Street art paintings bring the exuberant style and ethos of urban/graffiti art to any space. Born from the so-called 1970s “graffiti boom” in New York City, street art went from being primarily spray-painted, stylized text to more image-focused murals often brimming with subtext of a socio-political stripe. Although many street art artists still carry on the controversial tradition of creating guerilla art outside the law, a growing number of artists are commissioned by property owners and various organizations to create street-style art in both exterior and interior spaces. Once a fringe and underappreciated art form, today, paintings inspired by urban art and/or created by street artists are exhibited in prestigious museums and galleries, and are sought after by serious art collectors. If you’re an admirer of the genre, we invite you to explore Saatchi Art’s fantastic selection of urban art paintings for sale by some of the most talented emerging artists from around the globe.
Present-day street art paintings stem from a history of revolutionary politics and the rise of different subcultures. The graffiti boom concentrated in New York City in the late 1970s and 1980s coincided with the emergence of subversive scenes, including punk, rap, and new wave, that aimed to bypass commercialism and mainstream media. Graffiti served as a symbolic activity for those situated on the outside of mainstream culture, be it for issues of class, gender, sex, race, ethnicity, etc. These artists took the city as their canvas, tagging subway cars and walls. While these early graffiti movements were more concerned with communicating with a private group, street art sought to interact with a wider, more public audience. Many street art artists emphasize visual elements over written text and present their views on current social and political issues in their works. Current street art techniques such as stencilling and pasting a slew of identical posters next to each other are drawn from rebellious revolutionary practices in which protest slogans and commentary aimed to reach out to the community. Though there is still some debate as to whether street art and graffiti is art or vandalism, many artists aim to make the urban environment more aesthetically pleasing.
While graffiti usually required the use of spray paint, street art artists have expanded upon this medium to focus on visual elements rather than textual ones. Street art painters still incorporate graffiti elements and mediums but do so to create stencil-based art and murals. Aerosol spray paint is usually used to create graffiti or paint large surfaces, while airbrushes add smaller details to a work. These paints are often used to create large bubble-lettering known as throw-ups and are often paired with artists’ stencils to easily paint more detailed images onto a surface. Street artists may also paint large-scale murals on exterior and interior walls. These painted masterpieces often contain subject matter that is tied to political and social messages. The Mexican mural movement in the 1920s and 1930s, for example, showcased cultural and historical scenes meant to instill a stronger sense of nationalism in post-Revolution Mexico.
Early street art artists include Lee Quinones, famous for his “Stop the Bomb” subway car (1979), “wall-writer” Fred Brathwaite (also know as Fab 5 Freddy), and groups like New York street art guerrilla collective AVANT, who plastered acrylic paintings on walls, public transportation, and galleries in the early 1980s. Famous street art murals include René Moncada’s series of works reading “I AM THE BEST ARTIST René” and Keith Haring’s 1982 addition to the Houston Bowery wall in New York City. Haring, known for his vibrant, almost childlike aesthetic, first gained recognition for pasting his drawings in subway stations. Jean-Michel Basquiat started out scrawling graffiti tags under the pseudonym SAMO and later incorporated graffiti elements and techniques (like airbrushing) into his canvas street art paintings. Banksy also utilizes graffiti techniques in his satirical stencil paintings. Urban art paintings have increasingly gained attention from consumer culture and art galleries and institutions. For example, Shepard Fairey, the artist behind the Obey brand and the 2008 Obama “Hope” poster, has works on display in institutions including MoMA, LACMA, and the Smithsonian. In 2011, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles held “Art in the Streets,” the first major U.S. museum survey of graffiti and street art. Other famous street artists include Futura 2000, Gérard Zlotykamien, Posterboy, RETNA, TAKI 183, and John Fekner. Like Basquiat, painters Dan Dan Christensen and Jules Olitski are known for using airbrush techniques on canvas.