Like so many great love stories, I fell in love with street art - in Paris.
My love affair with the increasingly popular and hip art form began in the Parisian neighborhood of the Marais to be exact. Just over two years ago.
Walking through many of the 20 arrondisements that make up the snail-shaped city of Paris, I couldn’t help but try to glimpse street art in its various forms, shapes, colors and sizes.
One image in particular was the first to catch my eye and my heart – a seemingly mirror image of two women by artist Fred le Chevalier. The women almost appeared to look down at me from their perch on a building wall at the intersection near our rented apartment.
The image resonated with me because of the women’s symbiotic relationship, their floating grace, and the contrast between the lines of the art and the old brick wall. But, most importantly, it reminded me of my identical twin sister back in my hometown of Chicago.
From that point on, I started taking photos of the two women in the daytime and nighttime, and then I started to capture photos of other works of street art by other artists across the city, which struck different emotional chords with me.
Through my camera lens, I saw how street art added another layer of personality to the streets, spilling over and out onto the city itself. But, what worked for Paris didn't necessary apply to some of the other the world-class urban destinations I've recently visited.
New York City, which used to be graffit-ridden, seems to be more purposely adorned with street art, especially in popular tourist spots like Little Italy, the Meatpacking District, and along the High Line. The city's street art also has become a backdrop for locals, bloggers and Instagram-aficionados posing for photos against the colorful backgrounds.
Of course, it's hard to forget Banksy's storied stay in New York City in October 2013, when he added his own special street art flair to walls (and even trucks and cars) across the city as part of his residency, "Better Out Than In." The people who were able to spot his street art were deemed to be the lucky ones, and the three people who unknowingly purchased a priceless piece of "spray art" at a Central Park South stand run by the artist himself were the luckiest ones indeed.
When I was in London, I didn't see as much street art painted on building walls. Instead, the art I saw was more three-dimensional and took on (or added to) the character of the popular neighborhood or market.
In Tokyo, it didn't seem like street art is as popular yet. But, I did manage to spot some art in a few of the more residential areas of the city. I especially enjoyed the works that graced the exterior and interior walls of a grill-your-own okonomiyaki restaurant inside of an art gallery in Harajuku. I also was intrigued by the use of closed steel-roller doors of many of the city's storefronts that provided a unique canvas, just perfect for celebrating images of Japanese culture.
And, then there's Berlin.
To me, there is no city that is so in synch with street art like Berlin. There, street art seems to permeate each neighborhood. It acknowledges the city's past and helps carry it toward a future actively being colored and shaped by the people of Berlin.
And, it has brought new life and meaning to the fallen Berlin Wall.
Along the River Spree in what used to be East Berlin is the East Side Gallery, a 1.3 meter portion of the former Berlin Wall. Today, the largest open-air gallery in the world features more than 100 original murals painted by artists from around the world. Most the works evoke the feelings of freedom, change and unification many people felt and experienced after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In Berlin, it's hard not to let the street art embrace you – and for you to love it right back. For there, more than any other city, it seemed to go part and parcel – in some ways reminding me of the seemingly symbiotic relationship between the two women Fred le Chevalier painted on the wall of a building on Rue du Temple in the Marais.
I was surprised to see a quirky, witty side of Prague - thanks to its street art. Walking along its streets, I was repeatedly surprised by unusual works of sculptural art - everything from a parade of yellow-painted penguins along the Vltava River to a pair of male statues relieving themselves into the a mini-pool shaped like the Czech Republic.
To me, it seems like statues more than graffiti dominate the public art scene in Prague. But, there's a vibrant graffiti-as-street art culture there, too. One of the most popular works of street art in Prague is the Lennon Wall, which has been filled with John Lennon-inspired graffiti since the 1980s. Today, the original portrait of Lennon is buried under layers of other works of art. But, the wall still conveys messages of peace and love to visitors and locals alike.
In my hometown of Chicago, street art is thriving in its neighborhoods, helping to celebrate the diverse people and cultures that live within it. And, it's being studied and appreciated by people and institutions across the city. Just last year, the city hosted two exhibits that provided a closer look at street art within the city's neighborhoods.
In most of the cities, street art has practically become a sign of an area's "hipness" and has lured camera-wielding street art fans, tourists, and others to it in droves. Recently, I read a BBC Travel article titled, "When did Toronto get so cool?" While the article itself does not mention any street art within the city, the featured image on the web page is of "alleyway art" in Toronto, further demonstrating, that these days, street art equals cool.
Here is a closer look at some of the street art images I captured during my recent travels to Paris, New York City, Berlin, Tokyo, London, Prague, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Chicago.
Where have you seen some of your favorite street art? Do you have any favorite street art works or artists? Are there any cities you want to visit just to see the street art? Please share your thoughts and favorites in the comments below.
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