What is Fresh?
n all of its forms, it signals a beginning -- whether it's a piece of blossomed fruit, a bright complexion or a new idea. In this three part series, we will explore the ways in which freshness manifests itself in skin care, nutrition and culture and how to achieve it.
That's Fresh: Part 3
The Origin of Fresh
As part 3 of the “That's Fresh” series red flower asks the question what is the origin of "fresh?" Fresh can be an attitude, a physical state of being and the epitome of originality. Trace the history of fresh and how it defines art, culture and community expression.
A fresh idea, a fresh style; looking fresh, feeling fresh -- what's fresh? Tracing the etymology of fresh is a study of history, culture, politics and style. Fresh can be an attitude, a physical state of being, but its usage in the streets has been the most enduring. As one of the few slang terms without any roots in Harlem jive, "fresh" owes its popularity to hip-hop in the late seventies, with legendary DJ and MC Grandwizard Theodore, who would regularly rap:
"We're fresh out of the pack
You gotta stay back
We got one Puerto Rican and the rest are black"
-- Fantastic Five MC's feat. Grandwizard Theodore,
Can I Get A Soul Clap
"Fresh Out The Pack" (1978)
"Fresh out of the pack," was eventually simplified to "fresh," which meant the epitome of originality and was considered the ultimate compliment. "Fresh to death," was another iteration, which was used to describe something that was so good it was unexplainable. While fresh was used to mean intoxicated back in the late 1800s, but it was never used as term of admiration until its reappearance in late 1970s and well into the early 1990s. By this time, fresh was appearing in the streets in the form of graffiti, sprawling itself over the urban landscape. In graffiti terms, fresh was the embodiment of anything that was innovative, new and cool. As a play on its pervasive use in advertising throughout the 1980s, the term was reclaimed from its place on cereal boxes, billboards and ad campaigns.
Fresh found its way into every facet of self-expression and street culture. The overlap of rhyming and street art was a natural one, as graffiti emerged as one of the four cultural forms of black culture including: hip-hop, DJing and break-dancing. All of these forms stressed the unpredictability of style. Free-styling captured the frenetic energy of the streets, just as the jazz age had generations before. This unpredictability is what fueled creativity in the streets and was a product of the city's shifting surroundings.
Before graffiti graced the walls of galleries and was commissioned by ad agencies, it was a form of protest, a reinforcement of identity and an ephemeral form of public art. Despite being such an iconic image of New York City, modern graffiti actually began in Philadelphia in the early sixties and later emerged in New York as some say, an artistic extension of the civil rights movement. Throw in the invention of the spray can, psychedelia, and the color TV and you have a full-blown cultural revolution.
Using the community as their canvas, early "writers" used graffiti is an art of resistance. It was a way to claim public space as their own, whether it was their name speeding across on trains, or to beautify the looming store gates in a post-blackout New York City. While cities are subject to socioeconomic borders, the messages and imagery that graffiti provides, transcends spatial constructs -- spreading itself beyond the outskirts of forgotten neighborhoods. Graffiti blossomed, as artists took to the trains creating "art in motion," that interacted with people from all over the city.
"It's a pretty remarkable thing, you realize this is an art form that's crossed every single racial, cultural and language barrier imaginable, has a presence in every city across the world, and doesn't really show any signs of slowing down. It's the 'rock and roll' of visual art."
-- Caleb Neelon,
artist and author of "The History of American Graffiti."
The role graffiti plays in a community has evolved over the past 30 years. What was originally considered a mark of urban blight and youthful rebellion is now in some cases, a means of urban beautification and regeneration. Graffiti is capable of vandalizing or gentrifying a space -- depending on how you look at it. The tools at the street artist's disposal have evolved past the almighty spray can -- from stickers, stencils, wheat paste, mosaic and even gardening. While trying to "greenify" an urban area doesn't seem subversive on the surface, this form of "guerilla gardening" is the next phase of urban agency and creative response to city living.
Before the first community garden was even sowed, a band of urban green thumbs in the early 1970s, calling themselves the "green guerillas," decided to do something about the rampant urban decay that surrounded them in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. They threw seed bombs made of Christmas ornaments and condoms filled with seeds, water and fertilizer into vacant lots, planted seeds in intersections and put flower boxes on the ledges of abandoned buildings. Their vigilante efforts soon paved the way for the one of the country's first community garden programs and the urban gardening movement that is thriving today.
Check out some modern day "green guerillas."
During times of economic uncertainty, the city's landscape suffers the consequences, but with great upheaval comes opportunity.For every condo that's left half-finished and every lot that's demolished, citizens around the world have retaken this orphaned land and made it their own. While a backyard is a luxury most city-dwellers go without, urban and guerilla gardening is a way to make the city their own garden. Graffiti is about claiming the right of public space, while new iterations of street art are continuing the tradition of creating a shared sense of ownership in a city that belongs to everyone. The tools have changed, but the ethos has stayed the same. When every graffiti piece is painted over and a garden goes untended, something new will spring up in its place, as part of the greater masterpiece that is every city.