Initially viewed as an act of rebellion and a blight on the urban landscape, the notorious graffiti art has evolved into a respectable means of expression and is now referred to as “street art”.
Graffiti has emerged as a significant art form in contemporary culture. Graffiti has transformed into a potent visual language that serves as a mode of personal expression. It offers an outlet for social and political commentary while reflecting cultural identity.
Contemporary art often emphasizes abstraction and free expression, appealing primarily to a minority who comprehend “true” art. In contrast, graffiti is created for the masses. This article will explore the rise of graffiti as a recognized art form and its impact on contemporary art.
The rise of graffiti
Wall art has been a form of artistic expression since prehistoric times. Modern street art or graffiti roughly originated six decades ago in the 1960s. One of the pioneering figures in this movement was Darryl McCray, also known as Cornbread. As a high school student in Philadelphia, he began drawing on city walls, inspiring other youngsters to follow his lead. However, this led to graffiti becoming a major issue in New York City.
During the 1960s, New York City was experiencing significant economic challenges. As a result, numerous large organizations were out of business, leaving behind many vacant buildings. These became an attractive canvas for street artists or “vandals”, as some would describe them.
New York City authorities spent a lot of money trying to stop this vandalism. They put up elaborate fences around train yards and other spots that graffiti artists liked to hit up. But instead of deterring these artists, the fences ended up being seen as a challenge, which only exacerbated the problem.
Early graffiti artists produced vibrant, expressive drawings with the help of spray paint, markers, and other tools. This type of artwork developed into a complex art style throughout time. It progressed from a straightforward signature to intricate murals spanning large areas.
From Graffiti to Street Art
By the late 1970s, graffiti artists were more focused on gaining recognition for their work. They began competing to create unique street names that would leave a lasting impression on people. These artists created a brand-new art world by rejecting the norms of the established art world and instead establishing their aesthetic standards.
Martha Cooper, a photojournalist for the New York Post, was one of the first to recognize graffiti as an art form and provide it with a platform in one of the city’s most prestigious newspapers. In the 1980s, she published a book called “Subway Art,” documenting the evolution of street art in New York City.
Street art today
Graffiti artists today occasionally draw inspiration from traditional art styles, however, there is no certainty about if this genre developed from an existing art movement. Modern graffiti first appeared as a type of text-based urban communication, not as an artistic medium.
Yet as time has gone on, it has come to be seen as a valid form of art, with many graffiti artists making the jump into the established art scene. Even though his identity is unknown, Banksy, a well-known graffiti artist of our time, has achieved international acclaim for his creations.
Social and political critique is prevalent in Banksy’s works. Before Banksy, street art was mostly created “freehand,” but he made the use of stencils and other tools widespread, which helped to redefine the genre’s limitations.
Some significant graffiti artists include Frank Shepard Fairey, who rose to prominence for his “Obey” poster series and more recently for the now-iconic “Hope” poster he made in 2009 portraying President Obama.
The work of various artists, especially street artists like JR and Swoon who use public areas as a canvas for their work, shows the impact of graffiti on contemporary art. Graffiti has also affected contemporary artists like KAWS and Takashi Murakami, who have incorporated street art themes into their paintings and sculptures.
Impact of street art on contemporary art
Contemporary art has been substantially affected by the growth of graffiti and street art. What started as a clandestine movement has developed into a recognized art form that has won praise from the general public.
Street art and graffiti frequently subvert established artistic limits, blurring the line between high and low art. Graffiti artists frequently make political or social remarks while using public locations to spread their views. With this method, art has become more approachable and applicable to the lives of regular people.
Additionally, many current artists’ styles and methods have been influenced by graffiti and street art. Several modern pieces of art now frequently use strong hues, complicated patterns, and unusual mediums like spray paint and stencils.
Many street artists have also transitioned from creating graffiti on public walls to exhibiting their work in galleries and museums, showcasing the art form’s evolution.
This shift has also led to the commercialization of street art, with some artists becoming highly sought after and their work selling for substantial amounts.
top 5 famous street artworks
Street art is historically linked to breaking from traditional practices, be it in terms of subjects or artistic styles. Artists often incorporate elements of graffiti in their works, adding large bubble lettering or smaller decorative script. Scale and time are often important factors in creating street art, given the fact that many of these works were created illegally.
1. The Lennon Wall (Several Artists, 1960s- Ongoing)
The Lenon wall in the Czech Republic is named after the famous Beatles member, John Lenon. As the name suggests, the wall is full of murals and graffiti related to the band and a range of decorative typography of their song lyrics.
This particular canvas has been decorated by innumerable people since the 1960s. In the 1980s, after the assassination of John Lenon, the wall became a sort of memorial for the artist, who was seen as a symbol of freedom. Later, in 2014 a group of people whitewashed the entire wall, and its legacy, leaving the words “Wall is Over” behind.
In 2019, the wall was completely repainted, with slogans and murals related to climate change and other political topics. Later that year, the Czech government gathered artists to repaint the entire wall with slogans about love and freedom. Some white space was left unpainted for visitors and tourists to express themselves on the walls.
2. Balloon Girl (Banksy, 2002)
Perhaps the most well-known graffiti artist of all time, Banksy has done more to advance the genre than anybody else. Banksy’s “Balloon Girl” is a stencil graffiti artwork that depicts a young girl reaching for a heart-shaped balloon that is drifting away. The artwork first appeared on a wall in London in 2002 and has since become one of Banksy’s most recognizable and iconic pieces.
The style of “Balloon Girl” reflects Banksy’s signature blend of street art and social commentary. The use of stencils allows for quick, anonymous, and widespread dissemination of the image.
