Introduction to Wall Art
Wall artists, or muralists as they are sometimes known, produce designs and paintings on walls, plaster, different types of tiles, and other surfaces as part of their work. There is a wealth of variety when it comes to art on walls, also including metal wall art. Wall art has been around for thousands of years, with one of the earliest examples being cave painting, but this article focuses on wall art from the 1950s onwards, with a bias towards western art.
Graffiti artists remain the most famous wall artists, but a huge variety of techniques has emerged in recent years. They have joined a number of other contemporary, modern artists from the US, UK, Germany and France to form a key part of the 20th century era. This article examines all of the different types of wall art currently in existence, the famous names who have contributed them to the art industry, and also some historical context around these movements.
List of Famous Wall Artists
Here we examine some of the finest wall artists, covering a variety of mediums and techniques, giving short summaries of their careers and also discussing where they fit into the overall evolution of wall art, from the 1950s up to the present day. There is a bias towards US-based artists because of the significance of American art within modern art, though many of these ideas would quickly spread abroad to Europe, Asia and Latin America.
Street artists have gone from fringe counter-culture figures to stars of formal galleries over the course of the past few decades, and many of those listed below would initially have been completely unknown when first starting off, slowing building a reputation on the streets. Over time this would cross over into the mainstream, encouraging others as to the possibilities available to street artists.
Banksy has been delivering his thought-provoking designs onto the walls of buildings for many decades, and has risen to become the most famous British wall artist, and globally renowned. He will often poke fun at authority with cleverly crafted imagery, normally produced in an impactful manner. Despite seeking anonymity, Banksy enjoys considerable success and continues to speak out for marginalised communities, as well as taking on those wielding power in sub-optimal ways.
A number of his art on wall stencil designs have become instantly recognisable as his own, and a large number of followers have since attempted to achieve the same success with a similar approach, with mixed results. He is seen as someone with great integrity, who the public support and appreciate his efforts, and today his work has spread abroad, partly due to the rise in social media and other technologies which have helped artists to spread their work into new territories relatively easily.
Jean-Michel Basquiat is the most famous American Graffiti artist to date, and combined different cultural elements to create impactful, unique art which retains a huge popularity today. He was inspired by Italian Renaissance artists such as Titian, but also in his Haiti background. He discussed issues related to ethnic minorities within the US, and was a powerful voice for those who felt a connection to his words. Basquiat rose to fame relatively quickly, and used his platform to continue to push for social change.
Basquiat opened the door for other wall artists to enter the mainstream art scene, and to give them the confidence to achieve. He realised the potential of many who were not following the formal artistic routes, and his incredible talent convinced many of the need to help others to maximise their potential. He remains a highly regarded and much loved American artist.
Shepard Fairey (Obey)
Shepard Fairey came from the skateboard scene to establish himself as a major figure in contemporary art. He produced art on walls around the US, but is best known by many for his depiction of President Obama, during an election campaign. He has now been featured in most American contemporary art galleries, and can be considered one of the most famous current wall artists, though his oeuvre is varied, going into a number of different techniques and mediums. He has also taken on logo design for some major commissions and continue to offer versatility within the art industry.
OSGEMEOS, or Os Gemeos, is the title of brothers Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo who work collaboratively as artists. They are Brazilian and produce figurative murals on the sides of buildings. Their success has allowed them to work in galleries today, and they have achieved considerable success in the US and Europe, as well as their native Latin America. They were inspired by elements of American graffiti art and hip hop culture but have since evolved into a unique approach which has brought them a large following, both online and within the art industry.
Their inclusion here is important for indicating the spread of wall art outside of the western world, and also in highlighting the impact of American art in the second half of the 20th century, with Modern art including a number of Abstract Expressionists, as well as the graffiti and street artists featured here.
Invader is an anonymous French artist whose work is inspired by the classic video game, Space Invaders. He typically works on walls, and has added work across Europe. His success has led, inevitably, to a number of others attempting to mimic his approach, but he continues to work effectively in regions such as New York, London and Hong Kong, typically favoring large metropolis, just as with most street artists. In recent years his work has achieved huge sums at auction, and interest in his work continues to grow annually.
