A mural is a painting or other work of art executed directly on a wall. Graffiti are writing or drawings that have been scribbled, scratched or painted illicitly on a wall or other surface, often within public view. Murals have been created by many artists including the renowned Mexican painter Diego Rivera. However, in this article we only look at murals created by graffiti artists, often illicitly but sometimes with permission of the authorities. Graffiti as an art movement began in the late 1960s and today some of the best known artists in the world are street artists. However, graffiti is still considered vandalism and some of the most renowned works by street artists have been removed by authorities. Here are the 10 most famous murals created by graffiti artists including Crack Is Wack by Keith Haring; Ethnicities by Eduardo Kobra; Banksy’s Balloon Girl; and the Facebook Murals by David Choe.
#10 The Giant of Boston
Location: Dewey Square Park in Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Artist: Os Gemeos
Os Gemeos is a collaborative art duo of twins Otavio Pandolfo and Gustavo Pandolfo. This was a temporary, monumental public mural measuring about 70 feet by 70 feet which they created as part of an exhibition of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. It depicts a giant, yellow colored character in brightly mismatched clothes who appears to have squeezed himself in between the towering buildings that surround him. Os Gemeos have skillfully taken into account the curved roof of the structure as well as the surrounding skyscrapers. The Giant of Boston caused a controversy with some people criticizing it by linking it to terrorism related fears. However, by and large, it was an incredibly successful and popular artwork which enhanced the fame of the Brazilian duo.
#9 Robbo Incorporated
Location: Regent’s Canal in Camden, London, England
Artist: King Robbo
King Robbo, or John Robertson, was an English graffiti artist. In 1985, he painted this graffiti work under the London Transport Police Headquarters on a wall beside Regent’s Canal in Camden. The location was only accessible by water and as years passed it become the oldest piece of graffiti in London. Over time, all the works created by King Robbo were removed from London’s trains and walls by authorities, except this one. In 2009, however, famous English graffiti artist Banksy destroyed most of this graffiti by painting over it. This started the well known graffiti war between Banksy and King Robbo. In 2011, John Robertson sustained a head injury which left him in a comatose condition. The same year, Banksy ended the war by creating a black and white mural at the same site to pay tribute to King Robbo. Robertson was unable to recover and died in 2014.
#8 Etnias (“Ethnicities”)
Location: Port District in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Artist: Eduardo Kobra
Eduardo Kobra, one of the leading graffiti artists in the world, is best known for depicting portraits with a technique of repeating squares and triangles. He created this mural for the 2016 Rio Olympics. It took him around two months to complete the piece during which he used 100 gallons of white paint, 400 gallons of colored paint and 3,500 cans of spray paint. 51 feet in height, 560 feet in width and covering an area of almost 30,000 square feet, Ethnicities received the certificate from the Guinness World Records Book for the world’s largest graffiti art. The mural portrays five face from the five continents: the Huli people from New Guinea, the Mursi from Ethiopia, the Kayin from Thailand, the Supi from Europe, and the Tapajos from the Americas. They represent both the five Olympic rings as well as the message that we are all one.
#7 The Purple Shall Govern – Nelson Mandela Mural
Location: Juta Street in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, South Africa
Artist: Shepard Fairey
Shepard Fairey is one of the leading street artists perhaps best known for his Barack Obama “Hope” poster. The Purple Rain Protest was an anti-apartheid protest held in Cape Town on 2nd September 1989. During the protest, thousands of people marched towards South Africa’s Parliament. The police sprayed water cannon with purple dye on the protesters so that they could be later identified and arrested, giving the name to the march. In 2014, Fairey created this mural to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela and the 25th anniversary of the Purple Rain Protest. It is 10 stories high, covers more than 2000 square feet and overlooks the Nelson Mandela Bridge. The Nelson Mandela mural was Fairey’s first work in Africa.
Location: Church of Sant’Antonio Abate in Pisa, Italy
Artist: Keith Haring
Keith Haring rose from the New York City street culture to become one of the most renowned American artists. He met a student from Pisa who invited him to Italy. Here the artist decided to paint a mural on the north side of the convent of the church of St. Anthony Abbot, which had been semi-buried during the bombings of World War II. Tuttomondo is an Italian word which means “All world”. The mural depicts a future in which the dominant ideals are unity and peace. It has thirty dynamic figures of great vitality; concatenated and entwined to symbolize the peace and harmony of the world. It measures about 180 square meters with a height of 10m and a width of 18m. Tuttomondo is the largest mural ever made in Europe. It was the last public work of Keith Haring, who died the following year.
