In 1976 and at just 14 years of age, Chris Ellis (Daze) attempted to spray-paint his very first subway car. Unfortunately, for him, due it being in the winter, the paint froze in the can. His later efforts were more successful, however, and with partners such as John Matos, the 70s would see Daze go on to paint one subway car after another. By the time the 80s came around, Daze started to show off his work in New York City’s alternative galleries, which launched the beginning of his art career. Nowadays, he limits his work to commissioned murals, along with canvases that he shows in museums and galleries around the globe.
In the late 80s, a student from the Rhode Island School of Design by the name of Shepherd Fairey began posting stickers around NYC that featured famous wrestler Andre the Giant. The words on the stickers translated to “Obey Giant”.
This tagline would later appear on posters and t-shirts, which was the beginning of a career for one of the world’s most successful and famous street artists. Fairey has gone on to create an empire around his street art, with major commissions for murals, along with his own fashion line.
When most of us think about classic graffiti, we often think of a form termed Wild Style. This technique sees dense layers of lettering shaped into curves or angles that can be embellished with elements like arrows. This results in a spikey, baroque look and today, ranks among the most common types of graffiti. Tracy 168 (Michael Tracy) was the artist responsible, with variations found all over the globe. Wild Style (1983), the very first hip-hop film, took its title from Tracy’e work, although the artist wasn’t a part of it. He did appear, however, in a 2004 documentary called ‘Just to Get a Rep’ that featured other artists such as Keith Haring.
We’ve saved the best for last. We may already have a 2-part article on Banksy but we couldn’t possibly leave him off this list. The most famous street artist in the world today, Robin Gunningham, who is also a filmmaker and political activist, emerged in Bristol, England, as part of an underground music and art scene in the 1990s.
In the latter part of that decade, Banksy began spray painting stencilled images that combined political themes and pop culture on bridges and walls around London and Bristol. Of course, he’s since taken his art global. He also directed a film called Exit Through the Gift Shop in 2010, which told the story of a French emigré with a street art obsession, and launched an installation piece/amusement park called Dismaland in 2015, which was open for just a month. Banksy’s fame has helped him on the art market, where his work has been sold for six-figures. As a result, other street artists have benefited as collectors desired more street artwork in their collections. This is called the “Banksy effect”.