The San Lorenzo Kidz, Rome’s first graffiti crew, played a pivotal role in shaping the graffiti scene in Rome, focusing on wall paintings rather than graffiti on trains as a means of maintaining a strong connection to their neighborhood.
I originally wrote this story, in Italian, for a book about the San Lorenzo neighbourhood, which will be out after summer; stay tuned!
The 1979 exhibition “The Fabulous Five,” organized by La Medusa gallery, represented an internationally significant event for the city of Rome. It was the first aerosol art exhibition held outside of New York and the United States, where this art form originated. Thanks to this event, the Italian capital became a reference center for graffiti writers from around the world, attracting the attention of art critics, curators, and collectors.
Despite the enthusiasm generated by the exhibition, by the end of the 1980s, the walls of Rome were still untouched, and the subway trains remained immaculate. While the few sporadic tags were difficult to find around the city, and the walls were gray and silent, the situation changed dramatically when crossing the borders of San Lorenzo, the university district of the capital.
The visual impact for those arriving in San Lorenzo from other neighborhoods in Rome was overwhelming: there was no corner without writings. The fervor of the Roma ultras, the political statements of the student movement, but above all, the tags, throw-ups, and large-scale pieces of the neighborhood crew, the San Lorenzo Kidz, among the first active crews on the walls of Rome and Italy as a whole.
When the founders of the KIDZ, NAPAL and SUMO, began writing their names on the walls of San Lorenzo, throughout Rome, the people doing graffiti could be counted on one hand. Their signature, repeated in every corner of the neighborhood, conveyed a sense of rebellion, strength, and community. It was a cry of freedom that resonated in the streets of San Lorenzo, where every wall was a manifesto of the neighborhood’s history, identity, and life.
Writings on the walls of San Lorenzo
In San Lorenzo during the 1970s and 1980s, the wall mirrored the political protest of a generation. Words were weapons, tools for denunciation and resistance, and were inscribed on walls to convey a message. The dominant image was that of political writing, marking the passage of time and the anger of students and activists who shaped the history of this neighborhood. In the writings of the historic female crew 00199 and Onda Rossa Posse, two underground realities strongly rooted in San Lorenzo, the power of the political message could be read more than the focus on style writing.
Towards the late 1980s, the writings of the student movement began to be accompanied by traditional graffiti, the kind that had emerged in New York in the late 1970s and had been imported to Rome by a group of young people from diverse backgrounds. NAPAL, for example, was born in the capital but had spent his childhood in Australia before moving to San Lorenzo at the age of twelve, where he met SUMO, who had German origins.
Fascinated by what they had witnessed happening on the walls of their home countries, NAPAL and SUMO founded their first crew (NFA, New Fresh Artists) with the intention of fostering the writing subculture, a branch of Hip Hop culture, in Rome. A few years later, following a legendary trip to Paris in 1990, they decided to call themselves the San Lorenzo Kidz.
The San Lorenzo KIDZ
During their vacation in Paris, NAPAL and SUMO were captivated by Stalingrad, an important meeting place for French writers and a sought-after destination for international writers—a location that played a significant role in the history of the graffiti movement in Paris. During those years, Stalingrad was an abandoned place with many empty and crumbling walls that attracted writers looking for spaces to express themselves. Many styles of Parisian graffiti developed there, influencing the evolution of writing in France and shaping the very concept of wall graffiti that had fascinated NAPAL and SUMO during their stay. It also determined their unique approach to graffiti writing, different from the New York canons.
While the Roman graffiti scene that developed in subsequent years became internationally famous for its train graffiti, with the so-called “Roman style” designed to be admired in motion, the San Lorenzo Kidz were immediately passionate about painting on walls. The choice of the San Lorenzo Kidz to paint on walls instead of trains may seem unusual, considering the great popularity of trains among writers. But for these young artists, what mattered was not so much conforming to a trend or emulating the New York scene, but rather creating a personal and authentic style. They preferred walls because they offered greater possibilities for expression and more creative freedom compared to trains, which were already codified and had precise rules to follow.
Painting on walls, rather than trains, also gave the KIDZ’s graffiti a strong connection to the neighborhood and its spaces. While most writers painted on trains to spread their name throughout the city (“going all city” in slang), the KIDZ did not aim to spread their name across the entire city but preferred to focus their activity in San Lorenzo, where they had developed a sort of almost familial affection for the walls of their neighborhood.
The KIDZ’s bond with the neighborhood was strong. It was where the crew was born and raised, where they developed their unique style and strong identity. The main requirement to join the crew was to live in San Lorenzo. This was their territory, which they marked and protected from invaders with the energy, passion, and impulsiveness characteristic of adolescence, creating an aura of inaccessibility around the neighborhood.
Even when, in the early 1990s, the fame of the KIDZ had far exceeded the boundaries of the neighborhood, and NAPAL, SUMO, and GREY began painting elsewhere, the KIDZ always carried the identity of San Lorenzo with them, writing the name of their neighborhood on walls in cities around the world.
There is one piece in San Lorenzo that still remembers and commemorates the golden years of the San Lorenzo Kidz: the KIDZ tag descending along the wall of a university building at the corner of Via Cesare de Lollis and Via dei Marruccini.
This piece was first painted illegally in 1993. Then, in 2019, NAPAL was invited to repaint the entire facade of the building, where one can now admire both the restored original writing and the mural “Kidz are the future,” representing the crew members: the historic ones and those who have joined over the years, namely BRUS, ADE, and BREK.
The creation of this mural is not only an emotional moment in NAPAL’s life, as he returned to paint on the same wall after nearly three decades, but it also represents a significant turning point in the evolution of urban art in the San Lorenzo district. From the days of the KIDZ’s early tags, urban art has taken on various forms in the streets of this neighborhood, ranging from Hogre‘s stencils to Sten & Lex‘s posters, and eventually leading to commissioned murals that have raised awareness about gentrification.
But throughout all these years, one thing has not changed: San Lorenzo is still an ideal place for graffiti, a cradle where the art of writing finds fertile ground for expression. This is demonstrated by the fact that in the last decade, another tag that has gained recognition in Rome and worldwide originated in San Lorenzo: GECO. This writer, considered one of the most active and prolific globally, especially in terms of bombing, started in San Lorenzo, confirming the neighborhood’s status as the birthplace of graffiti, where the culture of writing continues to thrive and inspire new generations of writers.