Author: Imogen Aldridge

Urban illustrations - the underground world of graffiti art

It only feels relatively recent that graffiti, or street art, has become an ‘accepted’ form of creativity in the art world and wider society. But it’s one that has a history going back centuries. Archaeologists have found ‘graffitied’ jokes, opinions and protest poems, done by Ancient Romans, in the remnants of Pompeii and Herculaneum. There is evidence of the same in Ancient Egypt, as well as various archaeological sites in Greece. And if you consider the first cave paintings a form of graffiti, that means it’s almost as old as humanity itself.

However, it was when spray paint became widely available that graffiti took a wider form, exploding in popularity in cities across the US in the sixties and seventies. Occasionally drawing a fine and controversial line between art and criminality for many, some of the most renowned pieces have been painted on public buildings and in communal spaces, with creations from the likes of Banksy and Damien Hirst going on to fetch millions at auction. Here, we’ll explore the art of graffiti, and how it can add character to the home as well as the street:

Why we graffiti 

In short, why not? Graffiti is a way to express oneself much like any other form art takes. But because public buildings tend to be the canvas graffiti artists use, the question ‘why?’ tends to come from those who adamantly believe graffiti to primarily be vandalism, not art, and that the two are mutually exclusive. 

Urban illustrations - the underground world of graffiti art | ImageOwain George - Urbanite

Urban illustrations - the underground world of graffiti art | Image

For many graffiti artists out there, the main purpose of their art is to tell a story about society, people, art, culture, and often politics and the times we live in. Since graffiti is often painted over shortly after its creation, with the biggest hot spots filled with budding artists painting over each other’s work, the aim for many artists is to create work that has a high impact in a short time frame, stopping people in their tracks.

It's not in a gallery, museum, or exhibition, so passers-by aren’t actively seeking it out. That means that the most successful graffiti wall art captures people’s attention and imagination when they least expect it, which is perhaps why, as an art form, it has and continues to stand the test of time. As for the other decades-old question, ‘why a public building and not a canvas?’, the reverse is also true for other art forms. It can help tell that story in a way that other formats can’t. Not only that, but it’s also a way to ensure your work is seen by a larger number of people. 

Banksy and beyond 

Even those who aren’t at all familiar with the world of graffiti art know the name Banksy. Perhaps the most famous graffiti artist to emerge from the scene, many of his works have gone on to fetch millions of pounds in the most prestigious auction houses around the globe. Some of those fortunate enough to own buildings that the Bristolian artist (whose real identity is unconfirmed) has worked on, have even removed the walls containing his artwork to sell to collectors. 

Urban illustrations - the underground world of graffiti art | Image

Banksy – Follow Your Dreams (Cancelled)

Taking influence from Parisian artist Blek le Rat’s work with stencilling in the 1980s, Banksy became enamoured with this technique after having to abandon several freehand works in progress when police and members of the public spotted him. Stencilling allowed him to be more ambitious with the scale of each project and get it done faster. By bringing ready-made templates out with him when he went tagging, he could spray art onto the wall and leave for the next spot in seconds. 

However, this technique reignited the question posed by art critics in the 1960s during the emergence of Pop Art: can art that uses commercial techniques be considered ‘fine’ art, or even approached in the same way? While we can’t see Banksy’s brushstrokes or intricate hand detailing, the preparation and skill that goes into his productions cannot be overstated. 

Like fine art, Banksy’s work is thought-provoking, captivating, and shows immense skill. Some critics may argue that it still doesn’t meet the criteria, but Banksy’s global appeal to fans, collectors, and fellow artists mean that not only is the distinction unnecessary, but to say graffiti is a lower form of art or not art at all is reductive. Especially as some of his creations have risen among the most instantly recognisable art on the planet.


Urban illustrations - the underground world of graffiti art | Image

Urban illustrations - the underground world of graffiti art | Image

In fact, Banksy’s stencilling techniques, imagery and not-so-subtle messages have inspired a generation of new graffiti artists making their mark on the world. Anonymous British street artist Bambi’s work ‘Poll Dance’ is a prime example of this. Using the stencil technique, she likens the 2020 US presidential election run-up to a dance between both candidates, each one vying to take the lead. This use of tongue-in-cheek humour and pun-based visual metaphor engages an entirely new demographic both in art, and in the subject matter depicted. 

Urban illustrations - the underground world of graffiti art | Image

Urban illustrations - the underground world of graffiti art | Image

The same can be said for this piece by North-London born-and-bred artist And Wot. Depicting a bomber aircraft dropping hearts, the artist uses Banksy’s signature spray stencilling technique to create a simple but beautiful, easy-to-relate-to piece with a universal message about humanity. Not only has the mainstream appeal of Banksy’s work helped graffiti claim it's long overdue acceptance in the art world, but his use of different techniques has catapulted the art form beyond the spray can into something even bigger.

How graffiti wall art adds character

We mentioned before that street art isn’t just for the streets, and we mean it. Graffiti artwork packs a punch that can transform a neutral-looking bedroom, living room, kitchen or hallway into a room with bundles of personality. With industrial décor and exposed brickwork being so popular, it’s a great opportunity to add graffiti wall art against a similar backdrop to its usual habitat. 

Urban illustrations - the underground world of graffiti art | ImagePaul Jackson – Walt’s Revenge 3D Lenticular Red

Urban illustrations - the underground world of graffiti art | Image

We love this piece by Paul Jackson, depicting Walt Disney stuck inside the head of Mickey Mouse, his most successful creation. While this is certainly not the most child-friendly depiction of the Disney character, we love the use of colour and graffiti within the piece to illustrate the idea that Mickey is a little ‘tired’. It also gives the subtle message to not let yourself be consumed by your own ideas and work, one which is universally potent.


Urban illustrations - the underground world of graffiti art | Image

James Kingman – Hendrix (Spray Paint Finish)
Urban illustrations - the underground world of graffiti art | Image

If you love the techniques of street art and iconic sixties musicians in equal measure, look no further than this beautiful Jimi Hendrix print by London-based artist James Kingman. Inspired by pop culture and the Pop Art movement, it’s easy to spot those techniques in this piece. However, Kingman blends Lichtenstein-‘esque’ patterns and zany bright colours with contemporary street art techniques too, crafting work that can be considered both Pop Art and graffiti. Like Kingman’s other pieces, the inspired use of multiple patterns and colours add plenty of character. And, just like the best street art, it’d look just as at home on an indoor wall as it would on an outdoor wall.

If you’re searching for graffiti or street art to display at home, check out our full collection here at Art Republic. Whether you’re after bright colours, a statement piece, or a print that pays homage to your cultural heroes, you’ll find it right here. Add some energy and character to your home décor.

Urban illustrations - the underground world of graffiti art | Image

graffiti & street art