To the government and local councils, urban street art is seen as nothing more than a nuisance. Graffiti has evolved in recent times though with modern street art now becoming more political, controversial, and opinionated than ever before. People have grown more of an appreciation of street art and celebrity couples such as Brad and Angelina openly seek to purchase original works of modern street artists. Urban artists have now developed their work into a whole range of forms: paintings, sculptures, posters, street performances and stenciled pictures are just some of those discovered around the world. Below is a list of ten of the most controversial urban street artists who stick a middle finger up to society and bring our streets to life.
1. Marc Jenkins
What started off with figures made of clear tape found around Washington and Rio de Janeiro in urban environments (ducks in puddles, people on traffic lights, a huge giraffe in a park!) between 2003-2006 soon evolved into life-sized, fully-dressed figures found all over the world in all sorts of positions. These include a pair of legs sticking out of a huge fountain in Bordeaux, France and a drowned figure with balloons attached discovered in a river in Sweden. Other new locations to have been hit by Jenkins’ art include Barcelona, Seoul, Prato, London and the Canary Islands. One more speciality Jenkins has introduced: secretly filming the people on the streets reactions.
2. Shepard Fairey
Springing to fame in 1989 with his ‘André the Giant has a Posse’ sticker campaign, Shepard Fairey has carved out a strong following for himself. The campaign led to ‘Obey Giant’, which can be found stencilled on walls all over the world. His most recent work includes the politically generated poster campaign for Obama – ‘Hope’ – above, recognised around the world. Last year he gained even more notoriety when he was arrested for tagging property in the USA with graffiti. Said to be an inspiration for Banksy.
French-born photographer/artist of eastern European/Tunisian origin, JR began his artistic venture at the age of 17. His most famous projects include the ‘Face 2 Face’ artwork. Huge close-up images of smiling, cheerful religious leaders and locals was erected on to the wall that divides Palestine and Israel. The idea was to send a message that we are all equal and can unite. His projects have taken him all around the world, from Kenya to Brazil. Most recently he created a 100ft mural for the Tate Modern in London of a man menacingly holding a video camera in front of the photographer as if it were a gun (above).
Italian street artist Blu has painted walls all over the world with his distinctive, surreal art. Often viewed as a little disturbing he has created a loyal fanbase for himself. Like JR, Blu also created a huge mural for the Tate Modern in London. Renowned for his self-promoting stunts as well as his paintings, he once printed 6,000 magazines in Germany, anonymously, containing pages of his drawings with no further explanation and then proceeded to hand them out to people on the street for free. If you were given one of those magazines then it could now be worth a bit of money!
Faile was founded in 1999 by friends Patrick McNeil (Canada) and Patrick Miller (U.S.) who’ve known each other since their teens. Based in New York, the pair’s stencilled art is instantly recognisable and can be found on fictionalised posters on walls around New York and other major cities in the world. They often collaborate with Aiko Nakagawa from Japan, whose distinctive art of the female form fits in well with Faile’s views on pop culture. Famously controversial posters include Audrey Hepburn’s Tiffany being attacked by a maniacal cat and a saucy image of a topless Manga girl being caressed by miniature Buddha’s!
Brazilian street artist Nunca is one of Brazil’s most popular urban artist’s. His work was displayed in a documentary called “Talking Walls” and aired on Latin American TV channel I.Sat. His deeply colourful artwork stole the show and captivated audiences. He’s since brought his work to the walls of the Tate Modern, above, alongside the likes of JR and Blu.
Bomb It: Nunca – The most amazing bloopers are here
Although he may not be popular among the authorities in his home country, his detailed artwork influenced by his family roots and the richness of colour used has gained him a massive following and influenced the urban art scene in Brazil.
7. Cyclops and Sweet Toof
Tag-team duo Cyclops and Sweet Toof, like so many of their peers, liked to work anonymously. Hailing from the trendy part of London, Brick Lane, the pair of trained artists have taken their attention to the streets in their area. All around east London, and certain other parts of the country, you’ll find the trademark features of their work: teeth (or tooth), a skull, and a character called Lenny. Fed up with seeing so much advertising in public they set out to reclaim the streets and bring humour to the locals. Cyclops is now working on solo campaigns and has revealed his identity as Luc Prince.
You could say D*Face is the Sex Pistols of street art. His work is recognisable for the graffiti over artwork of people such as Marilyn Monroe and the Queen, as well as his takes on other forms of pop culture. He takes his art very seriously and approaches it with real professionalism (he even has an assistant!) He started his career as an illustrator but was frustrated by the lack of freedom he was given and so took to graffiti. Also regarded as a bit of a joker: after New Year’s when people were going back to work, he painted the words “CALL IN SICK” in giant letters over three billboards which commuters could read whilst driving to work!
Sickboy has created a signature slogan for himself across the streets of London: “Save the Youth”. In a rare interview with a British newspaper he said: “It’s not that I’m trying to ‘save the youth’. It’s just a line from a Northern Soul tune.” His paintings now sell in galleries and online making him one of the more well-off street artists. Like many other street artists he’s an opinionated character. He went on to tell the newspaper, “If anything I’d rather be seen as a graffiti artist, as I come from a graffiti background. Graffiti has a stronger subculture; anyone can be a street artist.”
Undoubtedly the king of British street art and man who revolutionised urban art and the public’s perception of it. With clever and original artwork of characters found all over the country, and now the rest of the world, Banksy’s “graffiti” is instantly recognisable. One of his signature character’s is a rat. He has remained anonymous for the last ten years since his artwork first began to make public appearances. A film made by the artist called Exit Through The Gift Shop was released in March this year. It has been billed as “the world’s first street art disaster movie”.