Street Art Evolution: From Vandalism to Valued

[15 minute read]

The realm of street art, once relegated to dark alleyways and abandoned buildings, has risen to become a revered form of self-expression. In a world where the concrete jungle reigns supreme, street art injects bursts of color, life, and narrative into the urban monotony. As you traverse the evolution of this vibrant art form, remember that the street-art inspired pieces at UNDERRATED SHOP are just a click away, ready to bring that urban aesthetic into your own space.


Chapter One: The Defiant Beginnings

Early Advent

The inception of street art is rooted in the turbulent times of the 1960s and '70s, a period brimming with socio-political unrest. The urban landscapes began to buzz with the defiant strokes of spray cans, marking the dawn of a unique artistic movement. Pioneers like Cornbread and TAKI 183 emerged, spraying the seeds of rebellion across the city walls.

Spray Cans and Subversion

Born in Brewerytown, Philadelphia in 1953, Darryl McCray, better known as Cornbread, is hailed as the world's first modern graffiti artist. His journey into street art began in a juvenile corrections facility, where he adopted the moniker "Cornbread" in 1965​. His first major campaign, 'Cornbread Loves Cynthia,' was a bold declaration of love that resonated through the streets of Philadelphia​. Legend holds that at 17, he daringly spray-painted "Cornbread Lives" on an elephant at the Philadelphia Zoo to debunk a newspaper article that falsely reported his death​.

Across the cities, in New York, a young artist named Demetrios, known as TAKI 183, etched his name on trains and walls. His tag, a blend of his name and street number, painted the town with a raw form of self-expression. TAKI 183's simple yet bold tags captured public and media attention, making him the first graffiti artist to be recognized in a New York Times article in 1971​.


Chapter Two: The '80s Renaissance

Birth of an Urban Culture

The 1980s was a period of vibrant cultural flux that saw the maturation of street art into a recognized form of artistic expression. At the heart of this transformation were cities like New York, which became the cauldrons of creative rebellion. As the rhythmic beats of hip-hop reverberated through its streets, a new genre of art began to find its rhythm too. The subway trains, once mere vessels of urban transport, became moving canvases adorned with the pulsating expressions of urban angst and aspirations.

In this era of artistic effervescence emerged Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, two artists who would transcend the barriers between street art and high art. Their journey from the obscure corners of the subway to the hallowed halls of art galleries epitomized the evolving narrative of street art.

Keith Haring: A Symbol of Unbridled Expression

Keith Haring was born on May 4, 1958, in Reading, Pennsylvania. His fascination with art was apparent from a tender age. The journey that began at the School of Visual Arts in New York City led him to the bustling subway stations, where the blank advertising panels became the canvas for his creative exuberance​​. Haring's art, characterized by simplistic lines yet profound symbolism, resonated with the masses. His cartoonish characters, radiating with innocence and rebellion, became symbols of social and political discourse​. Haring's efforts in bridging the gap between high art and street art were instrumental in giving street art a rightful place in the annals of art history.

Jean-Michel Basquiat: From SAMO to Stardom

Jean-Michel Basquiat, another stalwart of the '80s street art movement, brought a raw, unapologetic style to the forefront. His journey began with the pseudonym SAMO, under which he tagged poetic and philosophical phrases across the urban landscapes of New York. Basquiat's art was a poignant reflection of the socio-political milieu, blending aesthetics with activism. His transition from the streets to the galleries marked a significant milestone in the journey of street art. Basquiat, through his primitivist scribbles, challenged the conventional paradigms of art, making an indelible mark on both the street art scene and the broader art world.

Gaining Artistic Legitimacy

The emergence of artists like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat on the mainstream art scene was a testament to the evolving perceptions surrounding street art. Their success shattered the erstwhile notions that relegated street art to the realms of vandalism. The '80s renaissance saw street art gaining a foothold in the art galleries, a shift that was not only a recognition of the artistic merit of street art but also a broader acceptance of diverse artistic expressions. The works of Haring and Basquiat, with their distinct styles and profound social commentary, played a pivotal role in fostering a new era of acceptance and recognition for street art.


Chapter Three: The '90s and Beyond

Street Art Goes Global

The '90s heralded a new dawn for street art as it started transcending geographical and cultural boundaries. The colorful whispers of rebellion once confined to local neighborhoods began making marks on the streets of London, Rio de Janeiro, and beyond. Artists like Shepard Fairey, with his iconic "Obey" campaign, began engaging public spaces to challenge the establishment and ignite discussions on political and social issues.

Shepard Fairey: The Emblem of Counter-Culture

Shepard Fairey, born on February 15, 1970, in Charleston, South Carolina, emerged from the skateboarding scene, marking the urban landscapes with his distinct style of art. His journey began at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he honed his skills before delving into the world of street art. Fairey's artistry transcended traditional norms, seamlessly merging street-art activism with an entrepreneurial spirit​.

He rose to global prominence with his iconic 2008 "Hope" poster depicting then U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama. This artwork exemplified Fairey's ability to fuse art with social and political discourse, garnering international acclaim and marking him as a vanguard of the modern urban art movement​. His work continues to challenge the status quo, leveraging the streets as a canvas to voice the narratives of resistance and change, and in doing so, propelling street art into the broader spectrum of social and political dialogues.

The Digital Spur

The advent of the digital age was a game-changer for street art, catapulting it onto a global stage. The internet became a new frontier for artists to showcase their work, transcending the physical boundaries that once confined them to local neighborhoods. Websites and social platforms morphed into virtual galleries, bringing the vibrant vistas of urban creativity to a worldwide audience.

