Street art was once considered vandalism. Seen by many in society and the art world as a menace, graffiti was stereotyped by hoodlums roaming around the street at night vandalizing property. Oh how times have changed.
Since the boom at the beginning of the eighties, street art is now one if not the most popular form of popular contemporary art.
Part of the criticism was drawn by the artistic class – the art gallery owners and attendees whose identities were entirely wrapped up in the classic exhibition.
What street art presented was something completely visceral, any in many ways punk in its philosophy and aesthetic.
First of all, their pieces of art were free. They were not owned by a gallery, nor did viewers have to pay to see them. They could view them whilst walking down the street. This expanded art beyond its usual stuffy means of a gallery, and opened up artistic expression to a wide range of the public who would never think of entering a gallery.
These large scale graffiti pieces which used entire factory walls as their canvas. The artist was no longer restricted by the canvas.
The art also came to represent the urbanisation and decay from the mid-seventies. As industries around the Western world began to fall into decline, so the explosion in graffiti art happened. The youth no longer spent most of their days in work, because there was simply no work to go to. If you look around at cities with the most graffiti have experienced masses of urban transformation – Berlin, Prague and most recently Athens. As Greece has been plunged into economic hardship, so has the increase in graffiti art taken hold.
Today, the most famous artist has made his name from his street art: Banksy. His pieces are known worldwide – from his stencil graffiti on the Gaza strip, to the simple pieces he has created in his home town of Bristol. Banksy has become a brand in his own right, releasing a feature length film, publishing a book and whole other host of side-hustles.
Banksy has even faced criticism from within the street art culture, being challenged by rivals for being commercial and not true graffiti due to his almost exclusive use of stencils in his art work.
Arguably as a result of Banksy, graffiti has now come full circle. Where it was once shunned, the doors have now open and street art pieces of all kind have become a staple of the gallery.
Whether its Banksy opening his own unique brand of art to the masses, or a graffiti artist for hire being commissioned to draw pieces for a particular exhibition. The viciousness that graffiti and street art once had has almost entirely disappeared. It’s safe to say that when your grandparents know who Banksy is, you can no longer consider it an ‘underground culture’.
This puts us at an interesting cross-roads for the future of contemporary street art. As the world becomes more divided by politics and ideology, what outlet will the artistic youth use to express themselves?
The future is uncertain, but whatever it becomes it will guarantee to disrupt.