L.A. Graffiti Black Book (Signed By Big Sleeps)

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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). 

“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

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

Getty Publications
Imprint: Getty Research Institute