Walking the streets of New York City is incredible because of the sheer sensory overload. The traffic, the lights, the people, the pace, the movement, the colors, the food, and of course, the art. I love New York because of this sensory kaleidoscope feeling it produces, the way artists have taken to NYC’s streets over decades has made it an epicenter of creative expression.
While remaining notorious for its crack down on graffiti artists who came to prominence tagging subway cars and rooftops, NYC is far from being wiped clean. Artists have divined art galleries in every public space available to them. When I go to New York, I walk for miles. I walk Manhattan, up and down, then across the bridges or on the ferry to Brooklyn, to see what I can see. There’s the Lower East Side and Greenwich, where you might expect to see street art, but it’s really in every neighborhood and borough, on every railing, billboard, signage, or low-hanging street light.
In the past 5-7 years I’ve spent a lot more time in the city that never sleeps, each time tapping in to the incredible array of art you can enjoy on her streets; without ever stepping inside one of its many world-renowned galleries and museums.
Ahead I unpack works from some of the street artists that have opened my eyes and now symbolize the thriving art gallery that are the streets of New York City.
Phoebe in NY
Phoebe in New York is the alter ego of Libby Schoettle, an artist and aspiring writer whose work always makes me chuckle or ponder, a bit. Witty phrases like “something good is worth finding” adorn her characters, who can be seen clutching a heart and posing with a pensive closed fist under their chin (like in the photo above).
Her website mentions that she “aims to forge connections and evoke emotions among people on city streets,” and I can certainly say she has done that for me! Her characters, made of various imperfect materials that constitute a collage that is wheat-pasted late at night or in the early morning, and they seem very at-home on the streets of Manhattan.
Other phrases you’ll find on her work are, “Yes to love,” “Come as you are,” “No woman should settle,” “Beauty is art,” “Get it done,” and “Don’t panic” among many more. Whether empowering, inquisitive, cheeky, or fun, you’ll be happy to have happened upon her work.
From what I can tell, Dain doesn’t even have a website. And while it wouldn’t be the what I’d recommend to an up-and-coming artist, Dain has clearly been able to build an incredible following (63.5k followers) as a result of a relentless dedication to plastering his collage art wheatpastes all over New York City. Using disparate elements, photos, spraypaint, and other pop & rugged elements in a way that feels classic.
Icons like Basquiat, The Notorious B.I.G., Keith Haring, and more, giving each piece New York flavor, while feeling like the work is part of the Warhol lineage that has the uncanny ability to use proportion, balance, culture, color, and texture to win over viewers immediately.
An artist who native New Yorkers have been familiar with for a while, having worked locally with brands like adidas, MTV, Four Loko and The Grammys. His Post No Hate campaign to stomp out bullying has been awesome, as has his recent Art Clinic, which left art supplies attached to the outside of a temporary storefront so that NYC families could go grab some stuff for the kids to make art at home during quarantine.
His urban zen gardens and collage work with the likes of Willy Wonka, Oprah Winfrey, Jerry Seinfeld, Will Smith, Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama, Biggie (again), Donald Trump, Bart Simpson, David Bowie, and a range of other notable pop icons. Very different work than Dain but also hitting a similar note in some ways, but we really appreciate the way Sacsix has focused his work since quarantine on the disparities we are seeing across society and using his art as a way to solve a need. Check out the latest in his Instagram feed regarding that awesome idea, the Art Clinic on NYC’s Lower East Side.
Robert Janz was born in Belfast, Ireland in 1932 and has made artwork all over the world for most of his life. I actually first found his work via Sacsix’s instagram feed, then saw his work with my own eyes a few times, and was totally blown away. As his website says, his work is a ‘’study in transience’’ as his Bisonmen are often papered over with the next advertisement shortly thereafter.
These are impermanent work, illegally posted, who have a short shelf-life, and are emblematic of the awareness that comes to us when we are looking for the beauty in everything. He’s been putting up these ‘streetings’ as they are referred to, since the 1980’s and I hope he doesn’t stop for a long time. Here’s to good health, Robert!!
I first saw Observer Obscura’s work on Orchard St before meeting a friend for a cocktail and discovering Option A, but I digress… and every time it’s as if the message was meant for me. Simple text in a simple font, wheat-pasted in opportune viewing locations, telling us a hard truth we try to shy away from normally or a shit of practical honesty from the universe that is compelling, concise, and real AF.
I just purchased Consumer Art’s Basquiat 1 Map print, and I’m going to love bringing a piece of the NY street art scene into my home very soon. Wood cut outs, his ‘Love Spray’ wheatpastes are all over New York City, and his mix of stencils, prints, maps, and various applications that weave culture, time, place, fashion, and art into a mix that is bold, rugged, and so very fitting in the city that never sleeps.
All Photos by Evan La Ruffa (except Janzwork photos, courtesy of his website)
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