Graffiti, or street art, has always been about revolution and rebellion, a visual statement and paint-based commentary about the political, social and economic concerns of our time.
Councils have tried to ban it, some have painted over it (oh, if only they knew how big Banksy would become), supposed art critics have vilified it, and many have questioned whether it can truly been classed as art at all.
Image by: Heather Cowper
The fact remains, however, graffiti art has captured the attention and imagination of the public and perhaps a generation which wants more than the usual, prescribed - and therefore limiting conventions of stuffy art galleries and dusty museums.
(Ironically, and somewhat fantastically, Bansky’s exhibition at Bristol’s City Museum and Art Gallery in 2011 attracted more visitors – from all over the globe – than any other event in the museum’s entire history.)
But like a pack of paint-spraying pugilists, graffiti artists continue to fight the fight and make their unmistakable mark(s) on the world. Their artistic creations have revived life in run-down areas, provoked controversy and comment, and transformed many of the art form’s finest exponents into international superstars.
Graffiti art is truly a global phenomenon that’s showing no sign of abating. Here are ten of the world’s top cities for graffiti.
New York City
New York has produced an impressive coterie of graffiti artists, from Poster Boy to Basquiat. Long Island’s 5 Pointz area has over 200,000 square feet tagged by both local and international painters, whilst other locations of graffiti-led interest include the Bronx Wall of Fame on East 173rd St, Victor Goldfield’s Ol’ Dirty Bastard Memorial, and Manhattan’s Bowery Wall.
Buenos Aires has a much more open door policy when it comes to its tolerance of graffiti, as street artists are able to quite legally tag any building as long as the owner gives consent. As a result there’s a cornucopia of top-level graffiti art all across the city, including works by America’s Ron English, Spain’s Aryz, and France’s Jeff Aerosol.
And as you’d expect from such a diverse range of stencil-and-spray can impresarios, the themes encapsulated in their artwork is equally eclectic, from portraits of Argentine soccer triumphs by native Martin Ron, to political commentary by Italy’s Blu.
L.A. is a positive showcase for some for some of the most exhilarating graffiti in the world. Bristol’s very own Banksy has several pieces along the La Brea Blvd, and Shepard Fairey – creator of the iconic Obama ‘Hope’ poster for the 2008 election – has a virtuoso mural on Melrose Avenue. Other pieces by renowned graffiti artist Lister and JR have also been frequently popping up.
Down Under’s second city of Melbourne certainly isn’t backwards at coming forwards when it comes to embracing street art. The city has its own Graffiti Management Plan, a body established to monitor and review graffiti work, as well as commissioning new pieces by emerging and established talent, and hastily removing illegal installations. Notable native graffiti artists include Rone and Anthony Lister.
São Paulo, Brazil’s bustling and chaotic industrial centre has a fervent and thriving community of street artists which has also attracted the attention of many international artists, including Paris’ C215 and urbanhearts. Local urban art celebrities such as Vlok and Os Gemeos joined forces to create a graffiti corridor known as Batman Alley in the Vila Madelena neighbourhood, which consists of regularly rotating works
Cotemporary graffiti is represented on a grand and glorious scale in London, serving as a veritable who’s who of top talent with works and installation by internationally revered artists such as Grafter, Shepard Fairey and Banksy – all of whose unmistakable style span the Square Mile. Camden, Shoreditch and Brick Lane are districts with new and burgeoning urban art talent.
Barrio Bellavista is the best place to check out the up and coming talent of Chile’s capital. You’ll be dazzled by a colourful pictorial onslaught of variegated graphics, political cartoons and murals practically everywhere you look. And although graffiti is technically illegal in Chile, the government tends to turn a blind eye to graffiti as long as it’s confined to certain neighbourhoods.
Berlin is a tractor beam for top graffiti talent, being as it is a UNESCO-designated City of Design. Most of the best tagging and installations are done in eastern Kreuzberg, where controversial political murals by Italy’s Blu take centre stage, as well as a huge astronaut on Mariannenstrasse by Victor Ash. Spring 2013 saw Kreuzberg’s Gustav Meyer Allee clock tower receive the addition of a mural installation by France’s esteemed JR.
Whilst Colombia’s expansive vistas has miles and miles of murals, the historic quarter of La Candelaria – home to a coterie of university students and candlelit cafes – is regarded as the best. Everything from strong-worded comments against its former president to panoramas of a more psychedelic persuasion, the area’s cobblestoned plazas and sidewalks are decorated with invigorating graffiti art.
Local graffiti celebrity Faith7 has firmly put the graffiti credentials of Cape Town on the map, giving it a kudos and gravitas that elevated graffiti to a revered art form in the city. Public spaces and private homes in suburban Woodstock, for example, have seen specially-commissioned pieces adorn the buildings and walls, amongst them Cape Town’s native Freddy Sam and New York’s Cern. In fact, Cern was instrumental in organising a global graffiti exchange program called A World of Art.
Can you think of any other cities that should rank alongside these esteemed hubs of graffiti excellence? Share your comments below.