Street art has become something of a global phenomenon (you could even call it an industry), with commercial sponsorships and major museum exhibits taking the art to new heights. Things weren’t always that way, however. Street art was, at one time, an illegal and even danger pastime, and even regarded as vandalism by some. However, it did lay down a foundation for the pasted-up images and outdoor murals that define today’s street art. But who were those artists that helped it become acceptable? Here, we look at some of the best street artists off all time.
Darryl McCray, as was his given name, is regarded as being the very first modern street artist after he began tagging in 1960’s Philadelphia. This practice made its way to New York, with taggers building a reputation for targeting subway cars. At least once, however, McCray got the better of his rivals from New York. At just 17 years of age, he leaped over a fence at the Zoo and spray painted “Cornbread Lives” on an elephant.
Donald Joseph White, from East New York’s Brooklyn neighbourhood, began tagging in the 70’s when he developed an elaborate style of lettering by combining it with images from pop-culture. White was also the first street artist to make an appearance in Europe and his work now exists in a number of European museums. After dying of AIDS in 1998, Dondi White’s work remains an inspiration to today’s street artists.
This artist is one of a small number of women who were among the very original street artists from the 70’s and 80’s. Born in Ecuador as Sandra Fabara, she was raised in New York, where she worked her magic on subway trains from 1979 to 1985. Lady Pink had a starring role in the hip-hop feature film Wild Style in 1983 before just two years later she began exhibiting her work in galleries and working with such art-world figures as Jenny Holzer. Her work, which is known for its strong Latina/feminist edge, can be seen in the collections of institutions such as The Metropolitan Museum and the Whitney Museum in New York City.
A true superstar of the art world, Keith Haring was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, although he grew up in Kuntztwon. His father worked as both an amateur cartoonist and a professional engineer. Of course, it was the former that likely inspired young Haring’s career. Haring wasn’t like the majority of street artists. He relocated to New York to attend the School of Visual Arts (SVA).
Shortly afterwards, Haring began working in the subways. He used chalk to draw inside the spaces that were intended for ads. When these spaces were empty, they were covered with black sheets of paper, which Haring used as his canvases to work out the pop iconography (flying saucers, dancing figures, radiant babies) that he was famous for. In 1990, Haring died of AIDS at just 31 years of age.