The best cities in the world for street art
What used to be a punishable act of illegal vandalism, ‘graffiti’ these days has become a bona fide statement of urban, artistic expression. From 10-storey facades to hazy, crumbling alleyways around the globe, street art is as unique as it is interpretative, whether its purpose is as a catalyst for political protest or a statement of cutting edge social commentary.
In essence, it stays true to its origins, is organic in its formation and ultimately, reflects the true soul of a city without saying a word. So wherever you are in the world, get amongst it!
What was once an underground scene in Paris has blossomed into an emphasis on street art’s history and a celebration of creative freedom. The city consistently hosts an array of artists from around the world, including Invader, Pejac and the ‘father of stencil graffiti’, Blek le Rat, many of whom have been launched onto the international stage.
Art hunters should head to Belleville and the thirteenth arrondissement for impressive murals, and Vitry-sur-Seine on Paris’s outskirts for a squiz at Christian Guemy’s beautifully stencilled portraits.
Around 450 kilometres southwest of Paris you’ll find Angoulême, home to the European School of Visual Arts, which offers qualifications in comic art and hosts an annual themed festival. Known as the Capital of the Comic Strip, you won’t need to travel far for views of local talent – many of the students produce their large scaled ‘assignments’ on local buildings.
The East Side Gallery in Berlin stands as an iconic memorial to the era of Communist Germany, with over 100 murals (including works by El Bocho) displayed for nearly two kilometres on the east side of the Berlin Wall.
Dotted throughout the city you’ll find artwork splashed across 4-storey-high buildings and the localities of Mitte and Kreuzberg are also sure-fire winners for soaking up some of Germany’s finest examples. The Schoneberg district’s Bülowstrasse also flaunts brilliance by Irish artist Fin DAC and eclectic characterisations by Brazilian twin brothers, Os Gêmeos.
Big names abound in the home of one of the biggest uncommissioned street art collections in the world, with Banksy as arguably the most notorious, although nobody really knows who ‘he’ is exactly. London’s Brick Lane is a must-see, where you’ll find sublime portraits by David Walker, abstract wet-night expressions by Dan Kitchener and the delightfully simple artwork of Stik.
Leake Street is renowned as one of the city’s prime sanctioned spaces since 2008, with up and comers flaunting their creative wares, as are the neighbourhoods of Shoreditch and Brixton.
Further out in Bristol’s Stokes Croft, you’ll find a motley collection of squatters, hipsters and bohemian artsy-types and amid the back alleys, artists like Phlegm who are simultaneously playful and striking.
And a trip to Ireland and in particular, Belfast, would not be complete without a traipsing of the 12-metre long Peace Wall, inspired by the country’s ‘troubles’ – a vibrant and brutally honest depiction of the politically significant moments in this country’s turbulent history.
The launch of Lisbon’s Crono Project in 2010 heralded worldwide attention and encouraged local artists to spruce up deteriorating facades with their visual delights. Inspiration has also come in the form of international types like Brazil’s Os Gemeos, who leave their sublime markings on the city in the dead of night.
In the Alcantara district, you’ll find a vast underground gallery where every conceivable spot is bursting with optical delights and in Alfama, artworks range from colourful tags to elaborate wall murals, many trumpeting the city’s Fado music roots.
One of Granada’s biggest collections of street art is to be found in the Realjo quarter, an old Jewish neighbourhood laden with narrow streets and pristinely whitewashed walls. El Niño de las Pinturas calls this space his visionary home, unleashing his watercolour-like manifestations (including his deep poetic references) across walls and shop front shutters. Explore the city after retail hours for the complete experience.
Hosting the first major US street art exhibition in 2011, LA has had a thriving scene for decades, with a who’s who of names animating the city including Retna, Shepard Fairey and Anthony Lister. Head to Melrose Avenue, Culver City and the Arts District for a gratifying taste.
The first tags on train cars were the catalyst in the 1960’s for the movement in New York, with Manhattan’s ‘Little Italy’, Brooklyn’s Bushwick and Hunts Point in the Bronx worth a look. Remarkably varied works here range from Dain’s paste-ups to Kobra’s iconic wall.
The City of Murals, Philadelphia, hosts the largest public arts program in the US and is blanketed with inspiring pieces including on Mural Mile, where you’ll find a series of 50 murals by ESPO that collectively express the emotions of a bunch of star crossed lovers.
And San Francisco’s Mission district eloquently introduces the plight of working class populations including German, Irish and Italian immigrants to the rest of the world, with its sentimental murals and edgy political statements.
Montreal’s annual Mural Festival is a by-product of the local arts community, where you’ll find feisty works focussing on current community issues and in Toronto, don’t miss Graffiti Alley, a kilometre-long expanse of blank canvas where dinosaurs and up-and-comers alike fill urban zones that “inspire neighbourhoods one wall at a time”.
AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND
Closer to home, Melbourne has been dubbed the Stencil Capital of the World after hosting the inaugural international stencil festival in 2004, however a range of forms are dotted throughout pokey back streets, including in Hosier Lane, Yarra Place and Union Lane off the CBD’s Bourke Street.
And across the Tasman, Christchurch is reinventing itself after the devastating 2011 earthquakes, with a riot of colour springing up on new structures from artists including Askew, Owen Dippie and bad ass BMD.
The lax street art legislation in Brazil’s Sao Paulo, means spots like Batman’s Alley are filled to the brim with a kaleidoscope of works and Valparaiso in Chile has a thriving art scene, with the local harbour wall featuring one of the city’s greatest by local artist, INTI.
Buenos Aires has murals on every barrios, underpass and garage door including those of Martin Ron, Łódź in Poland showcases edgy dynamic duos like Etam Cru and Prague’s Lennon Wall is a solid testament to the resilience of street art around the globe.
Paint on peeps!