Sometime around the mid 19th century a bunch of Italians got together and invented the word graffiti, well, graffio. It meant scratch. A lot of people would agree graffiti is nothing but scratches. Especially government reps, who are almost always less than happy to see their cities covered in black tags and skanky drawings. But there are places in the world, many places, where the graffio is embraced and even encouraged.
New York and LA are probably the world’s best places for graffiti. Check out this wicked time lapse of NOSM & HOW, otherwise known as the Kings of New York. German twins who are mad good at painting and call themselves the Tats Cru.
There’s a dispute whether the graffiti and street art movement began in New York or in Chicago but one thing’s for sure – it started because someone had something to say. Either activists or street gangs looking to mark their territory, people were looking to ‘shoot the shit’. Either way, NYC is probably the best place to check out some seriously good street work. From the Bowery in the lower east side to the Bronx, top to bottom, woodblock graffiti, wildstyle crazy – it’s everywhere.
Sydney University has a graffiti tunnel. Here anything can be put up as long as it isn’t considered ‘offensive’. It’s constantly being painted and repainted and it absolutely stinks of fumes – but it’s a good way to get people out of the habit of drawing on trains and more into unleashing their creativity legally.
All Londoners will tell you most good graffiti stretches between Old Street to Great Eastern Street with a bit Brick Lane in between. It’s true there’s heaps to see, from the phlegm mural by Brick Lane to the invader off Hoxton street. There’s a bunch of Banksy and loads of Skyhigh, Ders and Tors. Another great place to spot London’s best street however is the Stockwell Park Estate. This place has gone through so many coats no one really knows how many pieces have been painted. The sunken ball courts of this estate attracts world class artists like Bonzai, Lovepusher and Solo-1. Check it out here. Stockwell skate park is also well worth checking out.
Up until the 18th century architecture in Lisbon was basically made up of just white buildings. Boring but beautiful. After a huge earthquake in 1877, the richer areas began to add some colour into their infrastructure and so it began – by the time Lisbon became a democracy in 1974 – graffiti artists where all over the place expressing their views. Projects such as the Crono project would commission artists to transform neglected buildings into beautiful pieces of art instead of just abandoning the city’s heritage – or worse – giving it to building developers like what they did with Rotterdam after World War Two. An artist to look out for is Vhils – he’s even got his face painted on a wall in east London, he’s that good. Check him out…
Ask anyone in the vicinity of Kruezberg or Prezlauerberg ‘What do you do?’ and they will, 9 out of 10 times, answer ‘I’m an artist’. DJ’s, VJ’s, film makers, musicians, you name it, they’re at it. They’ve also got what remains of the longest canvas in the world. Much of the artwork is not claimed and stays anonymous which gives it that extra radness. Check out some of Berlin’s best graffiti here.
Grafitti in Italy goes all the way back to the Roman Empire and it’s no suprise some of the best street art can be seen in the capital. The Italians have always been quite talented, they produced artists like da Vinci, Michelangelo and even gave birth to the bloody Renaissance! Heck, most of the best tattoo artists in London are even Italian. Check out a photo blog on Rome’s street work here.
You want history? You can get all the history you want in District Six. It’s the name of former inner-city residential area in Cape Town where basically over 60,000 people were forced to move because of Apartheid. Now the place is covered in graffiti. Artists like Faith 47 and Mak1one have come here to draw cultural icons like Nelson Mandela and Steven Biko, all there to commemorate Apartheid and bring attention to human rights and freedom. It would be hard to find a place with more extraordinary murals dedicated to oppression.
Ok maybe Buenos Aires is no Rio de Janeiro in terms of street art but the Argentinean capital is on its way to becoming one of the world’s biggest street art cities ever. People even go as far as to say there is more quality artwork than cheap graffiti tags. Visit Graffiti Mundo to get a proper idea of the type of work from Argentinian artists. Even local businesses are starting to employ artists to make their shops beautiful. The best thing about Argentina is that the government totally embraces the art – and the cops (possibly) don’t give a shit.
Berlin may have had the longest piece of canvas ever but Mao Zedong holds the record for the longest piece of graffiti ever – which contains about 4 thousand letters criticising his teachers and the state of Chinese society. What a legend! But graffiti, or slogans to be more precise, started in China in the 1920s when revolutionary slogans and paintings were put up to build support for the revolution. Talk about propaganda. Beijing street art is now mostly a comment on how fast society is changing in China, most of the artwork reflects a concern the stress felt by the youth trying to cope with Chinese reality. Check out this documentary trailer about graffiti art in Beijing.
Russians both embrace and reject urban art. But having said that, there are enough protests and festivals out there to make sure the artistry keeps on rolling. Check out Pavel 183, the so-called Russian Banksy for some cool craftsmanship.