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 with artists like Banksy and Invader dominating the contemporary art market. Often pairing striking designs with a socio-politically motivated message, we look at the evolution and impact of street art on the wider industry, outlining many of the key players on the scene.
Street art is firmly rooted in graffiti culture. Graffiti, derived from the Italian word ‘graffio’ meaning ‘to scratch’, describes the unauthorised marking of a public space often with words rather than images. Although the concept of graffiti stretches back to the beginning of civilisation - with the recovered sites of both Pompeii and Herculaneum showing an extensive range of examples - graffiti culture as we know it originated from the United States during the late 1960s. This was specifically prompted by the emergence of ‘tagging culture’, where an individual or group writes their name in a public space, often using spray paints.
From derelict buildings to train carriages, just fifteen years after the trend of tagging had begun, cities across America were plastered with graffiti, forcing authorities to crack down on this illegal pastime.
In the 1980s, New York had already become the global epicentre of graffiti, and as artists began refining their practice and inventing their own signature style, street art as a genre naturally emerged. The term ‘street art’ marks a shift in attitude more so than a shift in content. Like graffiti, street art is created in a public space and is often illegal. As a result, many street artists like Banksy, STIK and Invader have adopted pseudonyms to protect their identity.
Both Basquiat and Haring launched their careers through graffiti. Both artists were also further influenced by a plethora of other different expressive groups that were thriving in New York during that time. From hip hop to an increasingly prominent LGBTQ+ community, the freedom of expression that these groups encouraged, undoubtedly fuelled the creativity of the city as a whole. In turn, the intersection of these subgroups produced combinations of styles and genres that had never been seen before, propelling the success of street art as we know today. For this reason, artists like Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Richard Hambleton are acknowledged as integral to the launch of the street art movement.
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.
Over the past two decades, Banksy has experienced an unprecedented rise in popularity. His ubiquity and creativity have garnered him an international following from the general public as well as cultural and governmental institutions. His work has taken many forms and his fame, public validation and commercial success have helped pave the way for other street artists to emerge as key players in the global art market – an impact which has been coined the ‘Banksy effect’.
Thanks to the rise of Bristolian artist, Banksy, there has been an unparalleled interest in street art since the turn of the millennium, with appetite for the genre showing no sign of abating. This hunger for street art has forged a market for younger artists flirting with the movement, allowing them to experiment with boundless creativity.
Lefty Out There is a street artist whose distinctive mark-making has covered walls across the United States, Europe and beyond. Born in Chicago, this graffitist is part of the new generation of street artists who fuse technology with traditional techniques to create innovative designs. 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.