Street art has been present in our society for decades and is viewed as one the most popular forms of art. Graffiti is also the most available form of visual arts in many cities. Colorful murals and tags have now become integral parts of urban landscapes. Some talented artists have found success in both street art and fine art, creating a large fan base and making a ton of money. In recent years street art has had more exposure and influence than ever before.
Although graffiti is a part of most major cities, some believe it to be treading a fine line between art and vandalism. The following is a list of the most influential and recognizable street artists from around the globe. The following artists have the ability to communicate their messages in the most uncongenial and gritty locations.
The following artists are each unique and have individually helped mold street art into what it is today. Street art includes graffiti, stencils, tile-mosaics and more, and the following artist comes from all different places attempting to impact the world through their art.
Stinkfish is an essential member of the Colombian street art scene. Born and raised in Bogota Colombia, Stinkfish is a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to street art – from rollers to stencils and wheat-pastes to stickers, he has done it all. His beautiful and colorful stencils influenced other street artists in the area. His work in a way brings the community together; using strangers as his inspiration and turning them into the subjects of his incredible murals. Throughout a big chunk of his art career he focused on putting his work around South America solely. However, in the last couple of years he has made his mark on the world, putting up pieces all around.
Gaia became a known name in the world of street art before he graduated high school. The New York native came onto the scene in 2007 and has been killing it ever since. By the time he graduated high school, he had started Open Walls Baltimore, which is Baltimore’s first street art festival for which he donated to the city over a dozen new murals created by a variety of known street artists from around the globe. Although he is young, Gaia’s style has influenced many artists in his field, particularly his recurrent use of hands as a focal point in his work. Gaia’s determination, talent and passion are channeled into his murals and has pushed other artists to learn more about where they paint.
Invader began to invade the world of street art in 1998 with his tile-mosaic pieces. The Parisian artist has had an influence on other artists in their placement of street art. Invader is known for finding unique and interesting places to install his work and many artists have learned that the placement of a piece can make it or break it. He either goes very high, so that his tiles are above all other works of street art or extremely low, to give an element of surprise. Invader also helped his cousin find success in the art world, Mr. Brainwash who is not as well received by the street art community but has still managed to find success.
8. Guerrilla Girls
The Guerrilla Girls have been pushing the boundaries and inspiring the art world since 1985. Guerrilla Girls point out the issue of sexism in the world through their pieces. In 1989, one of their posters asked the question “Do women have to be naked to get into the MET museum?” pointing out the disparity between the number of female artists featured in the museum compared to the number of naked women displayed in the works of art. Although Guerrilla Girls are not always associated with the street art movement, the talented collective from New York City has taken many of their messages to the streets, influencing not only other artists, but people in general.
7. Ron English
The Dallas native began to make his mark on the art world in the late 1970s and is considered a pioneer to the street art movement. He is also known for coining the term “POPaganda”. In the early 80s before terms like “street art” and “ad takeover” were accepted, English was illegally pasting his satiric works of art over billboards, targeting major companies like McDonald’s, Disney and Camel cigarettes to demonstrate the influence corporations have on our society. English has influenced street art through his demonstration of the liberation of public ad space. He also inspired a generational view when dealing with corporate figures and their influence in our everyday lives.
6. COST and REVS
COST and REVS are known as two of New York’s most creative graffiti writers of all time. Between 1993 and 1995, the duo was omnipresent around the Big Apple with rollers, murals, stickers and posters. COST and REVS took their work one step further than most graffiti artists at the time; they decided to engage with the public, doing so by providing a telephone number on their pieces of artwork. The phone number led to an answering machine where they would rant on the recording and people could leave a response. Although COST was arrested and his identity revealed, REVS has managed to stay anonymous. The two are considered landmarks in street art history for their visual domination of New York City which influenced countless artists.
5. Shepard Fairey
Shepard Fairey was born and raised is South Carolina and became active on the street art scene in 1989. Depending on who you speak with, he is either the greatest or the lamest street artist to ever life. Either way, he has been extremely influential. Countless artists have imitated his work and his pieces have been satirized to no end. His work is influential both aesthetically as well as conceptually and he has made a huge mark on the art world. Whether you OBEY the giant or you don’t, there is no way you can deny his influence.
4. Futura 2000
Futura 2000, who is known to his friends and family as Lenny McGurr, is by far one of the most recognizable street artists on the planet. McGurr is a Brooklyn boy who was always influenced by his surroundings. He began to dabble in artwork in the 1970s and by the time the 80s hit he was terrorizing the New York Subway systems, leaving beautiful and unique pieces of art behind. The band The Clash enlisted Futura into their performance roster for their “Combat Rock” tour in 1981. Futura painted the stages’ backdrops, as they played live in front of an intimidating amount of people. Futura 2000 is viewed as a living legend and now focuses his attention on being a gallery artist and graphic designer. Futura still finds himself being inspired by the streets of Brooklyn where he still resides.
Banksy came into the world of street art much later than many of the artists we have covered. However, he has had an undeniable influence on other artists and the genre of street art in general. Many street artists who have begun their careers in the past few years owe their success to Banksy. The street art community in general is in debt to Banksy solely for the awareness of this art he has brought to the masses. Banksy has the power of causing a social media frenzy and has even been nominated for an Oscar; no other street artist has had that power in a very long time. His popularity and influence is what has made Banksy into the artist he is today.
2. Keith Haring
Between the years of 1981 and 1990, Keith Haring was everywhere in the art world, and although he passed away at the young age of 31 of AIDS-related complications, his work influenced not only street art, but the world of art at large. Haring is known for his bold cartoon figures, which were a visual staple of the New York art scene in the 1980s. His success all began with him drawing on empty billboards in New York City subway stations. Haring’s Pop Shop was where he put his signature designs on anything he was able to mass produce, becoming a pioneer for brands like Shepard Fairey’s OBEY Giant. Since Haring’s passing, he has been the subject of many international exhibitions and his work can been seen in exhibitions and collections of museums around the world.
1. Jean-Michel Basquiat
Basquiat is number one on this list for a reason. Before he became a household name and hung out with artists like Warhol, Futura and Haring, Basquiat was a homeless runaway who would graffiti under the name “SAMO” around New York City. Between 1976 and 1988, Basquiat was more than active in the art world. Throughout his short life, Basquiat managed to work his way to the top of the ladder, landing himself in galleries and continuing to put work up on the street. His work aided in defining a new generation of artists. Artists often try to duplicate his work stylistically, however the power of his work is rarely matched. Basquiat who had begun acting paranoid and had been abusing heavy drugs was found dead at the age of 27 years old from a combination of heroine and cocaine, better known as “speedballing.” Basquiat’s influence on the world of street art is still very much alive and his style of work still motivates and inspires artists of today.
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