The Evolution of Street Art: From Graffiti to Fine Art

The Evolution of Street Art: From Graffiti to Fine Art

Street art is a form of artistic expression that has come a long way from its humble beginnings as graffiti on the walls of New York City in the late 70's and early 80s. Once regarded as vandalism, it has now become a celebrated and highly sought-after art form. Street art has evolved into a recognised and respected art form that can be found all around the world. In this article, we will explore the history and evolution of street art and its impact on contemporary art. 

The Birthplace of Modern Graffiti: New York City

New York City was the birthplace of modern graffiti, and it quickly became the epicenter of the street art world, with artists like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat creating groundbreaking works that challenged the art world's norms and highlighted social issues. However, they were not the only ones who emerged from underprivileged backgrounds to become famous street artists. The city’s subway system provided a perfect canvas for these new artists. Some of the most notable graffiti artists from this period include Taki 183, Dondi, and Futura 2000.

This growing subculture was closely tied to the culture of hip hop, which emerged from the South Bronx in the 1970s. This musical genre provided a voice for people from marginalised communities and gave them a platform to express their experiences. Artists like DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaata, Blondie, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, and Herbie Hancock immersed themselves to varying degrees in this subculture and helped to spread the movement.

New York City was also the birthplace of punk music, which emerged in the late 1970s. Punk music and street art had a symbiotic relationship, with artists like Basquiat and Haring designing album covers and posters for punk bands. The DIY ethos of punk music also influenced street art, with artists using whatever materials they could find to create their works.

The Influence of Street Art Spreads Across the Globe

As the street art movement gained popularity, its influence spread beyond New York City and across the globe. In London, artists like Banksy and Stik gained international recognition for their thought-provoking works. Banksy, in particular, gained worldwide fame for his politically charged works. His anonymity only added to the allure of his work, and his works have sold for millions at auctions.

In recent years, street art has even made its way into galleries and museums, blurring the lines between "high" and "low" art. In 2008, the Tate Modern in London held an exhibition of street art, further cementing its status as a legitimate art form.

The 2000s: Street Art Goes Mainstream

The turn of the millennium marked a turning point for street art. Artists like Shepard Fairey and Banksy gained widespread recognition and began to exhibit their works in galleries and museums. Street art began to shed its outsider status and was embraced by the mainstream art world.

Fine Art: Street Art’s Latest Evolution

Today, street art is no longer confined to the streets. Many street artists have transitioned into the world of fine art, creating works that are collected by art lovers and institutions around the world. Street art has become a legitimate art form, with its own unique style and aesthetic.

The process of creating street art has also evolved over the years. While traditional spray paint and stenciling techniques are still widely used, artists are now experimenting with new materials and technologies to create their works. Some artists are now using augmented reality, projection mapping, and even artificial intelligence to create their works.

Notable Artists and Moments

Shepard Fairey: An American street artist and graphic designer, known for his iconic "Hope" poster featuring Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign.

JR: A French street artist who creates large-scale photographic works that often highlight social and political issues.

Stik: A British street artist known for his simplistic yet emotive stick figures.

Os Gemeos: A Brazilian duo known for their colourful and imaginative murals.

Keith Haring: An iconic artist who emerged from New York's street art scene in the 1980s. His bold, colourful, and playful works often depicted social and political issues, including the AIDS epidemic and nuclear disarmament.

Haring began his artistic career by creating chalk drawings in the New York City subway stations. He quickly gained recognition for his distinctive style, which combined elements of pop art, graffiti, and street art.

Banksy's "Dismaland": In 2015, Banksy created a dystopian theme park called "Dismaland" that featured provocative and subversive works from various street artists.

Lady Pink: A graffiti artist who began tagging subway cars in the 1970s and went on to become one of the few female artists in the male-dominated graffiti scene.

Lee Quiñones: A Puerto Rican graffiti artist who was one of the first to use complex lettering styles and 3D effects in his work. His famous mural "The Lion's Den" was featured in the movie "Wild Style."

Fab 5 Freddy: A graffiti artist, filmmaker, and hip-hop pioneer who became known for his iconic subway graffiti tags and his role in promoting hip-hop culture in the early 1980s.

Blade: A graffiti artist who was one of the most prolific taggers of the 1970s and 1980s, and is credited with having painted more trains than any other graffiti artist in New York City.

Futura 2000: A graffiti artist who gained notoriety in the 1980s for his abstract, futuristic style, which combined elements of graffiti and fine art. He later went on to collaborate with major fashion brands like Nike and Comme des Garçons.

The Impact of Street Art

Street art has had a significant impact on the art world and on society as a whole. At its core, street art is a form of self-expression that allows artists to communicate their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs to a wide audience. Street art often challenges the status quo and highlights social and political issues that are often ignored by mainstream media.

In addition to its cultural and social impact, street art has also had a significant economic impact. Street art has become a lucrative industry, with many street artists transitioning into the world of fine art and selling their works for significant sums. Street art has also become a tourist attraction, with many cities around the world offering street art tours to visitors.

From its humble beginnings as a form of vandalism on the streets of New York City, street art has evolved into a respected art form that has captured the hearts and minds of people around the world. Street art has challenged conventions, pushed boundaries, and highlighted social and political issues. It has become a force to be reckoned with, with artists gaining widespread recognition and respect from the mainstream art world.

Despite its growing popularity, street art remains rooted in its origins as a form of self-expression and rebellion. It continues to be a voice for people from marginalised communities and a means of challenging the status quo. Street art's evolution from graffiti to fine art is a testament to its power to reflect the world we live in and to capture the essence of a culture.

Street art is not just about spray paint and stencils on walls - it is a movement that has the power to inspire, challenge, and provoke. It is a living, breathing art form that continues to evolve and capture the hearts and minds of people around the world.

Graffiti Girl

As a teenager, I found myself completely captivated by the world of graffiti and street art as it emerged out of New York. I also was as novel as this art form in the small suburban town I grew up in - I was a female ‘writer’ I had a street alias of ‘Rubie’ and a gold tag belt and some shell toes to go with it. I was part of a crew called The Style Masterz. I travelled to London on the weekends in search of phat marker pens and Krylon paint. It was an exciting time for me, though unfortunately, as a young female artist, I didn't receive the same level of recognition as my male counterparts, and I wasn't invited to the join the local crews that created pieces at night from trains and bridges to high-rise walls. Despite this the whole movement of graffiti and street art, along with the explosion of Hip Hop out of New York, never really left my blood.

Now, as an artist 35 years later, who has worked in the music and design industry I can still feel the energy of those early sensory overloads of painted carriages and subway tunnels and the electric energy of early rap, that inspired me all those years ago. I've incorporated an element of that energy throughout my work, from the bright and bold use of colours to the layered graphical elements that run through most of my pieces.

For me, graffiti and street art were my first love, and they remain a significant part of who I am as an artist. It's a movement that has come a long way since its humble beginnings, and I'm proud to have been a small part of it.

Graffiti in your home

The incorporation of street art and modern graffiti pieces into modern spaces can create an eclectic and sophisticated atmosphere, blending the old and the new, the traditional and the unconventional. These pieces bring a burst of colour, texture, and vibrancy to the space, imparting a sense of dynamism and energy that is sure to captivate the eye. The intricacy and detail of these works can create a sense of depth and complexity.  Whether you are looking to create an edgy and urban vibe or to infuse your space with a sense of creativity and originality, street art and modern graffiti pieces offer an exciting and versatile solution.


`'Rubie" : artist and founder of Wild Like Art 

Graffiti inspired artEchoes of the early art piecesOh Maisie a graffiti inspired art piece