Ways to support us
About The Art Story a 501(c)3 Non-Profit Org
Street and Graffiti Art Collage

Street and Graffiti Art

Started: 1967
Street and Graffiti Art Timeline
"I've always wanted to make work that communicates to the masses, not the minority."
1 of 13
D*FACE
"Some people might say it's all a big waste of time, no one cares about their opinion if their name isn't written in huge letters on the bridge in town."
2 of 13
Banksy Signature
"Graffiti is a sporadic, illegal, mostly anonymous and fleeting form of intervention in the dominant culture. When read parallel to political events and, in this case, read in light of 'official' women's and lesbian feminist herstory, it becomes the most accessible medium of resistance, remarkably resistant to institutionalization and instrumentalization"
3 of 13
Tea Hvala
"I am saddened by the way graffiti is used as a way into the youth market ... Graffiti is an important tool for building a person's self-confidence ... Promoting bad products using graffiti writers - I hope we catch those writers, put them in the stocks and throw wet sponges at them. Shame on them"
4 of 13
Solo-1
"Because street art is universal in its reach, it should be viewed as a mass communication medium in a general sense. Yet despite its prevalence and importance, street art is often ignored and seldom researched as a mass communication. As one of numerous information sources, it should be viewed as one dimension of a multimedia, multiformat communication system. It gives expression to groups that otherwise could not comment upon or support current or perceived social problems. In the process it provides a popular record"
5 of 13
Lyman Chaffee
"Graffiti provide a means of expression, a means to be heard immediately, without authorization, without the need for clear definition or a pre-formed consensus"
6 of 13
Joseph Stahl
"The name is the faith of graffiti"
7 of 13
CAY 161
"I was 16 years old when I first trespassed onto some railway tracks and wrote the initials of the graffiti crew (of which I was the only member) on a wall. Afterwards the most incredible thing happened - absolutely nothing. No dogs chased me, no thunderbolt from God shot down to punish me, and my mum didn't even notice I'd been gone. That was the night I realized you could get away with it. That was also the night I discovered that beyond the "No Entry" sign everything happens in higher definition. Adrenaline sharpens your eyesight, each little sound becomes significant, your sense of smell seems more acute, and tramps shit everywhere."
8 of 13
Banksy Signature
"Many people are too quick to view street art through the lens of vandalism. They mistakenly believe that the artists are taking beautiful buildings and defacing them. And yet, most street artists work in neglected neighborhoods and place their work on 'forgotten' buildings. They look for the rundown building with paint chipped off, with weeds growing out of the sidewalk. Their motivation is to beautify these buildings an create something truly special. They believe that the art adds something to the city, creating an energy that enhances eroding buildings."
9 of 13
Marc and Sara Schiller
"At its most apolitical, work done without permission in places that makes others bear witness to the affront still embodies an intuitive rebellion against the assumption that the rule of property take precedence over the inherent right of free use and self-expression."
10 of 13
Carlo McCormick
"What the decision of an artist to abandon the sanctified safe space of the art world for the open arena of the social polyglot has in common with the obstructions of activism, vandalism of graffiti, or visual play of contemporary street art is an inherent scrutiny, if not rejection, of the ways in which everything from ideas and feelings to property, space, and material objects are bought, sold, and controlled."
11 of 13
Carlo McCormick
"Graffiti as a mode of aesthetic intervention is not a style; it is an act."
12 of 13
Carlo McCormick
"Painting on walls was a way to show that I was boycotting the conventional art world; at the beginning, I thought like a rebel. I also find it exciting to paint in the street because it is forbidden. Painting on walls allows me to keep my freedom; as it is illegal, there is no censorship. it is also a challenge, since each time I paint on a wall there is the risk of seeing my work erased."
13 of 13
Miss Van

Summary of Street and Graffiti Art

The common idiom "to take to the streets" has been used for years to reflect a diplomatic arena for people to protest, riot, or rebel. Early graffiti writers of the 1960s and 70s co-opted this philosophy as they began to tag their names across the urban landscapes of New York City, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. As graffiti bloomed outward across the U.S., Street Art evolved to encompass any visual art created in public locations, specifically unsanctioned artwork.

