‘Straight Letter’, or ‘Straights’ is a script widely used by graffiti artists throughout New Zealand. While many locales have their own recognizable flavours of graffiti, a regional handstyle as prevalent as this is a peculiar phenomenon. Most agree this form originated in Los Angeles and arrived here in the late 1980’s, where local writers have been evolving it since.
Perhaps misnamed, Auckland Straights are characterized by their absence of clear horizontal and vertical lines. The resultant curved stems and angled bars, particularly on the capital and baselines, prevent strokes from being obscured by the relief pattern of a wall’s mortar, assisting in legibility. Individual glyph designs are primarily determined by the incorporation of a dominant left hand stem, providing a remarkably consistent pace, D’s and O’s that can be difficult to differentiate and some fantastically original S designs.
There is no lower case.
While judged primarily on consistency and kerning, artists express themselves through their Straights via mean height, the curve of their stems, the angularity of their letters, and through their finials, which seem to become more pronounced with each generation. Regionally speaking, a severe curve, low mean hight, large counter and more angular form has traditionally been the preference of writers hailing from Auckland’s southern suburbs while the city and western suburbs are marked by rounder, more conservative letters.
The fattened ascenders (tops, flares) emerged as a trend in the late 1990’s and have since become fashionable internationally. Writers reaching up to mark positions beyond their reach become unable to hold the aerosol can perpindicular to the wall’s surface and generate strokes which become fatter and more diffuse. Observing this effect over time enables astute artists to ascertain each other’s height and handedness; recreating it with consistent notan requires a calligrapher’s devotion and dexterity.
I was first introduced to New Zealand’s most despised font around 1990 and resented it with the passion of your average prominently positioned fence owner. Tags were highly individual, your meticulously developed calligraphic avatar, a three second encapsulation of your style. I was loathe to witness these creative expressions slowly replaced by graffiti’s answer to Helvetica. The legibility Straights provided however, enabled writers to communicate to the broader public as well as their competitors. The majority proved willing to sacrifice individuality for infamy.
Nostalgia aside - respect where it’s due. Straights provide an effective design solution to the problems it’s native media presents. This national typographic phenomena has, despite 25 years of regular buffing, come to completely dominate New Zealand’s contemporary, non-commercial, urban environment. This is the wild silver fern of our streets, shaped by generations of Kiwi youth, untamed by design.
Illustrator/High-Logic Font Creator
Buff Dis | 2014