One man’s wall is another man’s canvas. And while pretentious cultured types may scoff, the basic appeal of street art is its ability to bypass stuffy galleries and communicate with everyday audiences directly. What, indeed, could be more satisfying than transforming a dull or neglected urban space into a vibrant, satisfying work of art? The following 20 before and after pictures offer glimpses of such jaw-dropping transformations.
20. St. Mungo mural – Glasgow, Scotland
St. Mungo, the patron saint of Glasgow, was born in the sixth century and is said to have once healed wounded robins with the power of prayer. And this modern-day depiction of Mungo adorns a gable on the Scottish city’s High Street. It’s the handiwork of Sam Bates, also known as Smug, an Australian artist based in Glasgow who’s renowned for his exceptional photorealistic renditions.
19. Barrio mural – Las Palmitas, Mexico
The deprived barrio of Las Palmitas in Pachuca, Mexico, received a vibrant facelift in 2012 thanks to a group of artists known as the Germen crew. And in order to create the dazzling psychedelic swirls that now engulf the neighborhood, more than 200 homes were painted in multi-colored hues. The project, in fact, aimed to uplift the community and encourage integration, and was headed by gang-member-turned-muralist Enrique Gomez.
18. Diving dog mural – Mechelen, Belgium
Belgium-based street artist Bart Smeets, also known as Smates, transformed a bland, gray wall in the city of Mechelen with this playful painting of a diving dog. Smates, in fact, often paints animals and people, and this particular four-story mural combines a great visual concept with attention-grabbing photorealism. “The can is the ideal tool for me,” he told Culture Trip.
17. “Brick Kidz” – Montreal, Canada
Parisian-born street artist Julien Malland, also known as Seth Globepainter, is renowned for creating vibrant murals which incorporate elements of the built environment. And “Brick Kidz” in Montreal is a classic example of his approach. Furthermore, Seth has been traveling the world since 2003, painting murals, meeting with other urban artists and sharing expertise. “His approach is to create an artistic dialogue,” states his portfolio site.
16. “Wise Grandpa” – Kaunas, Lithuania
Kaunas, Lithuania’s second-biggest city, is recognized for its vibrant student scene as much as its cultural and artistic heritage. Sadly, however, city authorities did not take kindly to this piece of unauthorized street art by local studio Gyva Grafika. And so despite its disarming character, “Wise Grandpa” was eventually erased, leaving only photographs of the much underrated, short-lived transformation.
15. “Honeycomb of Life” – Halle, Germany
Marina Zumi’s contribution to Germany’s 2015 “All You Can Paint Festival” is this stunning multi-colored honeycomb mural in Halle. But Zumi, who hails from Buenos Aires, Argentina, actually has a background in fashion design. It is, however, on the streets where her art really comes to life; here she uses muses as diverse as Buddhism, nature, sacred geometry and quantum theory. “Honeycomb of Life,” in fact, is intended to trace the parallels between the worlds of bees and humans.
14. Umbrella mural – Paris, France
This gorgeous mural is another stroke of genius by French street artist Seth Globepainter. And it depicts a child in a rainbow “boat” with a psychedelic lizard. The pair, it seems, float on a sea of black umbrellas, gazing at multi-colored fish as they fly through the sky. And by transforming this nondescript wall in his home city of Paris, Seth has conveyed an important truth: imagination has the power to transcend the dreary oppression of day-to-day life.
13. Owl mural – Fayetteville, Arkansas
Puerto Rican artist Alexis Diaz transformed the intersection of Center Street and College Avenue in Fayetteville, Arkansas as part of The Unexpected street art festival in the city in 2016. Rendered almost entirely in monochrome, his surreal motif of a nocturnal owl includes a body made from stars and a dreamcatcher medallion with an eye. Undoubtedly, the owl is a spectacular improvement on the ugly brick and concrete facade.
12. “Magic Book” – Malmö, Sweden
Rendered in striking tones of red, purple and blue, “Magic Book” is the work of Polish artist Natalia Rak, and it brilliantly illustrates the childhood wonder of reading a storybook. A graduate of Fine Arts from the city of Lodz, Rak frequently employs vibrant colors in her work to conjure strong moods. And she composed this arresting mural for the month-long 2014 Artscape international street festival in Malmö, Sweden.