The underlying impetus behind Street Art grew out of the belief that art should function in opposition to, and sometimes even outside of, the hegemonic system of laws, property, and ownership; be accessible, rather than hidden away inside galleries, museums, and private collections; and be democratic and empowering, in that all people (regardless of race, age, gender, economic status, etc.) should be able to create art and have it be seen by others. Although some street artists do create installations or sculpture, they are more widely known for the use of unconventional art mediums such as spray paint, stencils, wheat paste posters, and stickers. Street Art has also been called independent public art, post-graffiti, and guerilla art.

Key Ideas & Accomplishments

  • A central aspect of Street Art is its ephemerality. Any unsanctioned public work runs the risk of being removed or painted over by authorities or by other artists. No one can own it or buy it. Viewers are seeing a one-of-a-kind work that is likely not to last. This temporariness creates an immediacy and electricity around the work.
  • Street Art can often be viewed as a tool for promoting an artist's personal agenda surrounding contemporary social concerns, with city facades acting in the same role as the old fashioned soapbox; a place to extol the artist's opinion on a myriad issues ranging from politics and environmentalism to consumerism and consumption.
  • Many street artists use the public canvas of buildings, bridges, lampposts, underpasses, ditches, sidewalks, walls, and benches to assure their individual messages are seen by a wide swath of the population, unfiltered by target demographics or being accessible only to art world denizens.
  • As advertising infiltrates, the communal consciousness on a constant daily basis, Street Art has oftentimes been coined a counter attack. Popular street artist Banksy has said, "To some people breaking into property and painting it might seem a little inconsiderate, but in reality the 30 square centimeters of your brain are trespassed upon every day by teams of marketing experts. Graffiti is a perfectly proportionate response to being sold unattainable goals by a society obsessed with status and infamy. Graffiti is the sight of an unregulated free market getting the kind of art it deserves."

Overview of Street and Graffiti Art

Banksy's iconic image of girl and balloon in South Bank, London

Street Art is supposed to be the ultimate in democratized art; seen by everyone, owned by no-one. But this hasn't stopped a Banksy becoming the movement's ultimate collectible; with celebrities including Justin Bieber, Serena Williams and Angelina Jolie, having acquired the elusive artist’s work.

Key Artists

  • Banksy is a contemporary British Street/Graffiti artist who in recent years has received enormous attention for his politicized and guerilla-style wall murals and large installations. Banksy's style is characterized by its dark humor and an iconic stenciling technique.
  • Jean-Michel Basquiat was an American painter who rose to fame in the 1980s, and was the first African-American artist to gain international acclaim. His emotionally-charged paintings gave rise to graffiti art and the Neo-Expressionist movement, and are still considered among the most avant-garde artworks of the late twentieth century.
  • Keith Haring was a crucial part of the 1980s New York City art, performance and street scenes, creating graffiti-inspired works and drawings, often in public places such as the subway.
  • Daniel Buren is a French conceptual artist best known for his provocative public art pieces and use of contrasting, colored stripes.
  • Felix Gonzalez-Torres was an American, Cuban-born visual artist known for his minimal installations and sculptures. Using materials such as strings of lightbulbs, clocks, stacks of paper, or packaged hard candies, his work is sometimes considered a reflection of his experience with AIDS and living at the time of the outbreak of that disease.
View all

Do Not Miss

  • Institutional Critique is the practice of systematic inquiry into the workings of art institutions and their connections to the development of art. Institutional Critique focuses on the relationships between the viewer, language, process, the consumption of art.
  • Installation art is a genre of contemporary art-making in which two- and three-dimensional materials are used to transform a particular site into an immersive space for the visitor. Installations may include sculptural, found, sound-based, and performance elements, and can be permanent or ephemeral.
  • Street photography captures the moments of everyday life in public places. Photographers rely on framing and timing to immortalize a candid, sometimes called "decisive" moment. Alfred Stieglitz, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Helen Levitt, and Walker Evans were innovators of the movement.