#5 Facebook Murals
Location: Facebook Headquarters in Palo Alto, California
Artist: David Choe
David Choe is perhaps the most famous living graffiti artist after Banksy. Sean Parker, the first president of Facebook, was a fan of Choe and in 2005 he approached Choe to decorate the original headquarters of Facebook in the Silicon Valley with murals. Parker offered him a choice between $60,000 and company stock worth about the same, advising him to take the latter. Choe at that time said that the idea of Facebook was “ridiculous and pointless”. However, being a habitual gambler, he still took the option of stocks. Facebook went public at $38 a share in 2012 taking the worth of Choe’s stocks to $200 million. In 2017, the common stock is at more than $171 per share. The murals created by Choe were graphic, explicit and sexual like most of his works. In 2007, Mark Zuckerberg again asked him to paint murals for their next office, however somewhat tamer than his usual style.
#4 My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love
Location: Berlin Wall, Germany
Artist: Dmitri Vrubel
The Berlin Wall was constructed in 1961 to separate West Berlin and East Berlin during the Cold War. In the 1980s, the wall became a popular place for graffiti artists to express their opinions. Also known as Fraternal Kiss, this mural is the most famous work of graffiti among the many well known pieces on the Berlin Wall. It was created by Russian artist Dmitri Vrubel; and depicts a kiss between communist leaders Leonid Brezhnev of Soviet Union and Erich Honecker of East Germany. It is inspired by a photograph that captured the moment in 1979 during the 30th anniversary celebration of the foundation of the German Democratic Republic. Fraternal Kiss is one of the most famous graffiti artworks and its derivative works include Make Everything Great Again, a 2016 mural of Russian president Vladimir Putin and United States president Donald Trump in a similar pose.
#3 Flower Thrower
Location: Jerusalem, the Middle East
Banksy is the most renowned graffiti artist and he has without a doubt made the biggest contribution in making street art popular. This iconic stencil illustration depicts a person involved in a riot armed with a bouquet of flowers instead of a fire bomb. By substituting a bomb, which represents war, with flowers, which represent peace, Banksy is probably conveying a message of hope of peace in a region marred by warfare. The complete work is in black and white, except the flowers. The Flower Thrower appears on the front and back cover of Banksy Wall and Piece, the widely popular 2005 compilation book featuring the artist’s work. It is one of the most famous graffiti artworks and has been reproduced numerous times on T-shirts, prints etc.
#2 Crack Is Wack
Location: East 128th Street in New York City, United States
Artist: Keith Haring
In the mid-1980s, Haring had a studio assistant named Benny who became addicted to crack cocaine. Haring and his crew had a very distressing experience trying to get Benny off his addiction. Around this time, Haring often drove past a handball court located in a small park near the Harlem River Drive. It was usually deserted. Here Haring painted his best known graffiti Crack Is Wack. He was soon arrested as he didn’t have permission to paint the mural. “War on Drugs” was a major campaign of President Ronald Reagan at the time and the mural quickly became famous as it was often displayed on television when the media did a story on drugs. When the New York Post tried to contact Haring they learned that he had been arrested and soon people got behind Haring. He was eventually fined only $100. The mural was vandalized into a pro-crack mural and then the authorities ultimately asked Haring to legally create a mural with the same message. Crack Is Wack is one of the best known murals not only in New York City but around the world.
#1 Balloon Girl
Location: A shop in Shoreditch, London, England
This graffiti shows a young girl whose hair and dress are blowing forward in the wind. She is stretching her hand to clutch the string of her heart-shaped red balloon, which has been blown away. The image of Banksy’s Girl with a Balloon has been used numerous times on prints, t-shorts, as tattoos etc. Singer Justin Bieber got a tattoo based on the artwork. In February 2014, the Sincura Group removed the mural from the east London shop and sold it for £500,000. In November 2015, a print of the painting was auctioned for £56,250, more than twice its estimated value. In 2017, in a poll conducted by Samsung of 2,000 people from the United Kingdom, Banksy’s image of a girl letting go of a heart-shaped balloon was voted the nation’s favorite artwork. The Balloon Girl, created by the best known graffiti artist, is the most famous graffiti art ever created.