11. Lietuva movie theater – Vilnius, Lithuania
Abandoned and scheduled for demolition, the Lietuva movie theater was one of the last independent cinemas in the Lithuanian city of Vilnius. Fortunately, however, street artist Ernest “Zach” Zacharevic saw an opportunity to beautify it before it was lost forever. And he gave the façade this playful makeover – which includes children swinging from a giant cat’s cradle – during the Vilnius Street Art festival.
10. “The Mole” – Fort Smith, Arkansas
Internationally acclaimed street artist Roa is particularly well known for his black and white depictions of rodents. And he painted “The Mole” in 2015 for The Unexpected street art festival in Fort Smith, Arkansas. So far, however, Belgium-born Roa has decided to remain anonymous. And this, in his own words, “has kept his work and his spirit free.”
9. “Universal Chapel” – Fayetteville, Arkansas
Another superb contribution to Arkansas’ The Unexpected street art festival in 2016 was Okuda San Miguel’s “Universal Chapel.” But this “chapel” was just an abandoned building before the Spanish artist converted it into the dazzling structure it is today. And it’s the perfect example of Okuda’s distinctive “Pop Surrealist” signature style.
8. “Mitre’s Smile” – Buenos Aires, Argentina
Freelance designer and illustrator Guiviro transformed a grimy factory wall into an upbeat mural of a grinning face. And although not as grand as some street art, this mural – located on Mitre Avenue in Buenos Aires, Argentina – changed the whole character of the street. Moreover, the incorporation of factory windows into the illustration is a particularly clever touch.
7. “Dissection of The Little Mermaid” – Linz, Austria
Austrian artist Nychos has made a name for himself by depicting dissected cartoon characters, such as The Little Mermaid. Indeed, he added the popular Disney heroine to a glass frontage in Linz, Austria, in 2014. And his website explains, “By dismantling their anatomy he explores the humanity that exists underneath the mask of celebrity and confronts viewers with the core elements we all have in common: flesh and bones.”
6. Surrealist mural – Fort Smith, Arkansas
Ana Marietta did not take a traditional route into the art world. Indeed, she had a rural upbringing in a Puerto Rican farming community before studying animal sciences. Her passion for creatures great and small is, however, clearly reflected in the style and content of her murals. Take this one in Fort Smith, Arkansas, for example. The two characters blend animal and human features that, according to her website, “seemed to be taken from a dream of a Biologist with excessive imagination.”
5. “Knowledge Speaks – Wisdom Listens” – Athens, Greece
As a symbol of the Greek goddess Athena, this owl was a particularly appropriate work for the city of Athens. It was composed for the Petit Paris d’ Athènes festival 2016 by a Bali-born artist known as Wild Drawing, who is currently based in the Greek capital. And the owl, Wild Drawing explained on her Facebook page, also serves as a symbol of wisdom.
4. Pub mural – Bristol, U.K.
Internationally renowned artist Dan Kitchener works in a range of mediums, and his past clients include prestigious names such as Sir Paul McCartney and Ministry of Sound. Kitchener painted this piece on the side of The Masonic pub in Bristol, England in 2014. And considering his work is in such high demand, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the mural is of such an exceptionally high standard.
3. “Friendship Tree” – Budapest, Hungary
The Polish Institute in Budapest commissioned this piece to commemorate its 60th anniversary. And the “Friendship Tree,” which brings together the talents of a group of artists known as Neopaint Works, symbolizes the friendship between the Polish and Hungarian people. Indeed, the mural shows separate Hungarian and Polish tribes meeting at the roots. Plus, it incorporates a quote by Polish journalist Stanislaw Worcella.
2. Hercules fighting Nessus – Manchester, U.K.
This somewhat dramatic rendition of Hercules battling the centaur Nessus was painted for the Cities of Hope festival in Manchester, England in 2016. It blends classic and contemporary motifs – or perhaps it deconstructs them? The artists behind it are Pichi and Avo, a Spanish duo who have been designing murals since 2007. And aptly, they describe their work as “urban poetry.”
1. A’Shop’s grandma mural – Montreal, Canada
A’Shop describes itself as “an artist-run production company specialized in graffiti murals, street art and urban aesthetics.” And although its approach is more commercial than that of other street artists, it rightly lays claim to being a pioneer of Montreal’s graffiti scene. And given the quality of this mural alone, that’s not hard to believe.