Street Art is a growing form of expression here in the states. While there are many incredible street artists all around the world, below we take a look at five of the most influential. These artists have had tremendous impact on the street art scene and there work can be seen across the world.
Not just any artist, especially a street artist, can announce to the world that he’s vacationing from his home in the U.K. for a month to take over New York. But just last year, Banksy did just that, putting up new art almost every single day for 30 days in various areas around the city during his Better Out Than In campaign, all glowing with his snarky, streetwise stenciled style. He’s well known for confronting what he apparently sees as various societal ills, from an ATM machine with a mechanical arm grabbing a young girl, to an illusion of a Caribbean coastline painted on the wall of the West Bank, with two young boys beneath the wall’s “hole” clutching sand buckets and shovels. For a primer on just how snarky he can be, check out his first film, Exit Through the Gift Shop, and see if you can tell if it’s real or not.
Have you ever seen that ominous stencil art of Andre the Giant’s eyes above the word “OBEY,” in all-caps? No? OK, well, it’s out there. But you’ve surely seen the one that says “HOPE.” That’s because it features a red, white and blue drawing of then-Senator Barack Obama, and was the official campaign poster for his successful 2008 presidential campaign. Shepard Fairey created both of these and many other works of art. Controversially, he hasn’t exactly shied away from commercial projects (he’s helped Virgin Megastore and Boost Mobile as well), but he’s quick to point to his charitable contributions to Darfur and his work with revolutionary groups such as the Zapatista Army of National Liberation and rap pioneers Public Enemy to contrast any suggestion that he’s a sellout just because his art sells out.
Starting out as part of the New York graffiti collective SAMO in 1977, JMB rose to prominence with Primitivist and Neo-expressionist paintings, catching the attention of the buzzing street scene at a time when hip-hop and punk music were finding synergies in the shared realities of urban life. Confronting racism, classism, economic inequality and other social issues of his time and throughout history, he was fluent in English, French, Spanish (verbal and written), and became friends with such luminaries of his era as Andy Warhol, David Bowie and Debbie Harry of Blondie–even appearing as a DJ in the group’s “Rapture” video–before his addiction to heroin ultimately took his life. Today his paintings are top-shelf collectors’ items selling for eight figures; one called “Dustheads” sold in 2013 for a record-setting $48.8 million.
Quick quiz: who originally told the world, “Crack is wack?” If you said Whitney Houston, you’d be right, but you probably didn’t know that she wasn’t the first. Keith Haring was, in his famous mural on a playground wall in Harlem. Along with his signature “Radiant Baby” human figure designs, Haring’s art became the hottest thing in New York in the ‘80s, showing up on album covers for music by David Bowie and disco icon Sylvester, and receiving nods of appreciation on artwork accompanying music from timeless hip-hop acts like A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul.
Fans of Kendrick Lamar heard the voice of this groundbreaking graffiti artist (his tag, Sace IRAK can still be found around NYC), on the intro of Lamar’s Overly Dedicated mixtape, talking about his love of music. And although his death from a drug overdose took him away from his creativity too soon, Dash Snow left behind legions of fans. He made news later in his career creating photography installations with news clippings of police stories painted with, well, stuff that was not paint (Google it if you want to know). And though his art never betrayed his street-level approachability and disobedient mentality, he was the great-grandson of French aristocrats who owned the Menil Collection, a Houston-based museum that houses over 17,000 paintings, rare books and other works of art and literature.