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The Evolution of Street Art

Street art has emerged as a dynamic and influential art form, transcending its origins within underground graffiti subcultures. From the rebellious acts of spray-painted tags to large-scale murals that adorn city walls, street art has transformed urban landscapes and captivated the world with its unique blend of creativity, social commentary, and visual impact.

In this article, we embark on a journey through the fascinating evolution of street art, exploring its origins, techniques, influential artists, and the profound impact it has had on both art and society.



The Evolution of Street Art: From Graffiti Subculture to Global Phenomenon


Origins and Roots of Street Art

Street art traces its roots to the subversive graffiti movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Born in the streets of cities like New York and Philadelphia, graffiti served as a voice for marginalized communities, enabling them to express their identities and challenges.

Pioneering graffiti artists like Cornbread, Taki 183, and Lady Pink set the stage for what would eventually evolve into street art, laying the foundation for the movement’s growth and transformation.


evolution of street art

Darryl McCray (born 1953), better known by his tagging name Cornbread, is an American graffiti writer from Philadelphia. – The Evolution of Street Art: From Graffiti Subculture to Global Phenomenon – An urban art movement.


Taki 183

Taki 183, a graffiti writer in New York City during the 1970s, gained notoriety for his prolific tags on subway trains. His tag, consisting of his nickname “Taki” followed by his street number “183,” became widely recognized and served as inspiration for many aspiring graffiti artists.


Graffiti writers around the world know the name that started it all: TAKI 183. A kid from 183rd Street in Washington Heights in northern Manhattan, TAKI’s simple signature captured the attention of a reporter and, in the summer of 1971, an article appeared in The New York Times. TAKI was the first New Yorker to become famous for writing graffiti.


Philadelphia Mural Arts Program (Mural Arts Philadelphia)

Philadelphia played a crucial role in the early development of street art through initiatives like the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.


Made in Philadelphia Under the Mural ArtsProgram – Street Art


Established in 1986, this program aimed to combat graffiti vandalism by offering legal walls and encouraging artists to create murals that beautified the city while providing a creative outlet. Founded in 1986 as Mural Arts Program, the organization was renamed in 2016.


Hip-hop Culture

Street art and graffiti became intertwined with the rise of hip-hop culture in the 1970s and 1980s.

Graffiti art was an integral part of the four main elements of hip-hop (graffiti, DJing, MCing, and breakdancing), with artists using graffiti to express their identity and represent their crews.


Graffiti and hip-hop culture – The Evolution of Street Art: From Graffiti Subculture to Global Phenomenon.


Subway Art and Spray Can Art

“Subway Art” is a renowned book by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant, first published in 1984. The book played a pivotal role in documenting and popularizing the graffiti movement, specifically focusing on the vibrant subway graffiti scene in New York City during the 1970s and early 1980s.

It features captivating photographs showcasing the colorful and intricate graffiti pieces that adorned subway trains, capturing the raw energy and creativity of the artists. “Subway Art” helped introduce the world to the previously underground world of graffiti and played a significant role in elevating its status as a legitimate art form.


The Evolution of Street Art

Subway Art and Spray Can Art -(Image: Subway Art by Martha Cooper, Henry Chalfant) – The Evolution of Street Art: From Graffiti Subculture to Global Phenomenon.


“Spray Can Art” is another influential book by Henry Chalfant and James Prigoff, published in 1987. This book further explores the graffiti movement, encompassing a broader perspective beyond the New York City subway scene.

It delves into the creative process, styles, and techniques used by graffiti artists, highlighting the use of spray paint as the primary medium for their artistic expression. “Spray Can Art” provides an in-depth look at the cultural impact of graffiti and showcases the diverse range of styles and approaches embraced by artists from around the world. The book emphasizes the power of the spray can as a tool of urban artistry and celebrates the artistic achievements within the graffiti movement.

Both “Subway Art” and “Spray Can Art” have become iconic resources for understanding and appreciating the origins and significance of graffiti and street art. These books played a crucial role in preserving the history and legacy of the early graffiti subculture while showcasing the talent and innovation of the artists involved. They remain essential references for anyone interested in exploring the roots and evolution of street art.


Street Gangs and Urban Identity

Street art also emerged as a means of territorial marking and identity within urban neighborhoods.


Street Gangs and Urban Identity – The Evolution of Street Art


Street gangs and crews used graffiti tags and murals to assert their presence and represent their affiliations, contributing to the proliferation of graffiti and the evolution of street art in various cities.

These examples highlight the diverse factors that influenced the emergence and growth of street art, reflecting the subversive nature, cultural movements, and artistic expressions that shaped its origins.


