Graffiti which used to be considered vandalism and delinquent behavior has now become a well-respected art form. Graffiti artists have, in recent years, used their skills to make art that stops people in their tracks, and some of these artists have made a name for themselves in the more “prestigious” art scenes.
Graffiti artists like Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Zephyr, Blade, David Choe, Saber, and others have been incredibly influential for the genre, and even artists we know and love, like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, got their start as more traditional artists from experimenting with graffiti.
It’s only been about 30 years that graffiti has been taken seriously, and it’s been an exciting step toward making art more accessible. So here, we’re talking about eleven of the most iconic graffiti wall artworks that have sprung up on streets all around the world. Let’s see how many you recognize.
12. The Giant of Boston
Os Gemeos, 2012
Located at Dewey Square Park in Boston, Massachusetts
Created by the twin duo Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo from Brazil, The Giant of Boston was a temporary piece made as part of an exhibition for the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. This massive graffiti work took up 70 square feet and depicts a large, yellow character as he seems to be squeezing himself between the buildings that surround him. The Pandolfo brothers, known as Os Gemeos, masterfully account for the curves in their unconventional canvas, and, although it did spark some controversy, the piece was incredibly popular.
11. Etnias (Ethnicities)
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Eduardo Kobra, 2016
Located at Port District in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Using his signature technique of squares and triangles, world-renowned graffiti artist Eduardo Kobra created Etnias for the 2016 Rio Olympics. This impressive feat took two months to finish and covers an area of nearly 30,000 square feet. In fact, it broke the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest graffiti art. Etnias depicts five faces from the five continents to spread the message of us all being one. It included the faces of the Huli people from New Guinea, the Mursi people of Ethiopia, the Kayin people from Thailand, the Supi people from Europe, and the Tapajos people from the Americas.
10. The Purple Shall Govern
Shepard Fairey, 2014
Located at Juta Street in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, South Africa
This iconic graffiti art by Shepard Fairey was created to remember the 25th anniversary of what would later be called the Purple Rain Protest for the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. The protest got its name after police officers sprayed the protesters with water dyed purple so they could be later identified. Standing ten stories high and covering more than 2,000 square feet, this piece overlooks the Nelson Mandela Bridge.
Fun fact: Fairey is the same artist to create the “Hope” poster from Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
Pavlos Tsakonas, 2011
Located at Pireaus st., Athens
Inspired by Albrecht Dürer‘s Praying Hands (1508), the Greek artist Pavlos Tsakonas created this mural in 2011, near the square of Omonoia at the center of Athens, Greece. The mural quickly became a favorite of the public not only because of its impressive nature but also its symbolism, as amid the Greek economic crisis, it was thought to reflect the public sentiment. Depending on who you ask, its either just praying hands, or the hands of god praying to humanity.
8. Robbo Incorporated
King Robbo, 1985
Located at Regent’s Canal in Camden, London, England
John Robertson, known as King Robbo, was a British graffiti artist, and in 1985, he created Robbo Incorporated next to Regent’s Canal just underneath the London Transportation Police Headquarters. It became the oldest piece of graffiti in London since all his other work was removed by authorities, except for this one which was only accessible by water. Interestingly, Banksy, another British graffiti artist, painted over much of King Robbo’s art, which began what was known as a graffiti war. It was only under Robertson suffered a fatal head injury that Banksy ceased fire.
7. Facebook Murals
David Choe, 2005
Located at Facebook Headquarters in Palo Alto, California
Sean Parker, the original Facebook president was a huge fan of David Choe’s graffiti art and asked him to paint a mural at Facebook’s first offices in Silicon Valley. Choe obliged and created a piece that was rather graphic and sexual – all normal themes for the artist. Parker offered Choe two options for payment. Either $60,000 or the equivalent in Facebook stock. Although Choe wasn’t convinced that Facebook would be a hit at the time, now almost 15 years ago, it’s lucky that he took the stocks since now they’d be worth well over $200 million. Later, Mark Zuckerburg asked Choe to paint the Facebook headquarters again once they were moved, but using more subtle themes this time.
6. The Lennon Wall
Various Artists, 1980 (ongoing)
Located in Velkopřevorské Square, Prague, Czechia
While the Lennon Wall has been decorated with anti-establishment messages since the 1960s, it took on a strong cultural meaning after the assassination of Beatles’ singer John Lennon in 1980. After an initial image of John Lennon was painted on the wall, it became a mural wall dedicated to the singer, a western symbol of liberation, creativity and modernity. The wall has since then been decorated with numerous political and peaceful Beatles-themed messages and artworks. Police have tried to whitewash and cover the artwork on the Lennon Wall, but artists continue to decorate it with political messages.
Keith Haring, 1989
Located at the Church of Sant’Antonio Abate in Pisa, Italy
Featuring the iconic figures that were prominent in much of Keith Haring’s work is Tuttomundo which means “all world” in Italian. Haring met a friend in New York from Pisa who invited him to the city where this mural was created. The figures are intertwined and connected to symbolize unity and world peace. It is the largest mural in Europe, measuring about 180 square meters, and was the last public work Keith Haring would create as he passed away a year later in 1990.
4. My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love
Dmitri Vrubel, 1990
Located at the Berlin Wall in Berlin, Germany
In the 1980s, the Berlin Wall that separated East and West Germany was a popular spot for graffiti artists to present their work. Not only was this piece, which is also known as Fraternal Kiss, one of the most famous works to ever hit the wall, but it’s also one of the most famous pieces of graffiti art of all time. It depicts an embrace between communist leaders Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker although you might recognize the recent remake called Make Everything Great Again featuring Donald Trump kissing Vladimir Putin.
3. Flower Thrower
Located in Jerusalem, Israel
This black and white (except for the flowers) stencil graffiti by Banksy spreads a powerful message. Located in Jerusalem, an area riddled with war, the piece depicts a rioter poised to throw a bouquet of flowers instead of a bomb. The image is so popular that it’s been reproduced on T-shirts, as prints, and was featured on the 2005 compilation book of Banksy’s work called Banksy Wall and Piece.
2. Crack is Wack
Keith Haring, 1986
Located at East 128th Street in New York, New York
Here, we’re revisiting a Haring piece with his best-known graffiti art. Crack cocaine was a huge problem in the New York City area in the mid-1980s, and Haring experienced the pain of addiction through his friend Benny who was using the drug heavily. It was painted near the Harlem River Drive but was arrested since he didn’t have permission. But Haring was a popular artist at the time, and the mural itself was all over TV – Ronald Reagan’s “War on Drugs” campaign was in full swing – and so when people found out he was in jail, they rallied behind him. Haring was released with a $100 fine. Crack is Wack was vandalized with pro-drug messaging, and so eventually, the city allowed Haring to recreate the mural with its original purpose.
1. Balloon Girl
Located in Shoreditch, London, England
Last but not least, we have another piece of Banksy graffiti art. Banksy is arguably the most famous graffiti artist of all time and he’s broken more barriers for the art form than anyone else has. So at the number one spot, we have the most famous graffiti artist’s most famous graffiti artwork of all time – Balloon Girl. It shows a young girl with her hair and dress blowing forward, reaching for a heart-shaped balloon that’s being blown away. In 2014, the mural was removed from the east London shop it was created on and sold for £500,000. In 2015, a print of the image sold for £56,250. And in 2017, a poll showed that it was the United Kingdom’s favorite artwork. All of these accomplishments are incredible for a bit of graffiti.
If you know of other Graffiti Wall Art that should be on this list, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org