Banksy gets a lot of attention, but street art (a.k.a. graffiti) is exploding in popularity worldwide (Flickr/caruba)
It’s been a little over a year since world-famous graffiti artist Banksy wrapped up his summer residence – and wall domination – in New York City. But for many of us who sleuthed around the city in hopes of discovering his latest masterpiece, it was only the beginning of our love and appreciation of street art. Not since the 1980s, the birth and boom of this medium, has street art been so popular. Once the bane of building owners and police officers, it is now starting to gain worldwide acceptance. And with the style evolving from straight tags to multimedia instillations, even governments are starting to support this form of urban sprawl.
Read: The New Street Art You Need to See in NYC
Here’s a look at the best cities to spot some of today’s most impressive (and free) art!
While London may be an obvious pick, it deserves a mention on this list because it’s home to three key players in the graffiti world: Banksy, Steve Lazarides, and D*Face. Thanks in part to their success, the city’s East End – specifically the inner area of Shoreditch and the art community of Hackney Wick – have become magnets for international artists.
This piece by Borondo incorporates the canal. (Photo: Dave Stuart)
This year, Spanish artist Borondo has been enthralling London with a stunning series of murals. “His stand-out achievement is a face painted upside on the support of a bridge spanning the Hertford Union Canal in Hackney Wick,” says Dave Stuart, the principal guide and photographer for Shoreditch Street Art Tours. “The face reflects the right way up in the canal, and with wind and gentle ripples on the canal surface, the mouth moves and the eyes wink at us. A sensational piece of kinetic, location-specific street art.”
Read: 10 Reasons to Visit London’s Hottest New Neighborhood
Also giving Londoners whiplash is South African female artist Faith 47. According to Stuart, over the last 18 months she has created a number of stunning outdoor paintings, the most popular located on Leonard Street in Shoreditch of “a nun-like figure cradling a dying swan located in her arms.”
In Paris, good street art is respected, especially this piece by Vhils. (Photo: Jessica Zimmerman)
Paris has always been known for its artists. Because of that, Parisians take a much more contemplative stance on street art. “Cleanup crews often leave works deemed ‘more artistic’ alone,” says Jessica Zimmerman, journalist and project leader at Underground Paris, a street-art touring company in Paris.
On the tour is an impressive piece by Vhils, a Portuguese artist, who created an inverted relief sculpture of a face by etching into the walls on the Rue de la Fontaine au Roi.
Another favorite is the magical, mind-bending mural on Rue Lemon by Alexis Diaz, a Puerto Rican artist. His image of a bird in a boat attached to a floating heart is simply breathtaking.
Alexis Diaz’s bizarre yet eye-catching work in Paris (Photo: Jessica Zimmerman
American artists JBAK created Berlin’s tallest-ever mural (Photo: JBAK)
When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, artists took to the streets with spray cans to show their creativity and to voice their beliefs. Today, freedom of expression is alive and well on the city walls. “The reputation of Berlin’s anarchist and thriving art scene made it almost impossible for international artists to not want to leave their mark here,” says Adie Sampson, founder of Alternative Berlin Tours, a tour company that offers unique views of the city, including its street art scene.
There are three works that Sampson suggests visitors see stat. In Lichtenberg on Landsberger Allee, American duo JBAK created the tallest mural ever painted in the city. The image features three bright-colored, photorealistic individuals standing on each other’s shoulders to get a view of the city. In Friedrichshain, American artist Tristan Eaton’s giant 50-ft woman, created in different colors and patterns, brightens up a tony neighborhood. And for the third stop, Sampson recommends visitors see the stone-blasted portrait by Vhils, chipped (with the help of some dynamite) into the wall by the Spree River.
Artist Tristan Eaton’s 50-Foot Woman attacks Berlin (Photo: Adie Sampson)
Buenos Aires, Argentina
South America’s art history has always reflected its social turmoil. But unlike other places that have experienced political clashes, the graffiti scene in this city works to rise above the past. “The majority of street artists in Argentina do not mix art with politics,” says Matt Fox-Tucker, founder of Buenos Aires Street Art. Instead, “they express themselves in their own way, painting artwork with a lot of positive energy and color in their very unique styles.”
Fintan Magee’s “The Displaced” (Photo Matt Fox-Tucker)
This is evident in a number of the pieces currently on view in this tropical paradise. Australian Fintan Magee created “The Displaced,” which pays homage to the aftermath of the severe floods that hit both Buenos Aires and his hometown of Brisbane, Australia in 2013. One of the largest murals in the city is of surreal characters being carried by a skateboard. This piece by Argentine artist Martin Ron called “Tale of Parrots” took 16 days and 16 gallons of latex paint to complete. But not to be forgotten is the tribute piece by JAZ, another Argentine artist. The two Minotaurs represent two children, Teta and Salta, who were victims of police brutality. To see other pieces by equally creative artists, check out the bohemian neighborhoods of Palermo (where Che Guevara once lived) and Belgrano.
JAZ’s minotaurs (Photo: Matt Fox-Tucker)
Miami’s street art scene has exploded in recent years (Flickr/Rob Larsen)
Once considered the cultural and moral wasteland of America, Miami has gotten a much-needed makeover in the last 10 years. While Art Basel is central to it, the transformation of the Wynwood section of town can’t be ignored. In 2009, real estate developer Tony Goldman, looking for a way to turn around the run-down warehouse area of the city, bought 30 buildings and turned them into virtual canvases for internationally known graffiti artists. The goal was to brighten up the facades and create a place where people would want to visit. The Wynwood Walls, as they are now known, have done way more than that. They have turned Miami into an epicenter for emerging artists and for graffiti fans. The plan is to change the murals every two years to keep things fresh and inviting.