His inspiration from video games marks him out from most other wall artists, as well as how he does not become involved in social activism, prefering instead just to campaign for art to be freely available to the masses. He helps encourage this by "invading" regions, leaving large amounts of new work on walls, before moving on to the next destination. Paris is the most decorated region for his work.
The Evolution of Street Art: From Graffiti to Public Art
The perception around Street Art and Wall Art has changed considerably in recent years, evolving from illegal applications of paint in run-down parts of large US cities, to being presented in formal contemporary art galleries. The roots of wall art remain key, however, as the ideas behind this type of art was all about the common man, speaking up for people who were being forgotten by society. It is important that the original themes are not lost as wall art achieves this mainstream status.
There was a snobbish originally towards wall art, with some merely seeing vandalism. Over time, though, some of the famous artists listed here would start to achieve recognition for their work and build celebrity statuses which brought a greater integrity and respect to the movement. Critics would also start to understand the themes better, and slowly accept some of its best examples into their museums and galleries. Its longevity has also proven many wrong, and it shows no sign of going away any time soon.
The Impact of Wall Art on Urban Environments
Wall art has helped to regenerate forgotten areas of cities, bringing fun and color to run-down streets or developments. They have also helped to bring communities together, by provoking discussion. Additionally, wall art has helped to promote and spread social messages, potentially drawing support for certain causes which might benefit others within each community. The artworks can also reflect, even celebrate, the culture of a particular community, making visitors aware of the backgrounds behind each part of the city.
The success of wall artists has persuaded many of the qualities and strengths present in some of these communities, and encouraged more investment in order to unearth more of the talent that clearly exists here. Successful artists will also return to their roots, and invest some of their own capital into promoting and improving the areas in which they emerged, sometimes partnering with corporate companies in order to deliver a more significant impact.
Prominent Wall Artists and Their Signature Styles
There is a wealth of styles when it comes to the various artists featured in this article. Some have produced tags, which are street art signatures and immediately identify the artist. Others have a more subtle manner of identification, through consistent palettes of color and ways in which they communicate their messages. Most would use alternative names, partly because of the need for anonymity when decorating private property, but also these alternatives names were more fun and fashionable, appealing to younger audiences.
Some will forget that artists have been altering their names for many centuries, with Hokusai and a number of other Japanese artists being amongst the best examples of that. Some wall artists have even kept this secrecy going, even after achieving commercial fame. This has even added to their allure, and increased the valuations of their work, though that is unlikely to have been the reason for their decision to remain unkown.
Techniques and Tools Used by Wall Artists
Many different techniques have emerged within wall art over the past few decades. Originally, wall paintings would be produced using plant and animal resources, but today there is a wealth of alternatives. Most will think of graffiti art, using spray paint and stencils, but the list below details other options that muralists might consider. Digital art is currently on the ascent, and may bring further options in future years, including in how wall art is promoted and shared across the world.
- Mural Painting
- Sticker Art
- 3D Street Art
- Tape Art
- Reverse Graffiti
- Mural Mosaic
- UV/Blacklight Art
- Brush and Roller Techniques
Wall Art as a Means of Public Engagement and Participation
Wall art is often produced collaboratively, such as through school projects, or artists coming together. This can help to bring communities together, whilst also building a collective pride within this area. People are more likely to protect and celebrate their environment when they have helped to create it, and developments in this atmosphere can spread to other areas, such as growing food in communal areas, running local festivals and much more.
Another benefit to collaborative work is in how it can be used to develop skills. Masters of the Renaissance would work alongside their assistants in order to help evolve the technical talents of their studios, and something similar can apply to wall art in the 20th century. Mentors could come in and design the overall look, before encouraging less experienced artists to become involved, filling in the less significant parts of the work, which can be considerable in a large mural.
Preservation and Conservation of Wall Art
The preservation of wall art has been a long running issue, which will never have a single, simple solution. Major artworks have been removed from buildings in complex operations in order to avoid vandalism or theft, and is particularly necessary when dealing with high value artworks which attract greater attention. Unlike sculptures or paintings which can be moved around with ease, when artworks are applied to trains, sides of buildings or similar, they were not intended to be moved and so the process is much harder.
In most cases, expensive artworks will be moved elsewhere to purpose-built locations, with existing security and temperature-controlled environments. Whilst this enables more people to appreciate the work, is does also physically remove it from the community in which it was originally intended, which sometimes might reduce its impact and legacy. Most lesser known works will inevitably fall into disrepair, or even be painted over by the next generation of artists, giving an organic environment to these urban concerete locations.
