Art History  •  Movements and techniques

Street Art

Street art is visual art that is created in public locations, outside of traditional art venues. It is connected to graffiti art in that it is generally unsanctioned and in public spaces, but it includes a wide variety of media and is connected more closely to graphic design.

The key differences between graffiti and street art are partly historic. Graffiti includes tagging and is principally text-based, whereas modern street art is an extension of this and comes from the graffiti boom in New York City in the 1970s. The rise of graffiti in New York began in the 1960s, continued to grow in the 70s and peaked with the creation of subway train murals in the 80s. Street art shifted from the graffiti concept that focused on text and moved towards conceptual visual art. Famous examples of street artists from this time include Hambleton, who created shadow figures on the streets, and Keith Haring changed and subverted adverts on the subway. Jean-Michel Basquiat is one of the most celebrated pioneers of street art with his primitivist style, and began as part of SAMO, a graffiti duo who tagged their name all across Manhattan.

Stranded, MALIK, 2016, Graffiti on Canvas, 100 x 100 cm

Fly-posting, a technique of pasting papers to walls, was initially used to promote bands and concerts, but street artists seized this technique to share their own artworks across the city, and this type of street art was common in cities worldwide by the 1980s. The rise of punk and its subversive ideology also influenced street art’s evolution, with an anti-establishment mentality that was reflected by the anti-museum attitude of many early street artists.

DJANGO, Virginia Valère, 2016, Acrylic, Pencil, Oil pastel, Spray paint on Canvas, 183 x 152 cm

Early graffiti was more closely associated with vandalism, and was seen a crude marking of territory, especially in the case of tagging. However, with time, this view has evolved and street art has been increasingly accepted by the art world and street artists often transition into the mainstream, exhibiting in museums and galleries. In fact, several well-known, established artists made their name as street artists before making this transition, including Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger. Street art is also more popular with the general public; its artistic recognition and the high profile status of Banksy and other street artists has solidified its international reputation. In fact, street art is now a popular tourist attraction in key cultural hubs such Berlin, London and Paris, and worldwide.

Nevertheless, street art remains a movement that is committed to rebellion and social engagement. Street art’s defining feature is that it is created in a public area without or against the permission of the owner, which makes it a deliberate and intentional rebellion that challenges its local environment, and the rules that govern public spaces. As a result of this, connections are drawn betweens street art and guerrilla art due to its political commitment and anti-establishment message. Street art has shed its reputation as simply being vandalism, and instead has become a way for artists to bring beauty to a community, or to communicate a deeper meaning. Both guerrilla and street art are a means to share an important message about societal and political issues.

Raices, Armin NASCA, 2018, 120 x 100 cm

Street artists are also interested in the untapped potential of an urban space, and all the possibilities for creativity. Street art is fundamentally a form without rules, and not only is creating illicit artwork a challenge, the techniques that can be used are limitless. They vary from graffiti and spray paint to fly-posting, stencilling, stickers and freehand drawing. There are also increased possibilities in the digital age that allow street artists to project artworks onto buildings, or incorporate LED lights into their work. One key motif that can be found in street art is repetition, especially with artists like Shepard Fairey and Space Invader. The repetitive nature of tagging has evolved into creating seemingly identical art in different spaces and cities, allowing street art to leave a cultural mark.

Dreamer, Super Pop Boy, 2012, Oil on Canvas, 150 x 260 cm

Street art offers complete creative freedom, but it can also offer freedom from institutions. Disenfranchised artists can reach a wider audience than galleries by utilising public spaces, and are free to create whatever they want without the restrictions of commercial or cultural spaces. However, street art is not an anti-art movement; street artists often have studios and work with galleries, and street art is central to contemporary art today. While street artists continue to work in urban, public spaces, there is a gradual transition from urban to cultural spaces and you can find street art in renowned museums and galleries.

Singulart works with emerging and established street artists across the world who continue to work on the street, while collaborating with galleries worldwide. Celebrated artists such as Virginia Valère exhibit at Art Basel Miami, and Nasca and Super Pop Boy both live and work in the cultural hub of Berlin. Shev Lunatic creates vibrant and bold street art and Malik is recognised for his unique use of space, even working inside a prison. Discover the best of contemporary street art on Singulart.

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