The Best Cities For Street Art Around The World

I’ve always loved a good art gallery but I know not everyone feels the same way. I get it. Looking at still life oil-on-canvases isn’t for everyone. But the good news is that some of the coolest art in the world isn’t locked away in stuffy art galleries or museums – there are plenty of creative paintings and murals on the sides of buildings, along fences and across public walls.

Graffiti has been around since ancient times but what has really changed is way the many people now perceive the public scribblings. From a mark of gang culture and vandalism to a political statement to genuine artistic expression, graffiti has evolved with the times and is now accepted as “street art” in cities all over the world. Here are a handful of places known for their vibrant street art culture across Europe, South America and The Pacific.

Valparaiso, Chile

This city located close to the Chilean capital is famous for the colorful houses and murals, which line its steeply hilled streets. The extreme incline between one part of town and the next created the need for lots and lots of staircases, many of which have now been turned into richly hued works of art.

Graffiti took off in this city back in the ’70s as a way to protest the Pinochet regime and was initially frowned upon but as the years progressed, the city decided to let the street art flourish. As a visitor to Valparaiso, you cannot only wander the colorful laneways, you can get your hands dirty too. The city runs tours where you can actually hit the streets and create some graffiti with the aid of local artists who help you design your own unique stencils.

London, England

London might be home to some of the most celebrated art galleries in the world, but the city is quickly making a name for itself as a street art hub as well. Parts of the city that were once rundown and off the tourist radar have now been regenerated and have become prime places to view colorful murals.

East End is one of the off-the-beaten-track neighborhoods where many street artists have flocked. While some of the artwork in the area is done furtively, a surprising number of artists are commissioned to put their mark on the city’s public spaces. A few artist’s work to keep an eye out for include “Stik,” so named because he draws stick men across the city; Christiaan Nagel, who leaves colorful sculpted mushrooms on the rooftops of buildings; and Pablo Delgado, who creates miniature “paste up” images all over East London.

Berlin, Germany

Berlin is a street art lover’s paradise with both historical graffiti and a thriving present-day art scene to take in. Graffiti really took off here in the ’80s with those on the west side of the Berlin Wall expressing their beliefs and frustrations with the aid of spray cans. After the fall of the wall, graffiti spread throughout Berlin, and although large chunks of the wall are now gone, you can still see many murals left over from times past.

There are also a new crop of street artists that have made a name for themselves leaving their signature artwork on the sides of buildings across the city. While street art is technically illegal in Berlin, it’s such a draw card for visitors that the city still promotes it.

Melbourne, Australia

Melbourne has long been Australia’s artistic capital and there’s as much to see out on the streets as there is in the galleries. Graffiti got its start here in the ’70s and ’80s and there has always been a heavy focus on what’s known as “stencil art.”

In more recent years, the street art has evolved to include other techniques, including street installations, woodblocking and reverse graffiti – a method, which involves carving an image out of dirt (like you might do on a car window). Over the past decade, Melbourne has also held a number of stencil festivals where the public can watch live demonstrations, listen to debate about graffiti, take part in workshops and more.

[Photo credits: Flickr users szeke, Gabriel White, bobaliciouslondon, Gianni Dominici, m.a.r.c.]

Kelburn Castle To Lose Psychedelic Art, Going Old School

Kelburn Castle
Kelburn Castle isn’t your typical 13th century Scottish castle and aristocratic estate. It’s an example of some of the best street art in the world.

As you can see, it’s pretty trippy, the product of a group of Brazilian street artists in 2007. It was allowed by the local council on the understanding that it would be up for no more than three years. Generally, there are strict rules in the UK about changing the appearance of historic buildings.

Despite this, the castle’s owner, the Earl of Glasgow, has been fighting to keep it. Now it looks like the mural will have to go. It turns out the layer of cement that the mural is painted on is damaging the original medieval walls.

Being a modern sort of aristocrat, the Earl of Glasgow has launched a Facebook page to save the mural. So far it’s attracted more than 4,000 likes.

