Sam Francis

Untitled, 1984

106.7 X 73 inch

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Graffiti Time Lines on Urban Murals: Uncovering a Street Art Makeover

Graffiti Time Lines on Urban Murals: Uncovering a Street Art Makeover

By Andrew Bay, UK

In the ever-changing context of modern urban communication, graffiti art is still a key form of symbolic representation. However, it has mostly remained fixated on mundane textual content, dominated by an emphasis on simplistic territorial spray painting. Street art on the other hand, knows no bounds and often displays a more uninhibited, unbridled aesthetic. The manic streets, dynamic buildings and large concrete walls of a city, turn out to be the ultimate environment for the innovative representations of street art to be showcased.

The streets of a city are where the real action is: the art awakens, and assumes a vitality, and essence all of its own. This sentiment echoes the values expressed by artists like Banksy and Shepard Fairey, who have gained international recognition for their street art. They have risen to prominence and established themselves as some of the most influential artists of our time, by painting messages of love, dissent, and rebellion, visible to all, across the streets of the biggest cities in the world. The idea of restricting their art within the walls of a traditional gallery was simply unappealing to them. Rather, they were determined to have a genuine influence, create a tangible impact beyond those confines, by venturing outside, into the real world. The evolution of street art can be traced back to the 1970s and 80s, with the emergence of graffiti artists such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. They broke away from the boundaries of traditional galleries, defied the conventional art world, and expanded their work to the city’s landscapes. These artists brought the unrefined energy and authentic character of the streets into galleries and museums, thus challenging the idea that art should be an exclusive playground, reserved for the wealthy and powerful. They triumphantly proved that art need not be reserved only for the affluent elites, but could be universally influential.

This was the key breakthrough which the street art revolution brought about:  the transposition of artworks from the city walls, to the white cube of the museum; and the interplay between urban streets and prestigious galleries where art had previously been exclusively showcased. Street art was all about cheekily taking art out of the hands of the wealthy and the powerful, and giving it back to the people. This ethos would have a profound impact on future generations of street artists and deeply influence household names, such as Banksy and Fairey, who have, in a similar fashion to Haring and Basquiat, made a mark in both worlds, by successfully navigating this tense relationship between the art world and the urban ecosystems that surround it. 

Street art's penchant for political activism, and association with subversion, has often caused friction with the established art world. Street artists, countercultural and often socially charged, illicit activities have created a contentious relationship with mainstream culture and the media, further cementing their position as an edgy, rebellious movement. But these artists just wouldn’t have it any other way. By pushing boundaries and challenging the status quo, they will continue to ruffle some feathers. And that's what makes street art so crucially important. It's a beacon of hope, a voice for the voiceless, in a world which contradictions and paradoxes seem to know no bounds. So every time we stroll through the city streets, no matter how bleak they may appear to be sometimes, we should try to keep this in mind.  These city walls are not going anywhere. And if we're looking for the ultimate gallery experience, the city is where we’re most likely to find it. Street art’s daring visions have surpassed all expectations as to what an art space or installation could be. Now we know that there may not be a better gallery, than the city itself. 

 


 

 

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