The Globalization of Street Art: International Perspectives
Street art has helped cultural ideas to spread globally, with artists travelling into new regions in order to learn from what other artists are doing. Multi-cultural cities bring many of these ideas together and exchange them between different communities, before eventually these expressive themes can spread national boundaries too. One example of this impact might be in promoting certain causes in new regions of the world, such as women's rights. Artists have also shared creativity for centuries, with Japanese artists famously influencing the Impressionists, and Cubism artists taking influence from African art, for example, and so this is not a new development.
Street art can often relate to cultural roots, and may help people to quickly understand elements of a culture, at least from a simple level. Famous people, types of music and dance, as well as color palettes can all be delivered within a single work, with larger murals boasting a huge area in which to add all manner of different details about a particular culture.
The Commercialization of Wall Art: Balancing Creativity and Commerce
Artists have had to strike a balance within wall art between making profits from their work, whilst remaining loyal to the original purpose of their art. Fame has come to many wall artists, and with that it has been necessary to work alongside established galleries. This has led to some being disconnected with the original communities that inspired their work, and some have viewed this as impacted negatively the integrity of their work, particularly when it holds messages related to that community. In other cases, artists have used their fame and fortune to return to their roots and invest in the same areas, helping others to follow in their footsteps.
It must also be said, that some artists have rejected profit in favor of other benefits from their work, and have actually been entirely disinterested in earning large amounts of money from their work. In most cases, though, artists see the potential that could be achieved by using some of this money in a sensible, long term way. As street art continues to grow in popularity, so institutions are starting to enter some of these deprived areas and see what can be done within these communities which they are starting to better understand.
Street Art Festivals and Events: Celebrating Creative Expression
Street art festivals continue to be organised in major cities as a means to showing off the qualities and strengths of different communities, and also to bring different groups together. In order to make the festivals as attractive as possible, there will be a variety of activities and events held, normally focusing on all of dance, music, art and literature, as well as providing interest for young people. Some of these events can help to bring mentors together with talented artists, or to give people the opportunity to try new things out for the first time.
In some cases, it might be organised for different visitors to continue collaboratively to wall art, and further activities may be organised off of this initial meetup. Festivals such as this can be an excellent way for institutions to connect with young people, rather than more formal settings such as education, and so partnerships between artists and local bodies are common.
Exploring the Cultural and Historical Contexts of Wall Art
Wall art has been an excellent visual survey of nations and cultures, and is particularly helpful in today's multi-cultural urban environment. One can immediately understand the social and political issues within a city based on the messaging found within recent wall art, as well as comparing different cities, and different parts of the same city in order to view variations in daily life. Local politics will often mirror national themes, and so one can often predict later developments by examining problems in their rawest forms.
Art will often be used as a means to display existing problems and feelings, allowing us to tap into the minds of local people, some of whom might otherwise have gone unheard. By sharing different opinions, artists may find it easier to form bonds with other like-minded individuals which can make it then easier to push for change.
The Psychological and Emotional Impact of Street Art on Viewers
Art on walls can deliver great emotional impacts on people, as they travel through the streets of their local communities. Vibrant colors can excite, whilst messages can make one ponder, possibly even change our minds on a particular topic. One can even be transported into a different world, just for a moment, just as we might when watching a film or reading a book. Escapism is an important option in today's society, and with many elements of our streets becoming mundane and uniform today, art can help to shake things up a little.
The Future of Wall Art
There are many future considerations that will likely impact the direction of wall art over the next few decades. Firstly, technological changes have made it much easier for wall art to be shared and promoted online, giving more opportunities to artists living outside of the traditional geographic locations for such work. Artists across the globe can now spread ideas, meaning that new artists will come to our attention, and that existing artists will be able to reach more people with their consciously-minded campaigns. This also brings the opportunity to collaborate across borders too.
Many artists will now consider the environmental impact of their work, and consequently, materials may change in the future. Some sprays, for example, may disappear and replaced with temporary applications of paint which will naturally fade away to leave no footprint long term. Some of the messages in these works may also bring attention to environmental topics, with human rights and equality also being prominent in the minds of many young artists today.