Brazilian artist Nunca has a big presence on Miami’s Wynwood Walls (Flickr/Wally Gobetz)
With that knowledge, you should rush there now to see work by some of the geniuses of the genre. Among the mix? Large-scale figures created by Brazilian artist Nunca that resemble a cross between characters from Goya and “Where The Wild Things Are.”
Brooklyn, New York
The birthplace of graffiti is clearly rooted in New York City. In Brooklyn — specifically the hipster havens of Williamsburg and Bushwick — you can see the latest and greatest things happening in the medium, from comic-book looks to photo collages and woodcut-style stencils.
“Brooklyn has a unique combination of being a place where the artists live and have the wall space to support the endeavor,” says Gabriel Schoenberg, president of Graff Tours, which shows off street art in New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles.
ROA’s multi-species mural in Brooklyn (Wally Gobetz/Flickr)
A few pieces, Schoenberg says, are especially buzzy in the BK right now. “The ROA mural in Williamsburg is something to note,” he says. The three-story mural of a fox, raccoon, and skunk, done in his signature black-and-white strokes looks “lifelike.” The new three-story How and Nosm piece of classic playing cards on Flushing Avenue in Bushwick “is a heart-stopper;” and the Icy and Sot piece for the Bushwick Collective “takes on a tough topic.” The image, which sits on the corner of Wyckoff and Flushing, is titled “Rocket Vs Rocks” and illustrates the Israeli and Palestinian crisis.
Navajo Nation, Ariz.
Graffiti art has always been a means for those with no voice to shout a message to the world. That concept remains strong in the Navajo Nation. In order to raise awareness and revenue for businesses owned by Native Americans, graffiti artist Jetsonorama started the Painted Desert Project, creating eye-catching images on the roadside stands in the city.
Other artists who have lent a hand and spray can include international street art sensations Gaia, ROA, Alexis Diaz, and Doodles. Among the striking large-scale murals that can be seen is Jetsonorama’s image of a Native American with his hands up, which adorns three side-by-side water towers.
Beco de Batman (Batman Alley): the epicenter of Sao Paulo’s street art scene (Flickr/Melina Kuroiva)
Sao Paulo is, in many ways, known for its political street art. Lasar Segall, the Brazilian Jewish painter who called Sao Paulo home, often portrayed human suffering and war in his expressionist paintings. Segall’s home is now a museum dedicated to his art, but that isn’t the only place in this city to stir your cultural conscience.
In fact, Sao Paulo has become known for its building-swallowing murals created in Brazilian folk art and pixo reto styles (Sao Paulo’s original graffiti). The famous Beco do Batman (Batman Alley), in the bohemian barrio (neighborhood) of Madalena, is like a constantly changing, open-air art exhibit often featuring pieces from graffiti artists Sinha, Speto, Dask2, Dorme, or Os Gemeos (twin brothers Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo). In Vila Santana, a commercial and residential district known for its culture and entertainment, vibrant pieces by the up-and-coming generation of “grafite” artists – Nunca, Carlos Dias, and Titi Freak – are spray-painted along the walls.
WATCH: Sao Paulo’s Urban Art Museum with Anthony Bourdain
What could possibly be offensive about this work by artist Smug? (Photo: Eddie Jim)
There’s an art movement spreading throughout Melbourne, Australia, and the evidence is etched all over the city’s alleyways around Hosier and Caledonian Lanes. Artists including Kid Zoom, the Yok, Reka, Rone, Sheryo, and Miso have made this city their canvas. And with an accepting, if not encouraging, attitude toward these modern-day artists, the city is fast becoming the mecca for those new types of street styles, including wheatpastes, poster art, stencils, and murals. Artist Smug recently caused a stir with a commissioned piece he did on Fitzroy Street. The image shows the repugnant Aussie character or “yobbo,” drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette. A single resident took offense because of the beer, and the $2,500 mural will be covered up. Other well-known artists brightening up the city walls include Sofles and Adnate, who is known for his striking portraits of Aboriginal children.
Bethlehem, West Bank
American Steve Braudt teamed up with local artist Moodi Abdallah to create this work near the Bethlehem checkpoint (Photo: Yamen Elabed)
In the West Bank, the 25-foot high concrete wall that divides the Israeli and Palestinian territories has become a visual voice for many for artists, locals, and even tourists. “Most of the art reflects the life and frustrations of the Palestinian people,” says Yamen Elabed, lead tour guide for Murad Tours in Bethlehem. The majority of the art can be found in refugee camps, especially near the Aida camp, but “wherever there is any free space on the walls and buildings from Bethlehem to East Jerusalem to Ramallah and all over the West Bank, you will find street art,” says Elabed.
While there are hundreds, if not thousands, of murals, a few of them stand out above the rest. With the help of local artist Moodi Abdallah, American artist and pastor Steve Braudt has been creating rainbow-hued images of love and forgiveness on the wall near the Bethlehem checkpoint. Ramallah-born artist Sami Deek has also been turning heads with images that mirror the conflict. And in some cases, artists are making their murals projects for peace. International duo How and Nosm’s bold designs were part of a project with Medical aid for Palestinians.
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