Sense títol. Graffiti. Sèrie VII: "La mort"

Untitled. Graffiti. Series VII "Death"
Photograph, 50 x 40 cm

Brassaï photographed graffiti on the streets of Paris for twenty-five years, from 1930 to the mid-1950s. This French-based photographer, journalist and writer of Hungarian origins captured the nocturnal, secret Paris of the thirties during the heyday of Surrealism. The magazine Minotaure published his photographs for the first time, along with a text on graffiti, in a December/January double issue (1933-1944). For years, Brassaï carried small notebooks which he made quick sketches of graffiti and recorded their location in order to photograph them under better lighting conditions or to see how they evolved.

The MACBA Collection includes a substantial number of Brassaï's graffiti photographs, taken in 1930, most of which were printed in a single print run in 1950. In some cases, the titles indicate the name of the street (Passage Prévot, Rue Perceval...) and all of them include the name of the series. Brassaï classified them according ethnological categories of his own devising: L'amour, Naissance du visage, La mort, Images primitives and La magie. The reference to automatism and cadavres exquis in the graffiti photographs is inevitable and reflects Brassaï's interest in the wonderful nature of fortuitous finds, the streets, and the art of children and of the mentally ill.

The first exhibition of Brassaï's graffiti photographs was held at MoMA, New York, in 1956, under the title Language of the Wall. Parisian graffiti photographed by Brassaï. The exhibition toured to the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in London two years later.

We must accept the evidence: the deaf strength of the wall brings a completely different style out of the childlike soul than does papers, a style harsher. Harder, more expressive, stripped of the picturesque. We are far from the sweetness of children's drawings with their humor and fantasy. The nature of the materials and of tools can transform art and transfigure thinking itself. From paper to the wall, the childlike expression takes on a sort of gravity, a sort of density. it's because paper submits and the wall commands. It doesn't only change the features of an expression, but also the nature and even the aptitudes of the spirit. An engraving tool – on this occasion a nail, a jagged penknife – engages in battles that pencils and brushes cannot wage; theirs is riot art in-depth action like the chisel's. An engraved stroke is infinitely stronger than the visual line it forms. The gesture is slowed down. Concentrating all its attention and the muscular effort it demands, it liberates a vital force emanating from the very life source of the child. Where does the strength and the fascination of the wall come from? It will play an active, creative role with all who incise on its copperplate engraving-like material. Their eyes popping our of their heads with justifiable curiosity, in hallucinating gazes, will nor be only the eyes of childhood. They will be the eyes of the wall as well, the gaze of the wall, just as all these faces will be the face of the wall, and all the hearts, the hearts of the wall. Here the medium shapes the art and is equally predetermined. The wall gives graffiti this unity of style, this air of familiarity, as if they were all drawn by the same hand, and this worn out, weathered, corroded look, as if they had emerged from another era.
I have photographed graffiti since 1930, and my first text, entitled "Du mur des cavernes au mur d'usine" – the title was suggested by Paul …luard – appeared in 1934 in one of the first issues of Minotaure. But it wasn't until about 1950 that 1 had the idea of carrying little cards with me, on which I sketched the design of the graffiti and noted their addresses so that I could photograph them when the light was at its best, and also go back to them many years 1ater and follow their evolution. That was how I was sometimes able to capture the presence of time by photographing the same graffiti after a period of several years. For many graffiti give birth to collective works: to the original drawing other hands add other features, widening the wrinkles, hollowing out the eye sockets, as when in ten years, a young face became the pathetic countenance of an old man. In the same way, the face of a witch with donkey's ears was transformed over seven years into that of a powdered clown.
Brassaï, ca.

Technical details

Original title:
Sense títol. Graffiti. Sèrie VII: "La mort"
Registration number:
Date created:
Date acquired:
On display
MACBA Collection. MACBA Foundation
Object type:
Gelatin silver print
50 x 40 cm (height x width)
Edition number:
MACBA Collection. MACBA Foundation
© Estate Brassaï
It has accessibility resources:

The MACBA Collection features Catalan, Spanish and international art and, although it includes works from the 1920s onwards, its primary focus is on the period between the 1960s and the present.

For more information on the work or the artist, please consult MACBA's Library. To request a loan of the work, please write to colleccio [at] macba.cat.

If you need a high resolution image of the work, you must submit an image loan request.

A single image can bear witness to the past and anticipate a foreseeable future.
Ignasi Aballí