The L.A. Graffiti Black Book is many things: a collection of graffiti and street art, an unprecedented collaboration spanning neighborhoods, crews, and bad blood, and a unique link to 500 years of artistic tradition. Most importantly, L.A. Graffiti Black Book brings a rare book to the public for the first time, nearly ten years after its original was created by some of Los Angeles’ best street artists at the Getty Research Institute.
This project is nearly a decade in the making. It started in 2012, when David Brafman, associate curator of rare books at the Getty Research Institute, met Ed and Brandy Sweeney, an L.A. couple dedicated to collecting and spotlighting some of the best street art in Los Angeles. Together they invited some of the biggest names in L.A. street art to Getty to look at a selection of rare books that Brafman, a former tagger himself, had pulled from the vaults. “I related to these rare books as one who recognizes a colleague in arms,” said Angst, one of the artists who joined Brafman that day. “Had I been born in an earlier age, I would have been a scribe.”
The book that drew the most attention from the artists was an example of a liber amicorum, or “book of friends.” This book, filled with calligraphic signatures, poetry, and painted coats of arms, was an elaborate form of autograph book that was popular among university students, aristocrats, and academics in the mid-1500s. You can browse its pages online.
When the artists saw the liber amicorum there was an instant spark of recognition. They immediately thought of the black book, their own liber amicorum of sorts. The black book is a sketchbook carried by graffiti artists in which friends, crew members, and other artists fill a blank page with their own drawings, freestyle lettering, or elaborate pieces. The artists saw the connection between the two books, one originating from that most human of impulses: to leave a mark. Or, as one of the graffiti artists Axis put it, “Scribbling and bibbling, noodling and doodling.”
With the Sweeney’s dedication to preserving street art, Brafman’s personal connection to graffiti art, and the talent of the artists, the LA Liber Amicorum was fated to be. Just as scholars, artists, and students had put pen to paper to make their mark in their own liber amicorum some 500 years ago, these artists would do the same, continuing that shared legacy and dedication to the craft of lettering.
Today, the original LA Liber Amicorum lives in the Getty Research Institute, protected from light, hands and other elements. Unfortunately, this also keeps it from being viewed and accessed by a wide audience. In order to share this project with the world, the Getty has re-published the LA Liber Amicorum to make it available in bookstores and libraries around the world. Published under a new name, L.A. Graffiti Black Book, it features reproductions of all 151 works of art, as well as text by Brafman about the collaboration. The L.A. Graffiti Black Book is also available for purchase online.
Whatever you call it—LA Liber Amicorum, The Getty Black Book, L.A. Graffiti Black Book—it’s an unprecedented collaboration among Los Angeles’ street artists, who are, as Brafman said, “some of the most talented and creative people I now know.” Prime, one of the most established and revered artists of the bunch, had this to say of the experience: “There are many things that this project has given me. The one thing I cherish the most is the respect that everyone has for and shown each other. Thank you everyone who participated. I hope this project serves as testimony of our unconditional love for the arts and each other con todo respeto.”
Upcoming Related Events
LIVE ON CROWDCAST: DAVID BRAFMAN discusses LA GRAFFITI BLACK BOOK with STEFANO BLOCH
Hosted by Skylight Books
Friday May 14, 2021 at 6:30 p.m. PDT
L.A. Graffiti Black Book: Artists in Conversation
Hosted by the Getty Research Institute
Tuesday, May 18, 2021 at 4:00 p.m. PDT