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The artist known as Banksy became famous for making street paintings. (Matt Keeble / Alamy, Art by Banksy)

Graffiti to Galleries

For today’s artists, the street can be a launching pad to the art world

Banksy has made work to hang in the museums during the guerrilla art shows he puts on. (Banksy, <i>Soldier with Spray Can</i> (altered work), installed on March 13, 2005. Dimensions 2 ft. x 1½ ft.)
Banksy has made work to hang in the museums during the guerrilla art shows he puts on. (Banksy, Soldier with Spray Can (altered work), installed on March 13, 2005. Dimensions 2 ft. x 1½ ft.)

A concrete wall is a blank canvas to some of today’s top artists. Graffiti and street art have long been thought of as vandalism, but these artists are seeking to change that view with work that combines technical skill and fresh, innovative ideas. The art world has taken notice.

Anonymous Artist

One of the best-known urban artists goes by the name Banksy. Not much is known about him because he keeps his identity a secret. Banksy’s street paintings, like the seated painter, often feature a distinctive style, created using stencils. Stenciling speeds up painting time and helps the artist create hard edges, which can be difficult to do with freehand spray-painting.

In addition to stenciling, Banksy often appropriates images from pop culture or other artists. In the case of Soldier With Spray Can, Banksy altered an existing oil painting. Can you see what he changed? As a prank, the artist put on a disguise and hung the painting in the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. It hung in the museum for four hours.

Bringing the Streets Indoors

Instead of bringing people to the streets to see his art, Barry McGee re-creates the chaos of the street indoors in installations. The centerpiece of One More Thing is a 30-foot-tall pile of graffiti-covered vans, trucks, and cars. Dozens of televisions playing videos are stacked inside the cars. The walls surrounding the pile-up are covered with bright geometric patterns. All of these elements vie for the viewer’s attention in the same way that the neon lights, signs, and traffic of busy city streets do.

Bridging East and West

Gajin Fujita grew up in a mostly Hispanic neighborhood of Los Angeles. His parents are Japanese. Fujita’s art combines the street sensibility of the barrio with traditional Japanese imagery.

In L.A. L.A. Land Fujita depicts the traditional bird and flowers behind the urban stylized lettering often seen in street graffiti. The layering of images also reminds viewers that street art is not permanent. Urban artists often paint over one another’s work.


This article originally appeared in the April/May 2011 edition of Art magazine. For more from Art, click here.

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