Street art is any art developed in public spaces — that is, "in the streets" — though the term usually refers to unsanctioned art, as opposed to government sponsored initiatives. The term can include traditional graffiti artwork, stencil graffiti, sticker art, wheatpasting and street poster art, video projection, art intervention, guerrilla art, flash mobbing and street installations. Typically, the term street art or the more specific post-graffiti is used to distinguish contemporary public-space artwork from territorial graffiti, vandalism, and corporate art.
Artists have challenged art by situating it in non-art contexts. ‘Street’ artists do not aspire to change the definition of an artwork, but rather to question the existing environment with its own language. They attempt to have their work communicate with everyday people about socially relevant themes in ways that are informed by esthetic values without being imprisoned by them.
The motivations and objectives that drive street artists are as varied as the artists themselves. There is a strong current of activism and subversion in urban art. Street art can be a powerful platform for reaching the public, and frequent themes include adbusting, subvertising and other culture jamming, the abolishment of private property and reclaiming the streets. Other street artists simply see urban space as an untapped format for personal artwork, while others may appreciate the challenges and risks that are associated with installing illicit artwork in public places. However the universal theme in most, if not all street art, is that adapting visual artwork into a format which utilizes public space, allows artists who may otherwise feel disenfranchised, to reach a much broader audience than traditional artwork and galleries normally allow.
Like all hobbies, street art has its own language, some of which can be difficult to decipher. Listed below is a short sampling of commonly used street art words.
Bite - To steal another artist`s ideas or lettering schemes. Seasoned artists will often complain about toys that bite their work.
Legal- A graffiti piece or production that is made with permission.
King - The opposite of toys, kings or queens (feminine) are writers especially respected among other writers. This is sometimes separated into "inside" and "outside" kings. To be a king of the inside means you have most tags inside trains (to "own the inside"), and to "own the outside" means having most pieces on the train surface. One should note that there are kings of style among a variety of other categories and the term is regionally subjective. Self-declared kings will often incorporate crowns into their pieces; a commonly used element of style. However the people must be very self-confident when doing it, since other great writers tend to slash out self-proclaimed kings who have not gained that rank yet in their eyes. Typically a writer can only become a king if another king with that status already has expressed so
Knight - A respected graffiti writer whose skills are still progressing. They are not as good as a king, but are much better than a toy.
Landmark - When an individual "tags" on a certain location that becomes very difficult for removal. Can also be a location that will not get noticed too much, therefore it stays on longer.
Massacre - When municipal authorities take down or cover up an accumulation of tags and pieces, leaving a blank space.
Tag (Scribble) - A stylized signature, normally done in one color. The simplest and most prevalent type of graffiti, a tag is often done in a color that contrasts sharply with its background.
Toy - Used as an adjective to describe poor work, or as a noun meaning an inexperienced or unskilled writer. Graffiti writers usually use this as a derogatory term for new writers in the scene or writers that are old to the scene that still do not have any skill or reputation.
Up - Writers become up when their work becomes widespread and well-known.
A Little History, Please
The function, form and media of public art have increasingly broadened during the 20th and 21st centuries. Because street art is so often politically inspired, it was frequently used as propaganda. Quite possibly the most obvious example of this would be Joseph Stalin’s use of public art for his Socialist Realism art movement. He wished to boost the country’s drive for independence in the early part of the 20th century. They sought to glorify the Communist government through sculpture, paintings and posters featuring heroic poses.
Adolf Hitler also made use of public art when the Nazis held photographic exhibitions that were designed to demean and demonize the Jewish population.
In Mexico during the 1920s and 1930s, painters like Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco helped to create a Mexican Mural Renaissance, during which public buildings were decorated by large-scale fresco painting, typically with a nationalist political message.
Graffiti is derived from the Italian word `graffio` meaning, to scratch, and refers to illegal street art sprayed or painted on buildings, in public urban areas, by freelance street artists. One of the new contemporary art movements, it includes various types such as territorial graffiti, aggressive guerrilla art (now referred to as `post-graffiti art`), and stencil graffiti. By comparison, the term `street art` encompasses traditional graffiti imagery. Techniques
Whereas traditional graffiti artists have primarily used free-hand aerosol paints to produce their works, "street art" encompasses many other media and techniques, including: LED art, mosaic tiling, murals, stencil art, sticker art, street installations, and yarn bombing.
LED art- LED Art is form of light art constructed from light-emitting diodes. Many artists that use LEDs are guerilla artists, incorporating LEDs to produce temporary pieces in public places. LEDs are very inexpensive to purchase and have become a new way to make street art. LEDs are, among others, used in installation art, sculptural pieces and interactive artworks.