[Photo courtesy Iain and Sarah]

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5Pointz is coming down and it’s a shame

5Pointz probably won’t be around much longer. In case you haven’t heard, one of New York‘s finest art installments may be coming down for the sake of urban expansion: two 30 story apartment buildings in an increasingly hip neighborhood. And such seems to be the story in ever expanding cities like New York. What is good is not synonymous with what has longevity. Without generating a profit up to par with profit potential, certain things in New York, even landmarks, take a backseat to business. But this case is exceptional. This building, 5Pointz, is a work of art–one that should be preserved with the same respect we preserve all other great works of art. The problem is this: 5Pointz isn’t like other art.

5Pointz is a graffiti-clad building with a rotating roster of artists whose work is on display. Located in Long Island City, 5Pointz wasn’t far away from the Astoria apartment where I spent 7 years. I stumbled across the building the first time probably the same way many people do. I was riding the 7 train and I noticed a towering warehouse, vividly colorful against the drab skyline on what I remember to be a rather drab day. I seized the opportunity the next time I was in the neighborhood of the 7 train to exit, follow the overhead tracks, and find the building. To my surprise, there were a dozen or so other people there when I arrived, seeming just as curious as I was. They were taking photos and standing in awe of giant portraits. As I walked the perimeter of 5Pointz and passed by other admirers, I found myself speaking in a hushed voice just like everyone else there, just like I would in a museum. Clearly, there was something to be respected on the walls of 5Pointz.

%Gallery-132436%I found my way onto the roof of the building. The image of the city’s skyline from that rooftop, fogged over just ahead, is one I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

When I went back to 5Pointz the second time, I brought a friend with me. I expected to show her the same art on the walls I had seen the first time. Instead, it was all different. I soon learned that 5Pointz’s art is revolving art, that each piece of artwork that was ever painted on a wall of 5Pointz was intended to not last forever, but instead, perhaps, just a few weeks. I began taking all of my visiting friends to 5Pointz, looking forward to their respective visits since they marked my calendar with visits to 5Pointz. The art changed every time I walked around the building, and I walked around that building many times.

After spending 8 years in New York, I left the city with a fondness for 5Pointz no less tender than that first visit to 5Pointz. Any time someone visiting the city has asked me for off-the-beaten-path suggestions of what to do in New York, even now that I am living in Austin, I have instructed them to visit 5Pointz. I have told them which stop to get off the 7 train at, I have told them to just follow the overhead tracks. My father, my sister, my brother, my best friends… I took them all to that building. I even had a photo shoot there with my old band. And it really breaks my heart that others may now not receive the same opportunity we all had–the opportunity to experience 5Pointz.

The building’s owner, a Mr. Wolkoff, seems to appreciate art, but not enough to preserve this monumental landmark. A recent New York Times piece discussing the building’s fate reported that Wolkoff is willing to give the graffiti artists who call 5Pointz home a “rear wall” on the new structure. And, of course, a rear wall will never replace this positively special place, because the essence of 5Pointz is contained on that particular building, not a shining new structure. But Wolkoff is 74 years old. Preserving an old spray painted building certainly wouldn’t be the traditional thing to do, that is, so long as spray paint is considered an unbecoming art medium. But that’s the entire problem with this situation.

Spray paint, unfortunately for spray paint artists’ and art appreciators’ sake, is associated with vandalism, gang signs, and huffing. But does that affect the paint’s credibility as a viable art medium? Of course it doesn’t, but it certainly affects the perception the public has of the art medium. And so, consequently, a Facebook page dedicated to saving 5Pointz only has 1,171 likes (meanwhile, “Making up nicknames for people you don’t know but see all the time” has 1,494,837 likes). A petition circling around online to save 5Pointz has 11,000 signatures. How many signatures would that petition have if it were arguing to keep a publicly treasured oil painting from being destroyed? More, I’d bet.

All in all, the news of 5Pointz’s grim fate has upset me. Perhaps nothing will sway the minds of Wolkoff and the members of the Community Board. After all, history repeats itself and, after all, good things don’t seem to last in New York (remember CBGB?). But there are two things that I can do, small as they might be:

1. I urge you to visit 5Pointz while it’s still open. This About.com page contains good directions on how to get there.

2. Allow me to share some of the photos I have from my personal trips to 5Pointz with you.

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