Starting an art career in graffiti, most urban artists are used to being negatively-famous rather than sought out for their works. Although the style is growing rapidly, these six artists are forefathers or frontrunners (or both) in this growing genre of creativity.
One of the most influential urban or street artists in the world, Shepard Fairey blends satire and complaint in his posters and murals. He has been arrested for defacing public property, created works used in Obama’s re-election campaign, and created artwork for use in retail applications (including on a 5-figure wristwatch), proof that he is a master of balancing on both sides of the law in a wide variety of medium, including stencils, photography, and collage.
This London-based artist, known as the world’s most famous vandal, gained celebrity status in 2005 with an image of a girl clutching balloons painted on a concrete wall in Israel, and has genuinely transformed street art around the world in Robin Hood-esque fashion, despite having remained anonymous for nearly 20 years. Using his art to express political dissatisfaction and social issues, he quickly developed professional relationships and established himself as much more than a flighty graffiti artist. Throughout the 2000’s, his works and reputation grew in popularity, along with his pocketbook. He has moved to commercial work, designing images for retailers, and has even found himself a victim of vandalism.
Basquiat’s colorful ethnicity is mirrored in his artistic expression. A mix of Haitian and Puerto Rican ancestry, Basquiat showed early capability in art. However, he remained focused on his social and political beliefs, using graffiti to spread his message. He set himself up for success, rubbing elbows with other artists and working into galleries, first in group exhibits and later, in 1982, hosting his own solo shows. It may have been after his sudden death in 1988 due to a drug overdose that he finally reached the pinnacle of his career, as the public finally had access to the works he had created, and his art skyrocketed in price, including a 1982 piece “Untitled” which sold for $110.5 million, propelling him to the top price for an American artist’s work sold at auction.
Beginning his artistic life like many other street artists in graffiti work, McGee (then known as Twist) had lofty goals to cover buildings in San Francisco. After his formal art education, McGee left the graffiti art life behind to pursue a more mainstream career in urban art. He straddled the two worlds for years, but seems comfortable on the side of appreciated art, displaying art in galleries around the world, fondly recalling how he got there. Today, his works, from paintings to installations to sculptures, continue to attract visitors, drawing them into a celebration of everyday life.
Having achieved many successful art milestones in his young age, Eaton can be considered a complete success. His roots lie in urban Los Angeles, where he began as a street artist, but he has lived in a variety of locations, inspiring him to expand his artistic vision. After art school, he worked in a design agency and spent several years working in commercial design. He has proven successful in everything he touches, from work with a toy company, collaborating with other artists in large-scale works, to having his own creative agency (Thunderdog Studios). He has exhibited multiple times at such prominent events like POW WOW! Hawaii and Art Basil.
Mexican-born Jorge Tellaeche is both a graphic designer and artist, having produced commercial works as well as collaborating for social awareness campaigns. Starting his career at 15 in San Diego prior to any formal art training, Tellaeche returned to Mexico and began his own design agency. He works in a multitude of mediums and combines the expressive emotions found in traditional Mexican art with graphic design, fashion, and traditional art methods. He has been commissioned by organizations and brands in London and New York and includes Adidas and the W Hotel chain.