You may think of the scribble scrabble on highway overpasses, abandoned buildings and train sidings when you hear the term “Street Art.” But street art is much more than tags made with cans of cheap hardware store spray paint.
Street art is defined as visual art created in public locations—sometimes unsanctioned and illegal, other times commissioned—artwork executed outside of the context of traditional art venues. In the late 20th century, artists pushed the boundaries of art outside the limits of museums. In cities, artists took to the streets armed with cans of spray paint to express their talents in public spaces. With a rebellious attitude aimed at bringing fine art to the public even if uninvited, street artists want to shock people into action and to reinvigorate classic images with new interpretations.
Some artists have gained cult-followings, media and art world attention, and have gone on to work commercially in the styles which made their work known on the streets.
So, who are the street artists you should be paying attention to? Below are eight names and styles to commit to your memory bank in case you are wandering the world and spot one!
Probably one of the most well known and controversial, Banksy is a British street muralist and graffiti artist. Banksy is a bit of a mystery—no one knows for sure the identity or gender of this artist. Banksy’s murals and artworks are often painted on the walls or exteriors of buildings, bridges, and sidewalks around the world. Themes range from anti-corporation or anti-establishment to other forms of social commentary. Because many of Banksy’s paintings are produced in public places, they are often destroyed or painted over, so there is no absolute or accurate number of his/her works around the world.
The French photographer and street artist known as JR started drawing attention to himself when he began to post giant photographs in public spaces. He created great controversy in 2007, with his Face to Face exhibit by injecting politics into his art and the social consciousness. For the exhibit, he illegally posted huge portraits of Israelis and Palestinians on both sides of the separation wall and security fence. In 2014, he created Unframed — Ellis Island in which he used archival images to bring the abandoned, century old hospital building, its patients and staff members of Ellis Island, back to life.
Vhils was born Alexandre Farto in Portugal in 1987. He differs greatly from other artists in his subject matter and aggressive artistic techniques. He has been known to blast and etch images into buildings using drills, acid, and even dynamite. Vhils creates art portraying the regular citizens he sees in the cities where he is creating murals, rather than focusing on creating images of people already elevated as social icons.
Chinese-born DALeast is another street artist to keep his real name hidden. He is under 30 years old and is shaking up the world of graphic art with his highly-detailed 3D images. DALeast’s images often incorporate natural elements, like human and animal bodies, that appear to be made of wire or twine twisted together. At the same time, the subjects appear to be exploding apart or shedding which gives his pieces a great deal of movement. The murals often feature big cats, whales, birds, deer, and other animals that symbolize movement, freedom, and human progress.
Parisian Christian Guemy has been one of the most influential and prolific street artists of the past 20 years. He chose the pseudonym “C215” after being imprisoned in a cell with that number. He stated that he liked the anonymity of it and the idea of a manufactured identity, like a person’s serial number. C215 is known for his large portraits of social outcasts such as the elderly, beggars, street children, and the homeless. He depicts these everyday people in an attempt to bring art and beauty into everyday life, and also to explore the expressions in the eyes of all types of people.
Spanish artist Oscar San Miguel Erice and is commonly known as the colorful street artist Okuda. He is influenced by Surrealism and pop art, which you can see in his combining geometry and organic forms with colorful patterns. Many of Okuda’s murals are large and incorporate both natural elements and inanimate objects. Several of his murals depict a person’s face separated into colorful geometric planes. This gives the appearance that the person is wearing a mask and hiding his real face, while also drawing attention to the natural beauty of the shapes and contours of the person’s face.
Twin brothers from Sao Paulo, Brazil, named Octavio and Gustavo Pandolfo, make up this street art team. “Os Gemeos” means “the twins” in Portuguese. Influenced by the folklore of Brazil, as well as hip-hop culture, Os Gemeos’ art is known around the world for its bright yellow figures, its socio-political statements, and its integration of surrealist and magical realist elements. They were commissioned by the Brazilian railway to legally paint subway and train cars, and they produced commissioned murals in New York City and Miami.
Belgian artist Roa keeps his identity hidden so that he can “keep his spirit free.” He is known worldwide for large black and white murals depicting animals. He is interested in exploring the relationship between animals and humans and how the circle of life and death can be both beautiful and horrific. Most of Roa’s artwork is created with spray paint or acrylic paint, and he is known for capturing immense details of movement and animal spirit using only black or grey paint.