Global Graffiti: 10 Top Cities for Urban Art

by Aileen Mitchell 22. July 2014 12:10

Graffiti, or street art, has always been about revolution and rebellion, a visual statement and paint-based commentary about the political, social and economic concerns of our time.

Councils have tried to ban it, some have painted over it (oh, if only they knew how big Banksy would become), supposed art critics have vilified it, and many have questioned whether it can truly been classed as art at all.


Image by:  Heather Cowper

The fact remains, however, graffiti art has captured the attention and imagination of the public and perhaps a generation which wants more than the usual, prescribed - and therefore limiting conventions of stuffy art galleries and dusty museums.

(Ironically, and somewhat fantastically, Bansky’s exhibition at Bristol’s City Museum and Art Gallery in 2011 attracted more visitors – from all over the globe – than any other event in the museum’s entire history.)

But like a pack of paint-spraying pugilists, graffiti artists continue to fight the fight and make their unmistakable mark(s) on the world. Their artistic creations have revived life in run-down areas, provoked controversy and comment, and transformed many of the art form’s finest exponents into international superstars.

Graffiti art is truly a global phenomenon that’s showing no sign of abating. Here are ten of the world’s top cities for graffiti. 

New York City

New York has produced an impressive coterie of graffiti artists, from Poster Boy to Basquiat. Long Island’s 5 Pointz area has over 200,000 square feet tagged by both local and international painters, whilst other locations of graffiti-led interest include the Bronx Wall of Fame on East 173rd St, Victor Goldfield’s Ol’ Dirty Bastard Memorial, and Manhattan’s Bowery Wall.  

Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires has a much more open door policy when it comes to its tolerance of graffiti, as street artists are able to quite legally tag any building as long as the owner gives consent.  As a result there’s a cornucopia of top-level graffiti art all across the city, including works by America’s Ron English, Spain’s Aryz, and France’s Jeff Aerosol. 

And as you’d expect from such a diverse range of stencil-and-spray can impresarios, the themes encapsulated in their artwork is equally eclectic, from portraits of Argentine soccer triumphs by native Martin Ron, to political commentary by Italy’s Blu. 

Los Angeles

L.A. is a positive showcase for some for some of the most exhilarating graffiti in the world.  Bristol’s very own Banksy has several pieces along the La Brea Blvd, and Shepard Fairey – creator of the iconic Obama ‘Hope’ poster for the 2008 election – has a virtuoso mural on Melrose Avenue. Other pieces by renowned graffiti artist Lister and JR have also been frequently popping up. 

Melbourne

Down Under’s second city of Melbourne certainly isn’t backwards at coming forwards when it comes to embracing street art.  The city has its own Graffiti Management Plan, a body established to monitor and review graffiti work, as well as commissioning new pieces by emerging and established talent, and hastily removing illegal installations.  Notable native graffiti artists include Rone and Anthony Lister.  

Sao Paolo

São Paulo, Brazil’s bustling and chaotic industrial centre has a fervent and thriving community of street artists which has also attracted the attention of many international artists, including Paris’ C215 and urbanhearts.  Local urban art celebrities such as Vlok and Os Gemeos joined forces to create a graffiti corridor known as Batman Alley in the Vila Madelena neighbourhood, which consists of regularly rotating works

London

Cotemporary graffiti is represented on a grand and glorious scale in London, serving as a veritable who’s who of top talent with works and installation by internationally revered artists such as Grafter, Shepard Fairey and Banksy – all of whose unmistakable style span the Square Mile.  Camden, Shoreditch and Brick Lane are districts with new and burgeoning urban art talent.  

Santiago

Barrio Bellavista is the best place to check out the up and coming talent of Chile’s capital.  You’ll be dazzled by a colourful pictorial onslaught of variegated graphics, political cartoons and murals practically everywhere you look. And although graffiti is technically illegal in Chile, the government tends to turn a blind eye to graffiti as long as it’s confined to certain neighbourhoods.  

Berlin

Berlin is a tractor beam for top graffiti talent, being as it is a UNESCO-designated City of Design.  Most of the best tagging and installations are done in eastern Kreuzberg, where controversial political murals by Italy’s Blu take centre stage, as well as a huge astronaut on Mariannenstrasse by Victor Ash.  Spring 2013 saw Kreuzberg’s Gustav Meyer Allee clock tower receive the addition of a mural installation by France’s esteemed JR. 

