If you joined us last week, you know we’re in an art-smart state of mind, and having been using unexpected pops of color and memorable prints to bring art into our favorite rooms. Today we’re spreading the love to the visionaries who started it all—abstract graffiti and graffiti-inspired artists whose work is so dynamic and energetic, you can practically hear their walls and canvases breathe.
Graffiti—scribbly paintings or drawings that have decorated exterior walls and other public places, often illegally, for thousands of year—traces its roots back to ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt, where the earliest artists scratched or scrawled their work (usually figurative drawings) into buildings and monuments. As the form evolved, artists developed a new vocabulary for looser, more abstract art, and experimented with paints of all kind and marker pens. Contemporary graffiti and graffiti-inspired artists don’t just stick to public spaces anymore; many also create large-scale canvas paintings that are coveted for interiors.
Let’s take a look at some of the most famous and the most intriguing graffiti-style artists from the past century into today.
Jackson Pollock is more commonly known as one of the major abstract expressionist painters, but the squiggly forms and drip-style technique he pioneered have inspired countless graffiti artists. If you’re in the New York City area between now and May 1, 2016, don’t miss the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibit Jackson Pollock: A Collection Survey.
Thirty-some-odd years later, Jean-Michel Basquiat experimented with mixing the established postpunk and street art movements with the emerging hip-hop culture into visually arresting and eloquent commentaries on complex topics like poverty, racial segregation, and social isolation.
A contemporary of the late Basquiat, Futura was one of the first New York subway-car graffiti artists, though he’s perhaps better known these days for his collaborations with the likes of Nike, Levi’s, and, Dr. Dre’s Beats. Despite his forays into commercial work, his art—which combines spray paint, oil paint, marker, and even three-dimensional models—is unrestrained, expansive, and wholly original.
Another Basquiat contemporary, Kenny Scharf is a trained fine artist who came to fame by painting famous animated characters in sci-fi scenes. Major galleries (think: the Whitney) love Scharf as much as graffiti enthusiasts. He has not only graffiti-painted exterior walls and bridges, but entire rooms, like this black-light disco installation, created in collaboration with fellow renowned graffiti artist Keith Haring.
Contemporary painter—and generously talented Fresh American visual stylist—Melissa Matsuki Lillie has a visual language all her own. Full of color, layering, fancifully rendered natural forms, and graffiti-style swirls and globs, she creates original works that suggest otherworldly landscapes. Watch her paint an incredible mural is this way-cool time-lapse video.
We—and much of the art world—have our eyes on Boston-based artist Percy Fortini-Wright. Another trained artist with an MA in fine arts, and even university teaching experience, he’s a buzz-worthy original who somehow mashes up the figurative and literal to craft out-of-this-dimension cityscapes and dreamlike vignettes. He’s been commissioned by everyone from Adidas to a Boston restaurant to create exclusive works, but we love his graffiti-inspired fine art best of all.