New York is home to some of the world’s best street artists. In fact, New York’s graffiti has not only had local influence, but also national, and even international. The New York subway system was the perfect breeding ground for street art, stretching over 6,450 miles of dark, dense passageways. This allowed the early graffiti suspects to vandalize in secret, as they spread their naming conventions all over the city.
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Something which at the time was considered a nuisance crime has now blossomed into modern-day art. People will now go out of their way to see and photograph graffiti as it lights up cities and brings each one a sense of uniqueness. NYC streets have it all when it comes to street art, but just in case you don’t know where to search, here is the rundown.
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The history of graffiti in NYC
It is thought that graffiti started with a high school student in Philadelphia, 1967. The boy was attempting to impress a girl, so he decided to write his name all over the city with spray paint. He went by the pseudonym of ‘Cornbread’, but little did he know at the time, he had started an art revolution.
After Cornbread’s mission of innovation, graffiti quickly spread in popularity. Reaching out to other major American cities, including New York. By 1970 there were local graffiti artists in at least 5 different boroughs, where artists wrote their pseudonym names on the interior or the sides of subway cars. It wasn’t until 1973 that graffiti evolved into complex, colorful scripts.
Subway graffiti went rampant for 20 years, which called for extreme control measures on what at the time was considered vandalism. Now in the modern-day, graffiti is more controlled. It’s seen as a thing of beauty and creation for many by standing people to enjoy.
Where to find the best street art in NYC
If you like street art, you should definitely go to these neighborhoods:
Best Street Art in Bushwick
Bushwick, Brooklyn has the largest collection of murals in all of NYC and includes almost 100 blocks of street art. People travel from all over the world to visit the Bushwick Collective, with some paintings the size of full-scale buildings. Each year the Bushwick Collective holds a party, where artists from all walks of life attend to paint new murals, along with many pints of beer. There is also a local canvas for Bushwick artists at JMS Walls.
Best Murals in Williamsburg
A second Brooklyn location, Williamsburg, is home to another extensive display of graffiti. Murals are spread along Bedford avenue by many international artists including Brolga and Eduardo Kobra. In the new Domino Park, there is the Groundswell mural that depicts the history of the Domino Sugar Factory and the local people who work there.
Best Street Art in Manhattan
The Lower East Side and East Village have some of the most prominent street art murals in Manhattan. This includes the Bowery Graffiti Wall, which became famed after being graffitied by artist Keith Haring, and First Street Green Art Park, the only legal graffiti park in all of NYC. Several famous street artists have since painted this area including Banksy, Queen Andrea, Triton Eaton, and Tats Cru.
Local artists display their work in East Village in The New Allen and 100 Gates Project.
Best Street Art in Queens
Known as the most ethnically diverse urban area in the world, Queens unsurprisingly was once home to the legendary ‘5 Pointz’, which signified the five boroughs coming together as one. Unfortunately, this graffiti site has since been destroyed.
Nonetheless, Queens still houses the Welling Court Mural Project in Astoria. This stunning street art location has just celebrated its 10th year, and every June is visited by artists all around the world to update the walls with strong community murals.
3 Amazing Street Art Tours in NYC
Private Graffiti & Street Art Walking TourWalking Tour in BushwickAdd to myNY added
The Bushwick district is probably the most famous part of New York when it comes to street art and graffiti. Here there are many colorful, very elaborately designed and creative murals. You will see the different techniques that the artists have to master and learn a lot about this own culture and art.
For many artists, this is their main profession and their graffiti just look awesome! For this reason, take a look at this Start Art Walking Tour!
Graffiti & Street Art Walking TourWalking Tour in BushwickAdd to myNY added
Brooklyn is famous for its bold and bright street art, but it’s not easy to know where to find these creative works. With this walking tour of the Bushwick neighborhood, take in the diversity and culture of the neighborhood’s urban street artists. Check out massive murals and intricate designs as you take to the streets to learn how Brooklyn’s best can turn anything with a surface into a stunning work of public art.
Sidewalks and Skyscrapers: Street Art Is This WayWalking Tour in SoHoAdd to myNY added
This walking tour shows that there is also street art and graffiti worth seeing in Manhattan. You start your exploration in Soho, and then in two hours learn the stories behind the large and small works of art. Some of the graffiti is an impressive 20 meters high, so always have your cameras ready!
The most famous street art in NYC
Banksy – Hammer Boy
Although Banksy is English, he famously loves NYC. To show this, he staged a month-long street art project called ‘Better Out Than In’. Unfortunately, since then most of his work has been covered over or defaced. Luckily, his well-known Hammer Boy was preserved by the building owner who installed a Plexiglas shield in an act of protection.
- Address: 233 W 79th St
- Subway: 1 2 to “79 Street” or A B C to “81 Street – Museum of Natural History”
Big Pun Memorial
Created by Tats Cru as a tribute to the beloved rapper ‘Big Pun’ from Puerto Rico, who sadly passed away in 2000, this mural is a fitting reminder to the community that Pun was the first Latino rapper ever certified as a platinum solo act. Each year on Pun’s birthday, November 10th, the mural is repainted.
- Address: 910 Rogers Pl, Bronx
- Subway: 2 5 to “Intervale Av”
Crack is Wack
Possibly Kieth Haring’s most popular mural, Crack is Wack, is based on a studio assistant he had in the mid-1880s called Benny. Benny became addicted to crack cocaine, and Haring and his crew had a hard time trying to wean him off of it. Around the same time, his attention was brought to a deserted handball court, where he based his mural. Soon afterward he was arrested as he didn’t have permission to graffiti here.
News of his arrests broke out within the ‘War on Drugs’ campaign, and eventually, he was released and fined only $100. His original mural was defaced by pro-crack groups, so the authorities stepped in and asked him to legally make a new mural with the same message.
- Address: E. 127 St., 2 Ave., and, Harlem River Dr (Crack Is Wack Playground)
- Subway: 4 5 6 to “125 St”
The artists associated with Audubon Mural Project have come up with a creative way to raise awareness of global warming, trying to encourage people to act. Scattered along Broadway there is an untold number of beautiful birds, each one representing one of the 300 native American bird species and are at threat of global warming.
Some of the best New York graffiti artists
Fernando Carl, better known by his moniker Cope2, is one of the most renowned graffiti artists NYC has to offer. Originating from the Bronx, he has actively been creating street art for over 4 decades. He acclaimed international recognition with his bubble lettering and wildstyle uniqueness. Since then Cope2 has gone on to do commissioned work for big labels such as Adidas, Footlocker, and Converse.
Sandra Fabara was originally born in Ecuador, but after making her home in Queens she gathered street art credit through expressing her grief. After the loss of a love in the 1970s, she took to the streets painting her lost lover’s name across NYC. For a long period of time, Lady Pink was the only prominent female graffiti artist on the New York scene, but her work was largely recognised for its camouflage and playfulness.
Zephyr, otherwise known as Andrew Witten, was one of the first street artists to kickstart the freight train graffiti movement, and is often credited as the inventor of several graffiti styles. Beginning his work in 1977, the majority of his early murals were painted on subways, therefore it has all since been lost. Nonetheless, he quickly rose as one of the first graffiti artists to transition to galleries and make commercial success.
Proudly holding the title of ‘King of Graffiti’, Blade chose subway trains as his canvas back in 1972, where he painted original characters. During these years, he painted over 5,000 creations. His decision to turn to actual canvases led to worldwide recognition, and he has maintained active work in the contemporary art world ever since.
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