Bogota

Whilst Colombia’s expansive vistas has miles and miles of murals, the historic quarter of La Candelaria – home to a coterie of university students and candlelit cafes – is regarded as the best. Everything from strong-worded comments against its former president to panoramas of a more psychedelic persuasion, the area’s cobblestoned plazas and sidewalks are decorated with invigorating graffiti art.     

Cape Town

Local graffiti celebrity Faith7 has firmly put the graffiti credentials of Cape Town on the map, giving it a kudos and gravitas that elevated graffiti to a revered art form in the city.   Public spaces and private homes in suburban Woodstock, for example, have seen specially-commissioned pieces adorn the buildings and walls, amongst them Cape Town’s native Freddy Sam and New York’s Cern.  In fact, Cern was instrumental in organising a global graffiti exchange program called A World of Art.    

Can you think of any other cities that should rank alongside these esteemed hubs of graffiti excellence? Share your comments below.

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Artists | The Art World

Global Graffiti - A Guide to Street Art

by Aileen Mitchell 14. January 2014 15:10

When it comes to stirring up controversy and generating a spot of artistic discussion, there's nothing that gets the tongues wagging and the tempers flying more than the art versus graffiti debate. Is graffiti actually art? Does it have any real artistic merit? Should it be displayed in legitimate art galleries?

It's a contentious issue and one that sparks heated and vociferous talk on both camps. In many ways, it's a case of the old school versus the new school – two separate lines of thought that seem destined never to agree.   

But no matter. Like it or loathe it, there’s no denying that street art or graffiti IS art, making a visual social commentary on time, place, political systems, world affairs, and important global issues just as much as the old masters.  It’s really a matter of the artistic representations of the culture and time – and now is the time of the graffiti artist.

Here are six of the most important and influential figures currently on the graffiti/street art scene.      

Mark Jenkins

Mark has made a name for himself through his street art sculptures and figures made from clear packing tape and placed in urban environments, primarily Washington D.C. and Rio de Janeiro.  More recently, he’s cunningly dressed them up and placed them in positions to give the impression of real people, discreetly recording the reactions of the shocked and surprised public. 

Frank Shepard Fairey

Fairey rose to fame with his ‘Andre the Giant has a Posse’ sticker campaign in 1989. He has since turned to professional graphic design, drawing considerable attention for his work on the ‘Hope’ poster for Barack Obama’s 2008 election campaign.   He’s had his work displayed in many prestigious art galleries, including the Smithsonian, New York’s Museum of Modern Art and London’s Victoria and Albert, as well as publishing several books on art. 

JR

This Paris-born artist’s journey into the world of art began with a happenstance finding of a camera on the Paris Metro when he was seventeen. His career as – as he puts it - a photograffeur was born, taking photos of regular people and blowing up the images into posters that he and his team put up.  One of his most famous works is a canvas and 100ft high mural on the side of London’s Tate Modern of a man pointing a gun at the camera.  

Blu

An Italian street artist from Bologna, Blu has gained notoriety from his massive wall paintings and stop motion animation pieces, often disturbing and surreal in tone. He’s painted walls in many European cities and American countries.  He once visited the German city of Wuppertal and anonymously printed 6,000 magazines full of his drawings distributed for free; this was followed by several large-scale murals.  Nowadays, much of his work is commissioned for art festivals. 

Banksy

Without doubt the most famous of contemporary street artists, Bristol’s favourite anarchic artistic son, Banksy’s main modus operandi focuses on an ironic, anti-establishment social commentary tinged with social realism. 

Prolific, iconic, his art is snapped up for thousands by the rich and famous and had his work dismissed as vandalism by an enraged city council. He’s also been in a documentary, storyboarded an alternate version of The Simpson’s opening titles, has a book of his work, and took over the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery for twelve weeks to display 100 art works, attracting 300,000 enthusiastic visitors. 

D*Face

Identifiable from his signature icon of a black and white ball creature with wings, London’s D*Face has been, well, defacing walls, street lights, vehicles and other public surfaces since 2006.  Sticker, graffiti, billboard manipulations and murals are his trademark mediums of choice.  His work has gone global and can be found in San Francisco, Los Angeles, London, New York and Barcelona. 

These are just six street artists working their imaginative magic around the world – others such as Chor Boogie, Ron English and the more unappealingly monikered Phlegm, deserve equal mention. And the list goes on – a burgeoning phalanx of talented, creative, brilliant, perceptive, culturally-savvy and artistically astute pictorial social commentators, creating and developing this relatively new artistic movement and changing the shape of artistic history itself, with works that are important, unmistakable and vital.

What do you think of street art, and have you got any favourites yourself?

See our urban art and galleries for more inspiration. 

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Artists | The Art World





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