Important Art and Artists of Street and Graffiti Art

Untitled (Tag on Pole) (1973)

Artist: TAKI 183

This work serves as an early example of tagging, the type of graffiti writing in which the writer scrawls his/her pseudonym (also known as their "tag") using spray paint or marker, as quickly as possible in as many locations as possible, with the goal of "getting up", or gaining credibility and fame for proliferating one's name around the city. An artist's tag is a pseudonym, which protects both the individual's identity and anonymity, while simultaneously providing the writer an opportunity to develop a new identity or persona (much like a digital avatar). In fact, TAKI 183 is often credited as being the first tagger (although some argue that CORNBREAD of Philadelphia was the first). As journalist Norman Mailer paraphrased the words of graffiti artist CAY 161, "the name is the faith of graffiti." More than anything else, graffiti writers convey their identity and their existence by painting their tag in public spaces. Although considered more as vandalism than art, tagging proliferated the idea that one could become known by demonstrating their presence in public spaces, thus providing the raw foundation for artists to evolve out from within.

Untitled (New York Subway Graffiti) (1982)

Artist: TRAP, DEZ and DAZE

The text in this "piece" (the common term for a work of graffiti art) reads "TRAP DEZ DAZE" (the tags/pseudonyms of the artists), although the style and placement of the letters may make it difficult to discern for viewers not familiar with this style of lettering. The text uses several bright colors, and employs outlining and shading to give the impression of three-dimensionality. This piece, like much New York graffiti of the 1980s, was completed on the side of a subway train. This choice of location would have garnered greater prestige for the artists, as writing on subway cars put them at very high risk of apprehension by the authorities, and thus considered more daring. Writing on subway cars was also a sure way to rapidly increase one's fame, as the artwork would then travel around the city's subway system, being seen by a far greater number of people than would a stationary piece on a wall.

This piece is a typical example of "wildstyle" graffiti, which includes complex, interlocking or overlapping letters, and sometimes cartoon-like characters and other images, all painted in bright colors. Photojournalist Martha Cooper noted in 1982 that "inaccessibility reinforces that sense of having a secret society inaccessible to outsiders [...] a writer will therefore often make a piece deliberately hard to read." As well, graffiti writers frequently attempt to create a sense of depth and three-dimensionality in wildstyle works. These types of pieces garner higher levels of respect for writers as opposed to "throwups" (simpler pieces using maximum two or three colors to create two-dimensional bubble text) or "tags", because wildstyle work involves more artistic prowess and takes longer to complete, thus putting the writer at a higher risk for run-ins with police.

Tango (1985)

Artist: Blek le Rat

This work, created by spray-painting onto a wall over a pre-cut stencil, depicts a couple in the midst of dancing. As we can see, the use of the stencil allowed the artist to create a striking, sharp image with clean, crisp lines, using only black spray paint over a white surface.

In 1971, Blek le Rat took a trip to the United States, where he was amazed by the graffiti he saw all over the city centers. When he returned to Paris, he began to try his own hand at this form of expression. Seeing Fascist stencils in Italy during his youth, as well as political paintings in French Algeria, left a lasting impression on him, and in 1981 he decided to start making his own stencil works around Paris, beginning with small rats. Like Bristol's Banksy, Blek le Rat sees the rat as an ideal symbol for the graffiti artist, as both operate under cover of darkness to evade capture and eradication. Blek le Rat explains, "I began to spray some small rats in the streets of Paris because rats are the only wild animals living in cities, and only rats will survive when the human race disappears and dies out." He then moved on to larger stencil projects, becoming the first known artist to work with stencils to create pictures rather than just text. He explains the benefits of working with stencils, saying, "There are no accidents with stencils. Images created this way are clean and beautiful. You prepare it in your studio and then you can reproduce it indefinitely. I'm not good enough to paint freehand. Stencil is a technique well suited to the streets because it's fast. You don't have to deal with the worry of the police catching you."

Useful Resources on Street and Graffiti Art

websites
articles
video clips
Share
Do more

Content compiled and written by Alexandra Duncan

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Kimberly Nichols

"Street and Graffiti Art Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Alexandra Duncan
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Kimberly Nichols
Available from:
First published on 17 Apr 2019. Updated and modified regularly
[Accessed ]