While I’ve admired a lot of street art since being in New York, I’ve always seen tags and sprayed names as a sloppy mess on the city’s streets. But today, after taking a great graffiti tour, I can finally appreciate their origins and purpose.
The walking tour was hosted by Grafftours and snaked through the East Village, Lower East Side and up the Bowery. We were led by tour guides Gabe and Kate, and probably only covered around 10 blocks in around 90 minutes – but the art was everywhere.
It came in all different varieties – tags, names, tiles, papier-mache, silk prints and beautiful, massive murals that looked as if they had been painted with brushes. There were also some huge names, from Shepard Fairey (behind the Obama HOPE poster), and Nick Walker (a key Banksy influence).
We learned the origins of street art, its progress and what it represents depending on its form – from disrespect towards other artists to bearing a social message.
While they had nothing on the larger murals in terms of precision, I found the names particularly interesting. Gabe and Kate showed us one wall covered with large monikers. Us tour-goers guessed that they had taken around five to ten minutes to create, and we were stunned to learn they had taken less than a minute.
Quite a feat, considering they were large, even and shaded. But of course there was a purpose – to avoid penalties stretching from $250 to 10+ years in prison.
We also had the treat of seeing art in action. On the side of idealglass.org, an industrial space on East 2nd Street, we witnessed artist LNY spraying herons and whales for a commissioned piece. The way he used the paint to create short lines was reminiscent of Van Gogh’s starry night:
This tour is pretty pricey – $45 – but I think it’s worth it. The guides, who both dabble in their own art, are extremely knowledgeable and didn’t seem to mind my onslaught of questions. I learned a lot and it’s made me want to look up – rather than at the pavement – wherever I walk in the city.
And while some of the pieces were hard to miss, others, like Space Invader’s tile (below), were pretty hidden – and made me feel like I’d been let into one of yje city’s secrets.
Go! It’s great.