Graffiti are writing or drawings that have been scribbled, scratched or painted illicitly on a wall or other surface, often within public view. The word graffiti, or its singular form “graffito”, come from the Italian word graffiato which means “scratched”. While the practice of creating graffiti has existed since ancient times, it come to the forefront as a modern art movement in the second half of the 20th century. Darryl McCray, known by his tagging name Cornbread, began the to write on the walls in Philadelphia in the late 1960s. The movement spread to New York City and blossomed into the modern graffiti movement, which reached its peak in the U.S. in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and then spread to Europe. Cornbread is widely regarded as the father of modern day graffiti. Today graffiti art is hugely popular and some of the best known artists in the world are street artists. Still graffiti is considered vandalism by authorities and many graffiti artists choose anonymity as a way to prevent arrest. Here are the 10 most famous graffiti artists in the world along with pictures of their best known works.
#10 Lee Quiñones
Nationality: Puerto Rican
The New York City Subway graffiti movement which took place in the 1970s and 1980s went on to have a massive local, countrywide and international impact on graffiti being recognized as an art form. George Lee Quinones was one of the innovators of New York’s street-art movement and is considered by many to be the single most influential graffiti artist to emerge from that era. He began painting graffiti on subway trains in 1974 and within a few years attained legendary status in this new field. Quinones often left poetic messages on his art pieces like “Graffiti is art and if art is a crime, please God, forgive me”. He created some of the most admired graffiti pieces at the time but unfortunately much of his finest work is lost forever. Quinones was one of the first artists to move from graffiti to canvas based paintings. Today he is a well established artist with his paintings housed at permanent collections of museums.
Blu is the pseudonym of an Italian graffiti artist who conceals his real identity. He became famous in 1999 by painting a series of illicit graffiti in the historical center and suburbs of Bologna in Italy. After initially using spray paint, the traditional medium of graffiti, Blu developed his characteristic style of using house paint which allowed him to paint larger murals and give a stronger intensity to his works. Blu stands against modern tendency to keep art elitist, unreachable and expensive. He is known for works which convey an important political or social message like his murals against globalization and capitalism; and for protection of human rights. Blu is one of the most active graffiti artists and his massive murals can be seen all over the world.
#8 Seen UA
Richard “Richie” Mirando, known as Seen UA, first started to paint on New York City Subway system in 1973, at the age of 12. Along with his crew, United Artists (UA), Seen quickly gained the reputation for producing full-color throw-ups on whole cars. He was one of the most renowned graffiti artists when graffiti as an art was still in its infancy. Seen is best known for his illustrations featuring comic heroes and television cartoons. His work has been published in many acclaimed books including Subway Art by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant; and American Graffiti by Margo Thompson. Seen is one of the most famous graffiti artists in the world and for his contribution to the movement, he is often referred to as the Godfather of Graffiti.
#7 Lady Pink
Lady Pink is the tag name of Sandra Fabara who was born in Ambato, Ecuador; migrated to U.S. when she was seven; and was raised in New York City. She began her graffiti career at the age of 15 by painting subway trains. Fabara has focused her career on empowering women. She uses graffiti and murals to fight for equality, justice and women’s rights. She is also a well known canvas based artist and her paintings are included in important collections. Lady Pink was one of the first women to get involved in the graffiti culture and hence she is known as the “first lady of graffiti”. She is now a graffiti legend and has inspired many women to join the field. Fabara is also dedicated to the community and mentoring teens. She visits many schools to teach painting to young artists.
Vhils is the pseudonym of Portuguese graffiti artist Alexandre Manuel Dias Farto. Farto moved on to graffiti at a mere age of 10. At the age of 13 he began to graffiti the suburban train lines of Lisbon. He then expanded to train lines outside of Lisbon, beyond Portugal, and finally across all of Europe. Vhils not only uses paint and other common street art materials to create graffiti but also uses chisels, hammers, drills, etching acid, bleach and other tools to carve his images out of the walls. He is most known for relief portraits which are carved on walls and created by a method involving drilling and controlled explosions among other things. He usually depicts ordinary, common citizens. Vhils is young as compared to other big names in street art but he is already regarded as one of the most skilled and innovative graffiti artists in the world. His works are described as poetic, complex and ambitious.