The artwork’s history is also significant, as it has been reproduced and referenced in various forms of media, from print to film to music. It has become a symbol of both the anti-establishment and the mainstream, representing both rebellion and nostalgia.
The artwork was made and purchased for £500,000 in 2014, however, it was later removed from the Waterloo Bridge in South Bank, London. A print of the photograph brought in £56,250 in 2015. And a survey conducted in 2017 revealed that it was the preferred piece of art in the UK.
3. “Make Art Not War” Shepard Fairey, 2003
“Make Art Not War” is a poster created by artist and activist Shepard Fairey in 2003. The poster features bold, contrasting red and white colors. Its main attraction is the stylized text “Make Art Not War” written in Fairey’s signature block letters. The style of the poster is a nod to the propaganda posters of the mid-20th century. Its message promotes the idea of using art as a means of resistance and activism.
The history of “Make Art Not War” is tied to Fairey’s own activism and political views, as well as the broader cultural and political context of the early 2000s. The poster was created in response to the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003. It was also used as part of anti-war protests and movements around the world.
4. Crack is Wack (Keith Haring, 1986)
“Crack is Wack” is a mural created by artist Keith Haring in 1986 on a handball court in New York City’s East Harlem neighborhood. The mural features a large, abstract figure with red lines and bold, black outlines, accompanied by the message “Crack is Wack” written in Haring’s distinctive style.
The mural was created during the height of the crack cocaine epidemic in the United States, and Haring’s message was a direct response to the devastation caused by the drug in urban communities. The importance of “Crack is Wack” lies in its use of public art as a means of raising awareness and promoting social change.
Haring believed that art should be accessible to all, and by creating the mural in a public space, he made his message available to the community most affected by the crack epidemic. The mural has since become an iconic symbol of Haring’s social and political activism, and a reminder of the power of art to inspire change and promote social justice.
5. My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love (Dmitri Vrubel, 1990)
My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love” is a mural painting by Russian artist Dmitri Vrubel. This work depicts the iconic kiss between Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German leader Erich Honecker. The painting was created in 1990 on the Berlin Wall, shortly before its fall.
The message is political and personal, highlighting the complex relationship between the Soviet Union and East Germany. It also references the emotional toll of living under oppressive regimes.
The importance of “My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love” lies in its reflection of the political and social tensions of its time and its role in the history of the Berlin Wall.
The mural has since become an iconic symbol of the Cold War era and the struggle for freedom and democracy. It has also inspired other artists to use public art as a means of expressing political dissent and promoting social change.
This mural also inspired the 2016 “Make Everything Great Again” mural by Čečkauskas and Bonanu featuring Donald Trump kissing Vladimir Putin.
Graffiti has definitively made its way into the realm of mainstream art. Through its roots in the street art subculture, Graffiti inspires both creators and collectors. Unquestionably, the popularity of graffiti and street art has infused the art world with fresh life and vitality.
Traditional ideas about art have been questioned, and it has caused artists to push the boundaries of what is seen as appropriate in the art world. Street art will probably continue to influence modern art styles in the future as it develops and gains recognition.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Who is the most famous graffiti artist?
Although there are numerous well-known graffiti artists, Banksy is one of the most well-known. An anonymous British street artist by the name of Banksy is well-known across the world for his politically motivated and sometimes controversial murals and stencils.
Banksy is well recognized for his use of stunning imagery and witty language, and his works frequently include dark humor and social satire. Banksy has maintained his anonymity despite his notoriety, and his real identity is still a mystery.
Where is graffiti art most popular?
Today, graffiti art can be found all over the world. However, some cities are particularly known for their vibrant graffiti scenes. New York City, USA; Berlin, Germany; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Melbourne, Australia; Tokyo, Japan are some of the most popular places for graffiti art.
What is the biggest graffiti art in the world?
The biggest graffiti art in the world is difficult to determine as graffiti is often temporary and constantly changing. However, several large-scale graffiti pieces have gained worldwide recognition. One of the most well-known is the “Whole car” painted by the graffiti artist “Loomit” in Germany in 1990. The piece is a train car that was painted from end to end with vibrant colors and intricate designs, covering an area of over 200 square meters.
Another notable large-scale graffiti work is the “Mausoleum of the Giants” created by the street artist Phlegm in Sheffield, England. The piece is a massive 10-story mural that features a variety of surreal and fantastical characters.
Additionally, the “Tunel de Graffiti” in Valparaiso, Chile, is the longest graffiti-covered tunnel in the world, spanning over 4,000 square meters of wall space. The tunnel is a popular destination for graffiti artists from all over the world to showcase their work.
What is the most popular type of graffiti?
Graffiti is a diverse art form encompassing different styles and techniques, making it difficult to know which is most popular. However, there are a few styles that are commonly associated with graffiti art:
- Tagging: Tagging is the simplest and most ubiquitous form of graffiti. It is characterized by quick, stylized signatures or markings often used to mark territory or leave a personal message.
- Throw-ups: Throw-ups are larger, more colorful versions of tags that often feature bubble letters and quick fills.
- Stenciling: Stenciling involves creating a design by cutting a pattern into a stencil and then spraying paint over it. This technique allows for more intricate and detailed designs.
- Wildstyle: Wildstyle is a complex and highly stylized form of graffiti. It often incorporates 3D effects, interlocking letters, and intricate designs.
- Murals: Murals are large-scale, often highly detailed pieces that can cover entire buildings or walls. They can range from abstract designs to realistic depictions of people or landscapes and are often commissioned by businesses or community organizations.
It’s worth noting that graffiti is a constantly evolving art form, and new styles and techniques are constantly emerging.