There was a famous incident in 2007 known as the 2007 Boston Bomb Scare that involved the use of LEDs caused by a guerilla marketing campaign. An advertising firm working for Turner Broadcasting System Inc. to promote Aqua Teen Hunger Force, one of the networks television shows, hired two artists to produce art for the ad campaign. The artists used a character from the television show (a cartoon) referred to as a Mooninite as their imagery. The Mooninite was turned into an LED sign and was stuck to many locations in 10 cities. However, Boston was the only city that reacted by shutting down bridges and bringing in bomb squads to remove the LEDs. The majority of the light boards were removed and the artists were arrested. The artists were not charged.
Mosaic tiling- Mosaic is an art form which uses small pieces of materials placed together to create a unified whole. The materials commonly used are marble or other stone, glass, pottery, mirror or foil-backed glass, or shells.
The term for each piece of material is Tessera. The term for the spaces in between where the grout goes is the interstices. Andamento is the word used to describe the movement and flow of Tesserae. The `opus`, the Latin for ‘work’, is the way in which the pieces are cut and placed varies and is known.
A mural is any piece of artwork painted directly on a wall, ceiling or other large permanent surface. Murals typically depict scenery, groupings of people or animals, or cityscapes.
Stencil Art makes use of a paper, cardboard, or other media to create an image or text that is easily reproducible. The desired design is cut out of the selected medium and then the image is transferred to a surface through the use of spray paint or roll-on paint.
The process of stenciling involves applying paint across a stencil to form an image on a surface below. Sometimes multiple layers of stencils are used on the same image to add colors or create the illusion of depth.
Stencil graffiti is probably one of the fastest growing forms of street art worldwide because of its versatility. It can be a simple thought or picture or a large scale piece. It is cheap to create and quick and easy to put up. Sometimes, they are the political or social opinions of the artist, often showing images of favorite singers, or something like a political figure they dislike, with horns growing out of their head. You can go down any metropolitan street and find many examples of stencil street art- it has truly become a part of living in an urban area.
Street artists can use this medium to create detailed pieces because they are made ahead of time. Once the artist arrives at the area they want to decorate, it is just a matter or spraying or rolling over the stencil. With the advent of computers and printers, a street artist can create their masterpiece very easily, often using familiar faces or symbols, such as the peace sign.
Political issues of the specific time and region are often the subjects of stenciled street art...a bit like political cartoons. The now-famous red and blue “HOPE” poster of Barack Obama’s face was created by a street artist. Sticker Art- (also known as sticker bombing, slap tagging, and sticker tagging) is a form of street art in which an image or message is publicly displayed using stickers. These stickers may promote a political agenda, comment on a policy or issue, or comprise an avant garde art campaign. This form of street art allows graffiti tags to instantly be placed anywhere accessible, with a much lower risk of apprehension and less damage to the target surface than is possible with other types of street art, such as wheat-pasting posters or spray paint.
Many different types of stickers are used to create sticker art. Inexpensively-purchased and free stickers such as "hello my name is" name tags or USPS mailing labels are often used with hand-drawn art. Sticker artists can also easily design and print thousands of stickers at low cost using a commercial printing service or at home with a computer printer and self-adhesive labels. Most well known artists print their designs onto adhesive vinyl. Most adhesive vinyl has an aggressive permanent adhesive but all are waterproof and fade resistant. A handful of these artists raise the bar by printing their designs on destructible adhesive vinyl. Destructible adhesive vinyl is near impossible to remove from the surface it is adhered to once applied. If destructible adhesive vinyl is tampered with harshly it simply cracks and chips away in tiny increments making it extremely tedious to handle and remove.
Street Installations are a growing trend within the "street art" movement. Whereas conventional street art/graffiti is done on surfaces/walls "street installations" use 3-D objects/space to interfere with the urban environment. Like graffiti, it is non-permission based and once the object/sculpture is installed it is left there by the artist.
"Hitchhikers" are one popular form of street installation happening predominantly in NYC where paintings on wood are installed on to street signs using metal bolts. Other artists such as Leon Reid IV and Brad Downey use objects removed from the urban environment that are then sculpted through changing/reshaping and afterwards these sculptures are reinserted back into the city.
Since the late 1990s, the New York City-based art duo Skewville has produced their own brand of installation work, including wood sneakers tossed on lines, fake air-conditioning vents with words such as "FAKE" carved into them and other optical illusions that include the sculptural use of wood pallets and electrical piping.
Ghost bikes are memorial street installations for bicyclists killed by automobiles. The bicycles are painted white and locked to street signs.
A roundabout dog is a homemade street installation placed in roundabouts, a phenomenon that occurred all over Sweden in 2006.