The digital realm provided a platform for street artists to connect, collaborate, and share their work with a global audience. Online communities burgeoned, fostering a new era of digital street art that blurred the lines between the virtual and the real. The global connectivity enabled by digital platforms fueled the street art movement's momentum, making it a truly global phenomenon.

Moreover, digital tools and technologies began to play a pivotal role in the creation and dissemination of street art. Artists started to explore new mediums and techniques, blending traditional street art with digital artistry, thus expanding the horizons of creative expression.


Chapter Four: The 21st Century Boom

Street Art in the New Millennium

As the world stepped into the new millennium, a mysterious artist known as Banksy emerged from the UK, originally in the 80's, leaving provocative pieces that carried sharp political and social commentary. His work not only fueled discussions but also heightened the intrigue around street art, playing a pivotal role in bringing street art to mainstream attention.

Banksy: The Enigmatic Provocateur

Banksy's journey into the world of street art began on the streets of Bristol, England, during the 1980s as part of a graffiti crew called the DryBreadZ Crew (DBZ). He later transitioned to using stencils, which became a hallmark of his style, enabling him to create intricate pieces with a speed that matched the urgency of his messages​.

As Banksy's notoriety grew, so did the global appreciation for street art. His enigmatic identity coupled with his audacious public displays of art, often laced with sharp political and social commentary, made headlines worldwide. In the 21st century, Banksy took his provocative artistry to new heights, executing audacious public displays of art that challenged conventional norms and sparked global conversations.

One of Banksy's most notable 21st-century works includes the self-shredding artwork "Girl with Balloon," which partially shredded itself moments after being auctioned for over a million pounds at Sotheby’s in 2018. This act was a stark critique of the commercial art world and created a global media frenzy, showcasing Banksy's ability to intertwine art, activism, and spectacle.

His other significant works during this period include the 'Dismaland Bemusement Park' in 2015, a sinister parody of Disneyland, and 'The Walled Off Hotel' in 2017, overlooking the wall separating Israel from the Palestinian territories, each making profound political and social statements.

Banksy's influence in the 21st century has elevated street art to a form of global discourse, challenging societal norms, questioning political narratives, and pushing the boundaries of what is possible in the realm of public art.

Street Art and Social Media

The dawn of social media platforms like Instagram, as well as Dribbble or Behance heralded a new era for street art. These platforms became the new canvases, propelling street artists to global fame. Street art transcended geographical boundaries, reaching eyes across continents, making stars out of artists like Banksy and Shepard Fairey.

The ease of sharing and the instant global reach provided by social media platforms amplified the influence of street art, enabling artists to engage with a broader audience and ignite discussions on a global scale. The visuals of street art, often vibrant and provocative, found a natural home in the visually driven ecosystem of social media, thus fostering a symbiotic relationship between street art and digital platforms.

The evolution of social media also facilitated a new level of interaction between the artists and the audience. It created a platform for artists to share their work, their process, and their stories, creating a more intimate connection with the audience and fostering a global community of street art enthusiasts.


Chapter Five: The Future

The Intersection of Technology

Today, street art intertwines with augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), forging a path into uncharted territories. This blend of technology and artistry is elevating street art to a new dimension of interaction and exploration. Moreover, as technology continues to evolve, street art finds itself at the cusp of digital transformation. The convergence of street art and digital realms manifests in the increasing popularity of Crypto Art, which is emerging as a significant trend in 2023, marrying the ethos of street art with the digital frontier​. Additionally, panel discussions such as the one organized by BLKOUT Walls Mural Festival 2023 shed light on how technology is shaping the future of street art in places like Detroit, indicating a broader conversation on technology's role in the evolution of this art form​.

From Streets to Galleries and Beyond

The trajectory of street art from clandestine alleyways to the revered halls of galleries continues to ascend. The burgeoning acceptance of street art is reflected in its soaring popularity amidst political turmoil and the Covid pandemic, positioning it as one of the hottest art trends of 2023. Street art galleries are becoming increasingly accessible, indicating a shift in societal recognition and appreciation of this art form. The dynamic nature of street art is significantly altering the appearance of urban areas, public locations, and by extension, many neighborhoods and cities globally​.

Investments and Societal Impact

The investment potential in street art has surged, with art values appreciating considerably over the last decade. This financial recognition not only underscores the artistic merit of street art but also augments its allure to a broader audience, encompassing art connoisseurs and investors alike​. Furthermore, street art projects are being employed as powerful mediums to raise awareness and discourse around the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. This confluence of art and advocacy accentuates the profound societal impact and the potential of street art to foster meaningful dialogues on pressing global issues​.

The Ongoing Narrative

The narrative of street art is an ongoing, vibrant journey emblematic of self-expression, societal dialogues, and artistic innovation. The art form's metamorphosis from the streets to galleries and digital platforms epitomizes a broader acceptance and recognition of diverse artistic expressions. As street art continues to evolve, it encapsulates the zeitgeist of contemporary society, mirroring its struggles, aspirations, and the indefatigable spirit of rebellion. The future of street art is an exhilarating realm of possibilities, embodying the essence of urban creativity while continually pushing the boundaries of artistic expression.



The tale of street art is a vibrant journey through time, echoing the whispers of rebellion, the hues of diversity, and the strokes of genius. As you admire the artistry of street culture, remember that a piece of this vibrant world can find a home with you. At UNDERRATED SHOP, we house a curated collection of street-art inspired pieces, beckoning you to embrace the raw, authentic essence of urban creativity. Embrace the allure of street art, and let the colors of rebellion adorn your space.

Note: All red text in this article are links, comment below and explore the links if you are interested in more information on these artists.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.