The ever-changing canvas of street art is making communication with the masses more interactive, thought-provoking and fun. It’s undoubtedly the most accessible art form because it tears down social barriers. Almost everyone has an opinion about it, but that’s okay because street art offers an opinion right back! These five cities have some of the best artistic streetscapes in the world.
5 of the Best Cities to See Street Art
Paris is a city of contradictions: traditional galleries like the Louvre exist alongside a thriving urban art scene. The city was at the forefront of street art when it first emerged as political activism in the 1960s. It has continued to attract big name artists ever since.
Le Mur (“The Wall”) is a one-time advertising billboard in the east of the city. It was hijacked in spring 2000 and is now an officially sanctioned exhibition space, regularly repainted by street artists. Members of the “wall of fame” include French pioneers Miss.Tic, Miss Van and Jef Aérosol, as well as visiting artists like Shepard Fairey.
Paris has been invaded by small pixelated mosaics of characters from the popular arcade game Space Invaders. Invader has planted these nostalgic alien art forms all over the city and it’s fun to spot them in the most unexpected places. Also, keep an eye out for the grinning face of M. Chat (Monsieur Chat) which lurks all over the city.
The hugely popular Parisian stencil artist C215 portrays the faces of those at the margins of society such as refugees, street kids, the elderly and homeless people. The most famous street art neighborhoods are Oberkampf, Belleville, Montmartre and Ménilmontant.
New York is a mecca for street artists, so good luck going there and not finding any! The city has a rich history of graffiti art and a raw edge that makes it irresistible to those who court controversy. Resident artists use all manner of media such as stickers, stencils, wheatpastes and LED displays.
Satirical master Hanksy uses Tom Hanks’ face in cheeky parodies of Banksy’s art. His Instagram-friendly combination of puns and visuals are perfect for social media and, unsurprisingly, that’s where many have ended up. His popular ‘Tronald Dump’ mural in Manhattan depicted the Republican presidential candidate as a cartoonish pile of feces.
Native New Yorker Gaia uses large-scale murals to connect with the community hosting them. He references gentrification, immigration, segregation, urban development and other issues affecting residents.
Catch a train to the industrial landscape of Bushwick in northern Brooklyn, which has become a playground for graffiti artists. The Bushwick Collective have created a vast and eclectic concrete canvas of work by Hellbent, Pixel Pancho, Cost and Alice Pasquini.
Despite what Dick Whittington may have hoped, the streets of London are paved with art, not gold. Head east to Shoreditch, Spitalfields and Brick Lane for the best of the street art scene. This area might have succumbed to gentrification but it hasn’t forgotten its gritty roots. The art here resembles the city itself: diverse, witty and subversive.
Ronzo’s ‘Crunchy’ sits high above Great Eastern Street biting down on a giant pound coin. The ‘Credit Crunch Monster’ became a mascot of the 2009 global recession. Nearby, a pink car enclosed in perspex signals you have stumbled upon a Banksy. The celebrated artist’s public installations are usually protected by plastic since his work is constantly at risk of being stolen.
Banksy’s prolific output is accompanied by other homegrown talent like Stik and D*Face. Not to mention the charmingly-named Phlegm, whose monochrome dream worlds delight and unsettle in equal measure. International artists Roa, Swoon and JR have also left their distinctive marks on London’s buildings. Australian artist Jimmy C’s mural of David Bowie in Brixton recently became a shrine after the singer’s death.
Hefty fines have not deterred Barcelona’s talented street artists and the city is an open-air urban gallery. This is demonstrated on walls, derelict buildings, metallic shop fronts and any available space. What can we say – Barcelona loves art!
Bordering La Rambla, El Raval is an especially vibrant neighborhood and its steady transition into a cultural hub makes it the perfect canvas for transitory graffiti art. However, art tends to disappear quickly in Barcelona, so make sure you capture it on camera.
Internationally-renowned street artist Blu got in on the action in 2009. He created an enormous ‘Money Shark’ mural in the working-class district of El Carmel. The shark is made of €100 bills and the conveys a pointed social and political message about the unscrupulous nature of politicians during Spain’s economic crisis.
Forget Michelangelo and Raphael, unless you’re talking about ninja turtles armed with spray cans and awesome tagging skills. The streets of Rome are covered in graffiti, but not all of it is bad. It takes a bit more effort to find quality street art compared to other European cities, but when you do you’ll discover a vibrant art scene that welcomes some famous (and anonymous) faces.
The historic southern neighborhood of Ostiense has heaps of art that was put up with the city’s permission. Check out work by Sten&Lex, ROA, Agostino Iacurci and Axel Void. JBRock’s “Wall of Fame” displays an urban red carpet of iconic figures such as Quentin Tarantino and Barack Obama. In the tourist epicentre of Rome, Spagna Metro Station is home to a number of murals including C215’s Pope giving a thumbs-up.
Clet Abraham mischievously modifies road signs with some cleverly placed stickers. He transforms a blue sign with an arrow into an angel with a halo, a dead end sign into a crucifixion cross and a no entry bar as a bird’s poop perch. The Florence-based artist has subverted signs all over Europe and New York, so you’re sure to find one somewhere!
For more city culture, read all about London’s Underground Secrets!