Yarn bombing is a type of graffiti or street art that employs colorful displays of knitted or crocheted cloth rather than paint or chalk. While yarn installations – called yarn bombs or knit bombs – may last for years, they are considered non-permanent, and, unlike graffiti, can be easily removed if necessary. The practice is believed to have originated in the U.S. with Texas knitters trying to find a creative way to use their leftover and unfinished knitting projects, but it has since spread worldwide.
While other forms of graffiti may be expressive, decorative, territorial, socio-political commentary, advertising or vandalism, yarn bombing is almost exclusively about reclaiming and personalizing sterile or cold public places. Dave Cole is a contemporary sculpture artist who practiced knitting as graffiti for a large-scale public art installation in Melbourne Australia for the Big West Arts Festival in 2009. The work was vandalized the night of its completion. An anonymous knitter or group of knitters dubbed the "Midnight Knitter" has been decorating branches and poles under the cover of darkness in Cape May, New Jersey.
Tagging - it is generally done in one color and is sometimes used to mark a specific area. They are often done with either spray paint or a thick marker. Gangs frequently use tags to distinguish one territory from the other. To the street artist, a tag may be more complex, using background images and multiple colors, creating unique displays.
Traditional graffiti also has increasingly been adopted as a method for advertising; its trajectory has even in some cases led its artists to work on contract as graphic artists for corporations. Nevertheless, street art is a label often adopted by artists who wish to keep their work unaffiliated and strongly political. Street artists are those whose work is still largely done without official approval in public areas.
For these reasons street art is sometimes considered "post-graffiti" and sometimes even "neo-graffiti." Street art can be found around the world and street artists often travel to other countries foreign to them so they can spread their designs.
Notable Street Artists
Banksy is the pseudonym of a prolific British graffiti artist, political activist and painter, whose identity is unconfirmed. His satirical street art and subversive epigrams combine irreverent dark humour with graffiti done in a distinctive stencilling technique. Such artistic works of political and social commentary have been featured on streets, walls, and bridges of cites throughout the world.
Banksy`s work was born out of the Bristol underground scene which involved collaborations between artists and musicians. According to author and graphic designer Tristan Manco, Banksy "was born in 1974 and raised in Bristol, England. The son of a photocopier technician, he trained as a butcher but became involved in graffiti during the great Bristol aerosol boom of the late 1980s." Observers have noted that his style is similar to Blek le Rat, who began to work with stencils in 1981 in Paris and members of the anarcho-punk band Crass who maintained a graffiti stencil campaign on the London Tube System in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Banksy does not sell photos of street graffiti directly himself, however art auctioneers have been known to attempt to sell his street art on location and leave the problem of its removal in the hands of the winning bidder. Banksy`s first film, Exit Through the Gift Shop, billed as "the world`s first street art disaster movie", made its debut at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.
Blek Le Rat
Blek le Rat was born Xavier Prou in Boulogne-Billancourt, Paris in 1952. He is considered the godfather of stencil graffiti art. He studied painting and architecture. He began his artwork in Paris in 1981. Since then he has had a great influence on today`s graffiti and "guerilla art" movements, his main motivation being social consciousness and the desire to bring art to the people. British graffiti artist Banksy has acknowledged Blek`s influence saying "every time I think I`ve painted something slightly original, I find out that Blek Le Rat has done it as well, only twenty years earlier."
In October 2006, Blek le Rat had his first solo U.K. exhibition in London at the Leonard Street Gallery. Blek also had an exhibition in December 2009 at the Metro Gallery in Melbourne, a centre of street art in Australia. The exhibition entitled; "Le Ciel Est Bleu, La Vie Est Belle" (The sky is blue, life is beautiful), features wooden panels, canvas, screen-print and photographs. It traces the artist`s oeuvre from the early 1980s to the present.
Donald J. White (nicknamed Dondi by his mother) was born in New York on April 7, 1961. He is one of five sons born to African American and Italian parents. He was raised in Brooklyn, in the East New York section. As a young child, Dondi had pet pigeons that he flew, and participated in normal city boy activities, like playing stickball, riding go-carts and playing ball with his brothers.
Dondi’s family was a very strong moral and ethical Catholic family, and they tried to pass these values on to their sons. Such things as cursing, talking back or disrespecting their elders were not tolerated in the White household. They were encouraged to say their prayers, go to Mass, and live a good life. Some of this wholesome upbringing is reflected in Dondi’s work. Such things as his childhood tricycle along with religious iconography and terms are prevalent in his work.
Dondi White was a very methodical artist. He planned every part of any artwork before beginning it. He kept sketchbooks full of details and outlines of his work. He would only begin a piece of street art when he was certain that all aspects of it would turn out perfectly.
Part of Dondi White’s success is due in part to his friendship with a photographer named Martha Cooper. Before they met, Ms. Cooper had taken a picture of a piece of White’s work that eventually appeared in the background of a New York Post cover. Cooper had taken a picture of Dondi`s "Children of the Grave" trains, which "are considered among the most famous and iconic ever painted by any writer" in New York, according to Style Master General. Her photos of his work appear in a book titled Subway Art.