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Techniques and Styles in Street Art


Stencil Art

Stencil art involves creating intricate designs by cutting out specific shapes or patterns on a stencil and then applying spray paint or other mediums over the stencil onto a surface. Artists like Banksy and Blek le Rat are renowned for their exceptional stencil work, which allows for precise and detailed imagery in their street art.


Blek le Rat stencil in Rome. – What is stencil art? – The Evolution of Street Art


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Wheatpasting, also known as poster bombing, involves creating designs or images on paper or thin sheets and adhering them to surfaces using a wheat-based adhesive or glue.

This technique allows artists to quickly and effectively paste their artwork onto walls or other urban structures. Artists such as Shepard Fairey (known for his “Obey” series) have popularized wheat pasting as a medium for street art.


Artists such as Shepard Fairey (known for his “Obey” series) have popularized wheat pasting as a medium for street art.


Murals and Large-Scale Pieces

Murals and large-scale pieces involve creating expansive artworks that cover entire walls or buildings.


Murals and Large-Scale Pieces – The Evolution of Street Art


These pieces often showcase bold colors, intricate details, and captivating imagery. Artists like Os Gemeos, Roa, and Vhils are celebrated for their ability to transform urban spaces with their awe-inspiring murals and large-scale installations.


3D Installations

Some street artists push the boundaries of traditional two-dimensional art by creating three-dimensional installations. These works can range from sculptures protruding from walls to interactive pieces that invite viewer engagement.


The Evolution of Street Art

Eduardo Kobra standing in front of his mural of John T. Lewis and Mark Twain at 1188 Hertel Avenue. Photograph by Eric Jones.


Artists like INSA and Eduardo Kobra are known for their innovative use of three-dimensional elements in their street art.


Mosaic Art

Mosaic art involves using small, colored pieces of material (such as tiles, glass, or ceramics) to create intricate patterns, images, or designs.


Invader’s Pac-Man mosaics in Bilbao (BBO 24–27), near the Guggenheim Museum.


Street artists like Invader gained recognition for their mosaic works, often depicting pixelated characters or symbols, which they installed in various locations, adding a unique touch to the urban environment.



Calligraffiti combines elements of calligraphy and graffiti, merging intricate lettering styles with expressive and gestural brushwork.


EL Seed’s murals deliver messages of hope and inspiration in graphic, swirling Arabic script. The completed piece is in Shoreditch, London. Photo: Michael Brydon


Artists like eL Seed and Retna infuse their street art with elegant calligraphic forms, blending cultural and linguistic elements into visually captivating compositions.



Iconic Street Art Destinations

Certain cities and neighborhoods have become renowned for their vibrant street art scenes, acting as open-air galleries that showcase the diversity of artistic expression.

In New York City, the vibrant neighborhoods of Bushwick and Williamsburg have become hotspots for street art, featuring a kaleidoscope of styles and messages.

Berlin‘s artistic enclaves, such as the East Side Gallery and the neighborhood of Kreuzberg, serve as dynamic canvases for artists from around the world.

São Paulo‘s bustling streets are adorned with bold and colorful murals that reflect the city’s cultural vibrancy, while Melbourne‘s famous laneways, like Hosier Lane and AC/DC Lane, showcase an eclectic mix of street art and graffiti.


Bushwick, Brooklyn, New York City

Bushwick has emerged as a vibrant neighborhood known for its flourishing street art scene. The area is adorned with colorful murals, intricate stencils, and eye-catching wheat pastes.


Street Art in Bushwick, Brooklyn, New York City – The Evolution of Street Art


Artists from around the world have contributed to the ever-evolving outdoor gallery, making it a must-visit destination for street art enthusiasts.


The Evolution of Street Art

Street Art in Bushwick, Brooklyn, New York City – The Evolution of Street Art


-The main area is around the Bushwick Collective (especially along Starr Street, Troutman Street, and Jefferson Street between Irving Avenue and Cypress Avenue).
-You’ll find a cluster of street art around the block of Moore St., Siegel St., White St., and Bogart St.
-There are several murals and graffiti along Grattan Street and Thames Street, especially between Bogart St. and Knickerbocker Avenue.
-If you walk along Willson Avenue, have a look at most of the intersections between Knickerbocker Avenue and Flushing Avenue.


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Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York City

Williamsburg is another neighborhood in Brooklyn that boasts a thriving street art culture.


The ‘Mona Lisa of Williamsburg’ by Colossal Media & Steven Paul.


