For a genre of art that emerged from early 1980s New York subcultures, street art continues to play an extremely prominent role in today’s visual culture. A YouGov poll suggests that Banksy is the third most popular artist in the United Kingdom, topped only by Leonardo Da Vinci and Vincent Van Gogh. The poll thereby deems Banksy’s graffiti as better recognised by the general public than the drawings of Michelangelo or even the paintings of Picasso.
Whilst many of the public may have only experienced street art through the stencilled graffiti of Banksy, the forefathers of the street art scene were making waves in the art world long before Robin Banx’s public displays. Banksy’s popularity has also aided street art’s ever-increasing value and with limited Banksy’s available, recognising alternative key players of the genre is more important than ever.
To truly understand the evolution and impact of street art on the wider industry, we look at eight artists that both influenced the genre and are defining its future.
Known as the ‘godfather of street art’, Richard Hambleton rose to fame in the early 1980s in New York. It was only a few years prior that Hambleton began tagging gloomy alleyways and dim-lit streets with his iconic Shadowmen, creating dark figures that startled unassuming viewers on their daily commutes. These unsettling figures became a staple of New York life and garnered Hambleton international attention. His work’s free-flowing and painterly form made him a pivotal intermediary between the Abstract Expressionism and contemporary art movements of the 1980s, with his success paving the way for his street art contemporaries.
Keith Haring’s success grew out of the fertile New York street culture Hambleton had helped to cultivate. Taking inspiration from pop art, as well as graffiti, Haring’s distinct style and colourful palette transformed the possibilities of the genre. He was renowned for his use of bold lines and bright colours and with a greater focus on accessibility and so-called ‘art for the masses’, Haring’s work became a favourite with both fans and critics. Later in his career, Haring devoted his art to raising awareness for AIDS, which signalled the beginning of street art’s long and prosperous relationship with spreading wider public awareness for social issues as well as supporting charitable endeavours.
A contemporary to both Haring and Hambleton, Basquiat created impactful and emotive art defined by bold brushstrokes and dynamic compositions. Despite sadly passing at the untimely age of 27, Basquiat had a profound effect on the history of street art and enjoyed an incredibly prosperous career. Throughout his lifetime, Basquiat raised the profile of street art amongst serious art collectors and critics. He achieved this not only through his immediate rise to fame and continuing success but also by his successful collaborations with other prominent artists of the time such as Andy Warhol. Basquiat’s popularity has only continued to increase since his death and in May 2017, the artist broke the record for the most expensive American artwork ever to be sold at auction, undoubtedly signalling true acceptance of the genre of street art.
Anonymous graffiti artist STIK emerged in the early 2000s, alongside the likes of Banksy, and supported in placing British street art on the map. The London-based artist STIK is recognised for his iconic stick figures, rendered in a simple monochrome palette. His minimal but bold designs are impactful and emotive, with love and community being at the core of all his artwork. Following in the footsteps of Haring, STIK uses his artwork to spread awareness of certain issues, working with the likes of Amnesty International, numerous homelessness organisations and several other charities to try to improve the world through street art.
Launching his career in 2010, with Banksy’s award-winning documentary Exit Through The Gift Shop, Mr. Brainwash, otherwise known as Thierry Guetta, is a contemporary street artist that is heavily influenced by both Banksy and wider graffiti culture. Reinterpreting recognisable street art motifs, Mr. Brainwash’s art is an homage to the history of urban art featuring images from the works of Banksy and Basquiat alike. Benefiting in the wake of the Banksy Effect, Mr. Brainwash’s artwork is collected globally by critics and celebrity collectors.
Both cousin and contemporary to Mr. Brainwash, Invader’s approach to street art is noticeably different than his fellow street artists. Putting down the spray paint in favour of mosaics, Invader is internationally recognised for his Space Invader-inspired alien murals that have infiltrated cities around the globe. Invader’s unique approach to street art proves that the genre can effectively translate across mediums, demonstrating that a mosaic mural is just as captivating as a spray-painted street.
Famed for his partnerships with iconic brands such as Dior and Nike, KAWS is the king of collaboration. Having been compared by some to Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat early in his career, the artist launched onto the street art scene with his graffiti, often found at local bus stops and on subway adverts. The artist later ventured into more commercial art creating his Companion figure toys and establishing partnerships with luxury brands. KAWS’ collaborations with high-end designers enticed a new audience to the street art scene, which has not only transformed the genre, but also widened its global reach.
Still early in his career, Lefty is a graffiti artist whose distinctive mark-making squiggles have covered walls across the United States, Europe and beyond. Born in Chicago, this emerging graffitist is part of the new generation of street artists. With a rich history of urban art behind him and the art world at his feet, Lefty Out There promises very exciting things for the future of street art.