Man One is the founder of a street art gallery named Crewest Gallery in the downtown Gallery Row area of Los Angeles. He began his street art career on the streets of Los Angeles California. Man One boasts a B.A. in Fine Arts from Loyola University where he found a new way to change the world through street art.
His artwork has been displayed in several exhibitions both in the United States and other countries, including five one man shows and his artwork can be seen in several galleries, including Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, California and Parco Museum in Tokyo, Japan.
Man One has worked commercially, designing murals and creating concepts for MTV, Adidas, ESPN, Coca-Cola and the Metro Transit Authority. His artwork has also appeared in several magazines such as New York Magazine and Airbrush Action, and has been highlighted in the Washington Post.
Keith Haring graduated from Kutztown Area Senior High School in 1976 and in 1978 he moved to New York to attend the School of Visual Arts. There, he expanded his artistic vision and began to create graffiti-inspired large designs.
In the late 70s, he was an active member of the New York club scene, collaborating with street artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, better known as “Samo”. By 1980 Keith had taken up drawing and eventually invented a new mural style involving cartoon looking figures who seemed to be engaged in ultra physical activity.
Keith was a rock star among artists during the 80s, working and showing his work all across the United States, Asia and many parts of Europe. During this time, his art reflected iconography of Islam and Japanese art.
Much to the chagrin of his fellows, Keith opened a store in 1986 called The Pop Shop, in the Soho district of New York making his art available on buttons, posters and the like. While he received much criticism for this move, one of his mentors, Andy Warhol, approved of the venture. During this time, he also created fabulous murals on the Berlin Wall, painted on diverse locations such as cars and hot air balloons.
Tragically, during the height of his popularity, Keith contracted the AIDS virus and died from complications in 1988 at the age of 31.
The Obama “Hope” Poster
This particular piece of art bears its own section because it was created by a street artist, Shepard Fairey. He made his posters to support Barack Obama’s candidacy for President. The New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl called the poster "the most efficacious American political illustration since `Uncle Sam Wants You`".
However, the Obama campaign would not claim any direct affiliation with the artwork because it had been "perpetuated illegally" and independently by the street artist. Although the campaign officially disavowed any involvement in the creation or popularization of the poster, Fairey has commented in interviews that he was in communication with campaign officials during the period immediately following the poster`s release. Fairey has stated that the original version featured the word "PROGRESS" instead of the word "HOPE," and that within weeks of its release, the campaign requested that he issue a new version, keeping the powerful image of Obama`s face but captioning it with the word "HOPE". The campaign openly embraced the revised poster along with two additional Fairey posters that featured the words "CHANGE" and "VOTE".
In February 2008, Fairey received a letter of thanks from Barack Obama for his contribution to the campaign. The letter stated:
“I would like to thank you for using your talent in support of my campaign. The political messages involved in your work have encouraged Americans to believe they can change the status-quo. Your images have a profound effect on people, whether seen in a gallery or on a stop sign. I am privileged to be a part of your artwork and proud to have your support.” -- Barack Obama, February 22, 2008
The original mixed media artwork is in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery.
Tips And Tricks
- Plan out what it is you want to create. Draw it in a sketchpad, or, if you are re-creating something already existing, take a good snapshot of it.
- Make several copies of your sketches or photograph. This is particularly important if there is going to be more than one person working on your piece of artwork.
- Use a grid to plot out your painting. A popular technique is to use large graphing paper, but you can grid it any way you like.
- Label your grids, letters on one side, numbers on the other, so that a particular square can be referred to as “B-9” or what have you.
- Glue your photocopies to a piece of cardboard or other stiff paper, so they will be easy to use.
- Make sure your work area is free of debris like dirt, leaves, trash, etc.
- Start at the top of the work area and work your way down.
- Always sign your work.
These next few tips are from Banksy in regard to creating street art which is not legal.
- A standard can of paint will produce 50 or so medium sized stencils. This means you can become very famous in a small town for not a lot of money.
- Spray the stencils from a distance of about 8 inches.
- The best way to become what he calls “invisible” is to wear an orange vest like construction workers wear and an IPod. That way when the authorities come to check out the legitimacy of your work, all you have to do is complain about the hourly wage.
- When explaining yourself to the police, be as reasonable as possible.
Street art, depending on who you speak to, is considered either vandalism or personal expression. It can be used to make a political statement, or just for the beautification of the area. Beginning is not that difficult, all you really need is a can of spray paint or some stencils and an open area in which to paint. Many street artists have progressed to creating legal street art, such as Dondi White, and ManOne has even opened a gallery in tribute to the art form.