Street art, also known as urban art, has undergone a remarkable evolution in recent decades, transforming from an act of vandalism into a legitimate and respected form of artistic expression. In cities such as New York, London, São Paulo, and Berlin, street art has become an integral part of urban culture, drawing visitors from all over the world to admire its works.
New York City, United States
New York City is widely regarded as the birthplace of street art, with young artists in the Bronx beginning to paint graffiti on walls and train cars in the late 1960s, drawing inspiration from hip-hop culture.
Initially viewed as a subversive form of political protest, street art in New York City gradually gained recognition outside the city, with artists like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat becoming important figures in the global art scene.
Today, New York City has established legal spaces for street art, which has helped foster creativity and innovation in New York’s street art scene. Some of the most iconic street art locations in the city include the Graffiti Hall of Fame wall in Harlem, and the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, where an annual block party attracts artists from around the world.
In London, street art began to emerge in the 1980s when artists were inspired by the New York movement. Artists like Banksy, Stinkfish, and Phlegm gained fame for their original and provocative works, which often contained political, social, or humorous messages. Some of their works have become icons of the city and have been protected or auctioned as valuable pieces of art.
Street art can be found on almost every corner of the city, with some of the best places to enjoy it being Shoreditch, Brick Lane, Brixton, Camden, and Southbank. In these areas, one can find high-quality and varied works, ranging from realistic portraits to fantastic creatures, homages to famous personalities, or references to the popular culture. These areas are full of murals and graffiti by some of the most influential artists in the urban art scene, such as Banksy, Ben Eine, Stik, ROA, Invader, and D*Face.
Berlin has a long and rich history of street art that reflects the social and political changes in the city. The most famous example of street art in Berlin is the East Side Gallery, a 1.3 km section of the Berlin Wall that was painted by 118 artists from 21 countries after its fall in 1989. The murals express themes of freedom, peace, and hope for a united Germany and a better world.
Some of the iconic works include “The Fraternal Kiss” by Dmitri Vrubel, depicting a socialist embrace between Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker, and “Test the Best” by Birgit Kinder, showing a Trabant car breaking through the wall.
Street art in Berlin also developed in other areas, such as the RAW Compound, a former train repair depot that hosts various cultural and nightlife venues, as well as graffiti and stencils by local and international artists.
São Paulo, Brazil
In São Paulo, street art began as a form of protest and social denunciation, reflecting the violence, poverty, and inequality that many young people on the outskirts of the metropolis experienced. Over the years, street art in São Paulo has gained national and international recognition, supported by public and private projects.
Starting in 2006, street art in São Paulo began to gain legitimacy and institutional support, enabling some artists to receive permits and funding to paint murals in public places. Festivals, exhibitions, and social projects have also played a significant role in spreading the artists’ work and bringing it closer to the community. Artists such as Eduardo Kobra, Os Gêmeos, Speto, and Cranio have achieved international fame and covered the walls of other cities in the world with their works. Their murals reflect the diversity, history, problems, and dreams of the people of São Paulo, turning the city into an open-air museum.
The neighborhoods of Vila Madalena and Cambuci are particularly famous for their street art and graffiti, where many streets and walls are covered with murals and graffiti by local and international artists.
In summary, street art has undergone a significant transformation, from the early graffiti on train cars to works of art exhibited in galleries and museums, as well as on important facades of the city. Although it is ephemeral and constantly changing, this gives it a unique and surprising character, allowing for the discovery of new pieces and artists on every visit to the city. Ultimately, street art is a showcase of the creativity and diversity that characterizes these metropolises.