Murals, *Graffiti, Street Art…..
Call it what you will but there are some truly astounding works to behold all around the globe. Besides beautifying otherwise downtrodden neighbourhoods and offering innovative art to the public for free, the transient nature of street art is part of its appeal. It’s also a lot nicer than looking at a blank wall. Street art is an ephemeral thing. Here today, maybe gone tomorrow. Many a mural has been erased due to the whims of local governments and the impulses of other street artists. I was upset to notice that an intricately beautiful mural I’ve always admired on a gelato shop had been painted over.
So I thought it would be fun to post the TOP TEN BEST CITIES in the world to view streetside art.
Sao Paulo, Brazil
Like many other cities, Sao Paulo has had a turbulent relationship with local street artists. Originally, much of the prohibited public painting going up in the city was political and the government was opposed. But it has relaxed this stance in recent years, collaborating with street artists to produce colourful works on highways and housing developments. When you’re there, be sure to look down to find artist Tec’s fascinating road murals. If you can’t make it, you can find a virtual selection of Sao Paulo’s best works on the Google Art Project website.
London has incubated its fair share of street artists over the years. While many works have been removed and repainted, many pieces stand untouched throughout the city (including some elusive pieces by the famous Banksy). Though officially condemned, the popularity of street art in England’s capital has led the city government to commission various pieces, like the sometimes odd installations on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square.
New York is where it all started. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the first graffiti artists began tagging everything in sight. At that time, the driving force behind this nascent street art was ubiquity. The art form has evolved since then to encompass the elaborate murals and clever works that can be found around NYC today. Neighbourhoods like Chelsea, Bushwick and the Lower East Side are all meccas for street artists. At 106 and Park in Spanish Harlem, you can find the Graffiti Hall of Fame, a section of wall that has seen some of the best graffiti writers of all time scribble their stuff.
Berlin’s tumultuous history offers inspiration for street artists to produce some of their best work. Nowhere is this more apparent than the East Side Gallery, a section of the former Berlin Wall that has been turned into a 1.3-kilometre canvas. Here, you’ll find 105 murals that were painted on the east side of the wall in 1990, where graffiti had been banned during Soviet rule. Kreuzberg is another popular district for street art, and is home to the largest stencil in the world, the Kreuzberg Spaceman. But you don’t have to travel far from downtown Berlin for impressive creations: the central Mitte district is a creative enclave, home to Tacheles, a former department store covered in artists’ work.
One of the most popular tourist areas in Buenos Aires, Caminito, is a district that bills itself as the world’s first open-air pedestrian museum. Its colourful building facades are very photogenic, and a number of artists sell their wares in the neighbourhood. However, Buenos Aires is known worldwide for its support of street art. Barren walls city-wide are transformed into building-sized murals, which are not only tolerated by the city government, but oftentimes actively funded. Buenos Aires native Martin Ron’s famous 3D turtle is found here, in addition to a number of his other vibrant and breathtaking murals.
As a burgeoning artistic centre, Philadelphia boasts a creative spirit that’s easy to find on its “Mural Mile”. Surprisingly, Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program – the largest public art program in the United States – began as part of a government-funded anti-graffiti movement. Tired of the artless tags that plagued the city, Philadelphia officials approached graffiti artists and had them direct their considerable artistic talents into full size murals. Today, there are more than 3,600 of these impressive works dotting the city. In addition to these full-size pieces, a number of famous street artists have left their mark here.
Melbourne has become one of the world centres for street art, with dozens of acclaimed artists having left their mark on the city. Numerous alleyways in the Australian cultural capital are decorated with vibrant works. Hosier Lane and Caledonian Lane are iconic spots, and in 2010 the local council commissioned a number of artists to paint the walls of Union Lane. These alley artworks are now highlighted by local tourism agencies. Though the relationship between street artists and government has been strained at times (city workers accidentally demolished a Banksy piece), the government has largely supported its creative citizens and it shows in the variety of urban spaces where street art has popped up.
If there’s anywhere in the world where street art has jumped the gap between radical expression and commercial enterprise, it’s in LA. Here, you can find LAB ART, a 6,500 square-foot gallery of street art that’s not so much on the street anymore, but can be purchased instead. But that isn’t to say that the art form has been completely commercialized here. A number of iconic works can still be seen in the La Brea area and walls in Hollywood are regularly redone with fantastic images from local artists like Robbie Conal and Saber.
While some cities shirk the free public art its talented citizens spray on the walls, forward-thinking places like Tel Aviv embrace it wholeheartedly. The community centre on Rothschild Boulevard and the area around Jaffa Port are ever-changing exhibits of innovative paintings, wheat paste art and stenciling. You can find interesting works wherever you may go in the city, though, like elsewhere, the best works are often found in less developed neighbourhoods. In Tel Aviv this means heading toward the less hip areas of Florentin to see what inventive Israeli artists have to offer.
Walking around Paris, you’re likely to come across small tiled 8-bit figures a couple of stories above the street on building corners and monuments. These are works done by the artist Invader, who works across the world but hails from Paris. His colourful tiled mosaics of characters from the arcade game Space Invaders can be found throughout the city. Paris is also home to Blek le Rat, the father of stencil graffiti, who has been at work on Paris streets for over 30 years. You might have to pay to see the Mona Lisa, but some of the best art in the French capital is found streetside.
*Graffiti ranges from simple written words to elaborate wall paintings, and it has existed since ancient times, with examples dating back to Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, and the Roman Empire.