE WINTER OF YOUR DISCONTENT. It cheered me up enormously.

The human impulse to put the writing on the wall reaches back tens of thousands of years. In Street Messages, German photographer and author Nicholas Ganz offers an illustrated survey of the literary side of today’s global street art movement.


“Words in public spaces that are presented to us by artists are either a form of philosophic expression or a new, modern form of poetry,” Ganz writes in the book’s preface. “This book is a celebration of the artists who work with the written word in our public spaces in order to share an alternative, more meaningful, message.”

Ganz says he has purposefully “left out negative messages, racial discrimination or fascist nonsense” in compiling the book, which features more than 80 street artists from around the world whose primary medium is text. The book includes an abbreviated history of writing in public spaces, examples of which he says can be found from every century during the course of human history.

Then Ganz presents photographs and overviews of dozens of artists whose messages are posted in public spaces that include both crowded urban settings and obscure rural corners. These refreshingly nondigital forms of communication encompass the personal and the political, setting themselves apart from the visual clutter of advertising to give expression to a range of artistic reflection and commentary about life on Earth.

Below is a sampling of images from Street Messages, followed by a video flip-through of the book.

A work by British street artist Banksy painted on the back of a chicken slaughterouse in New York City in 2013.

Courtesy of Dokument Press

dolk_coast is clear
The artist known as Dolk, a Norwegian word that means dagger or knife, created his first stencils in 2003. He traveled to Lofoten in northern Norway with fellow artist Pobel to paint abandoned houses.

Courtesy of Dokument Press

Candy Chang_Looking for Love Again - chalkboard - photo by Candy Chang
New Orleans–based artist Candy Chang’s “Looking for Love Again” is a public chalkboard on the abandoned Polaris Building in downtown Fairbanks, Alaska, that allowed passersby to record their memories of the structure and hopes for its future.

Photo by Candy Chang

skki_INSTAGRAM 2013
A street message from the Paris- and New York–based artist known as Skki.

Courtesy of Dokument Press

The artist known as Freewayblogger has posted more than 6,000 messages along California freeways.

Courtesy of Dokument Press

John FEKNER_societyfossil2 (2)
Artist John Fekner is a pioneer of the modern-day graffiti text who got his start in New York in the 1960s. His stenciled, spray-painted messages concern such topics as ecological and social issues, toxic waste, and the history of Native Americans. This is from Old Westbury, New York, in 1980.

Courtesy of Document Press

California-born artist Above has been experimenting with text-based graffiti since 1996. This one is in Melbourne, Australia.

Courtesy of Dokument Press

Kristin Hohenadel's writing on design has appeared in publications including the New York Times, Fast Company, Vogue, Elle Decor, Lonny, and Apartment Therapy.