#5 Os Gemeos
This is a collaborative art duo of twins Otavio Pandolfo and Gustavo Pandolfo. Os Gemeos is a Portuguese word meaning “the twins”. Located in São Paulo, Brazil, the duo started their career in 1987 with spray-painting graffiti. They gradually became a major influence on the local art scene and then went on to help define the graffiti style of Brazil. Today they are renowned internationally with their work appearing on streets and in galleries across the world. Os Gemeos was initially influenced by American hip hop culture but with time they put Brazilian cultural elements into their graffiti. Their work includes complicated murals, family portraits, commentary on Sao Paulo’s social and political circumstances, and even Brazilian folklores. It stands out for its dream like aesthetics.
#4 Blek le Rat
Xavier Prou began his artistic career in 1981 by painting stencils of rats. His pseudonym Blek le Rat is taking from the cartoon “Blek le Roc” with rat being an anagram for “art”. He considered rat symbolic of freedom and the spread of the street art movement. Blek le Rat was the first to use pre-stenciled posters and images to create graffiti. This allowed him to apply the paint quickly as he didn’t want to stay too long on the street due to the fear of being caught. This later became a very popular technique among street artists and hence Blek le Rat is known as the “father of stencil graffiti”. With a career spanning more than three and a half decades, Blek le Rat is one of the most influential and revered graffiti artists in the world. He has inspired a generation of artists including Banksy who said that, “every time I think I’ve painted something slightly original, I find out that Blek le Rat has done it as well, only twenty years earlier.”
#3 Eduardo Kobra
Born in a low income neighborhood in São Paulo, Eduardo Kobra discovered his passion for street art in his teens and he rose to prominence in the 1990s. He is best known for his massive-scale, brightly colored murals infused with bold lines. Kobra employs geometric shapes in multicolored backgrounds, embroiled shading and swirling effects to achieve a photo-realistic effect in his works. He also produces three-dimensional works. His most famous works include portraits of iconic figures in history. He also uses his street art to make statements against pollution, global warming, destruction of forests and war. Before the 2016 Rio Olympics, Kobra created an almost 3,000 square meters mural at the Olympic Boulevard which received the certificate from the Guinness World Records Book for the world’s largest graffiti art. Eduardo Kobra is the leading Brazilian graffiti artist and, along with Banksy and David Choe, one of the most famous graffiti artists in the world.
#2 David Choe
Born to Korean immigrants in U.S., David Choe began his graffiti career in Los Angeles. A creative rebel, Choe is known for his bold and raw images; and he calls his style dirty. He often portrays explicit scenes of sexual nature; and explores the themes of desire, degradation and exaltation in many of his works. In 2005, Choe was asked to paint murals in the interior of Facebook’s first Silicon Valley office by Sean Parker, his fan and the first president of the social networking website. He painted graphic, explicit and sexual murals, and just two years later Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asked him to paint somewhat tamer murals for their next office. Choe, a habitual gambler, chose to receive company stock instead of cash payment for the original Facebook murals. The value of his shares rose to around $200 million by 2012.
Banksy is an anonymous graffiti artist and there remains much speculation about his identity and biographical details due to his massive popularity. He began his career in the 1990s in the Bristol underground scene, which also saw the rise of other well known figures including Robert Del Naja, founding member of the band Massive Attack. Banksy’s works of political and social commentary have been featured on streets, walls, and bridges of cities throughout the world. He has created some of the best known graffiti ever including Flower Thrower, The Mild Mild West and Balloon Girl. Balloon Girl was ranked as the favorite artwork in United Kingdom in a 2017 Samsung poll. The popularity of Banksy has led to recognition of many other important artists in the field of graffiti art. He was awarded the Person of the Year at the 2014 Webby Awards. Banksy is the most famous graffiti artist and he has without a doubt made the biggest contribution in making street art popular.