Its streets are adorned with an array of large-scale murals, thought-provoking graffiti, and visually stunning installations. From the iconic walls of the Bushwick Collective to the hidden gems along side streets, Williamsburg offers a rich and diverse tapestry of street art.


East Side Gallery, Berlin, Germany

The East Side Gallery is an open-air gallery located on a section of the Berlin Wall.


Uhrmenschen der Computer, 1990 by César Olhagaray – East Side Gallery, Berlin, Germany


It features over a hundred murals created by artists from around the world shortly after the fall of the wall in 1989.


Frieden für Alles, 1990 by Ursula Wünsch – East Side Gallery, Berlin, Germany


These murals serve as powerful symbols of unity, freedom, and artistic expression, making the East Side Gallery a significant destination for street art lovers and a testament to the city’s history.


Kreuzberg, Berlin, Germany

Kreuzberg is known for its alternative and bohemian atmosphere, which has attracted numerous street artists over the years.


The Evolution of Street Art

RAW-Gelände, Berlin, Germany


The neighborhood is adorned with vibrant murals, politically charged graffiti, and expressive street art. From the famous street art hotspot at the RAW-Gelände to the hidden corners of the district, Kreuzberg offers a rich tapestry of urban art to explore.


Vila Madalena, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Vila Madalena, a neighborhood in Sao Paulo, is celebrated for its lively street art scene. Its streets and alleys are adorned with an array of colorful and imaginative murals, representing a wide range of artistic styles and themes.


Vila Madalena, Sao Paulo, Brazil – The Street Art


The Evolution of Street Art

Vila Madalena, Sao Paulo, Brazil – The Street Art


The neighborhood’s commitment to promoting street art has made it a hub for both local and international artists, attracting visitors seeking to immerse themselves in São Paulo’s vibrant urban art culture.


Hosier Lane, Melbourne, Australia

Hosier Lane is a famous laneway in Melbourne known for its ever-changing collection of street art. The narrow walls and surfaces of the lane are covered in vibrant and intricate graffiti, stencils, paste-ups, and murals.


The street art of Hosier Lane, Melbourne Australia – The Evolution of Street Art.


Hosier Lane has become an iconic destination for street artists and visitors alike, capturing the dynamic and expressive nature of Melbourne’s street art scene.


These iconic street art destinations offer a glimpse into the diverse and evolving world of urban art, showcasing the talent of artists from around the globe and providing immersive experiences for art enthusiasts and cultural explorers.



Street Art and Social Commentary

One of the defining characteristics of street art is its ability to convey powerful social and political messages. Artists use their works to address issues such as inequality, environmental concerns, and human rights, serving as catalysts for change and sparking important conversations.

The politically charged stencil art of Banksy, the feminist perspectives of Miss Van, and the environmental activism of ROA are just a few examples of how street art serves as a vehicle for social commentary, inviting viewers to reflect on the world around them.


An artwork, acknowledged to be by street artist Banksy, is pictured on the side of a house in Margate, southeast England on February 14, 2023. WILLIAM EDWARDS / AFP



Legalization and Mainstream Recognition

In recent years, the perception of street art has undergone a significant shift. What was once considered an illegal activity associated with vandalism has gained recognition as a legitimate art form.

Initiatives, festivals, and organizations have emerged to provide artists with legal spaces to showcase their talents, fostering creativity and community engagement. However, the commercialization and appropriation of street art have also sparked debates about authenticity and the integrity of the movement.



As we conclude our exploration of the evolution of street art, we recognize its profound impact on contemporary art and society. What started as a rebellious act of graffiti within subcultures has blossomed into a global phenomenon that transcends boundaries and captivates audiences worldwide.

Street art has evolved from its humble beginnings as a form of self-expression within marginalized communities to a recognized art movement celebrated for its creativity, social commentary, and ability to transform urban landscapes. It has embraced a myriad of techniques and styles, ranging from intricate stenciling and wheat pasting to large-scale murals and 3D installations.

Moreover, street art has become an essential medium for social and political commentary, providing a voice to marginalized groups and raising awareness about pressing issues. Artists have used their works to challenge societal norms, address inequality, and advocate for positive change.

Over time, street art has gained mainstream recognition, leading to the establishment of legal spaces, initiatives, and festivals that provide artists with opportunities to showcase their talents and engage with communities. However, with this newfound popularity comes the challenge of preserving the authenticity and integrity of the movement, as commercialization and appropriation can dilute its original spirit.

In the ever-evolving tapestry of art, street art stands as a bold and vibrant thread, weaving stories, sparking emotions, and inviting us to see the world through a different lens.




  • Subway Art by Martha Cooper, Henry Chalfant


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