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America's Coolest Street Art

America's Coolest Street Art: New York City

Michel Setboun/Corbis

Nobody loves slumlords, but some vigilante artists are taking it a step further and shaming them by spray painting and wheat-pasting murals with details about code violations on neglected Baltimore buildings.

While their work draws attention to urban decay, cities like Baltimore have also embraced street art as a means of urban beautification. And for a growing number of travelers, notable examples of street art by name brands like Banksy have become don’t-miss attractions that often draw them out of downtown and into emerging neighborhoods.

Some artists have crossed from creating illegal art to gaining corporate commissions and appearing in art galleries, although the transition isn’t always seamless. Shepard Fairey—of OBEY sticker and Obama poster fame—was arrested in Boston outside his show opening in 2009 on vandalism charges.

Street art can encompass decorating underpasses, fire hydrants, call boxes, staircases, and bike racks. But it’s mural art that most often captures the public’s imagination and receives official or tacit approval.

Ray Patlan, of Oakland, CA, has been called one of the earliest initiators of the contemporary Mural Renaissance in the U.S. He found his calling on childhood trips to Mexico, where Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Siqueiros made a lasting impression. “I decided that if the murals could be so powerful there, why not back home?” Patlan recalled. In 1967, he began painting in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.

Street art’s power can lie in its ability to spark discussion about a particular issue, as in Baltimore or in the case of Chicago-based Bonus Saves, who comments on the impact of oil on nature. Other street-art examples evoke powerful emotions such as L.A.-based El Mac’s spray-painted portraits in Thai Town.

We’ve mapped out more cool examples of America’s street-art scenes.

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