New York City Street Art

Living in a small town gave me an affinity for any and every sign of urbanity as a child. I didn’t care what it was so long as it signaled that many people from many different places were living within one area and generating ideas together, or at least in the midst of one another. Having been born in Baltimore and raised in the country in Ohio, my family took frequent trips back to the East Coast while I was growing up. I always knew we were in the city when I saw graffiti. And sometimes I was lucky and spotted more than just graffiti – bona fide street art. Street art has appealed to me in this nostalgic way ever since. And because we don’t necessarily expect it to be good, it takes us especially by surprise when it is.

%Gallery-187109%The art form has always been poignant to me, representing a phenomenon that I envied lustfully while growing up: the city. When I moved to New York City at age 18, street art was one of the few things I would stop and look at almost every single time, so long as I had the time. You can’t make allowances like these often while living in NYC. If you were to stop and reflect on every creative, cool or crazy thing on the streets of this city, your path would form a constellation of zero destinations; a spider web of unfulfilled plans and missed meetings.

The first few years I spent in NYC were captured only with spontaneous disposable cameras containing film, which I didn’t always develop. When I got my first digital camera, I carried it around with me everywhere I went. But it was clunky and inconvenient and most certainly not always in my hands. I didn’t truly begin documenting the art I see on the streets of NYC until the last year or so, thanks to finally having an iPhone. I’ve been back in New York since October now and without even consciously meaning to, I’ve collected images of exposed public art, some blatantly advanced and others simply iconic. It always amazes me, the way creativity oozes out of every brick on every corner here; the dark of alleyways or unsuspecting buildings. Vandalism and general destruction of property are not things that I condone. Needless to say, these expressions more often than not come at the expense of another person or company, but there’s more to a discussion on street art than its legality.

There’s something special about a job well done, executed with expertise and available for all to see for a limited time only. Street art is fleeting and maybe that’s one of the things I like most about it. When you come across something great covering the walls of some otherwise unmemorable building, it’s difficult to feel as if you hadn’t just had an intimate moment with the place and the artist. The art is painted over or removed; there’s never any promise that any one image will become permanent public domain. Beautiful street art exists as a moment in time – not the past, not the future. It is what it is and it only is for now, just like the rest of us. It helps us to see the cracks in societies, the cracks in buildings. I don’t know what it is that inspires some artists to take to the streets instead of canvas, but no matter the reason, every once in a while I feel overfilled with gratitude for the opportunity to see art for the sake of itself, without a name or price tag attached. It exists for itself in this way while still managing to exist for all of us who are interested enough to stop and look.

[Photo Credit: Elizabeth Seward]

Off Book: Street Art