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Flickr user Garret Zeigler

14 Street Art Terms—Illustrated!

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Flickr user Garret Zeigler

Street art has gone mainstream. Artists who started in the street now show in museums and galleries (rather than on them), and their stencils or posters can be worth millions. Cameras watch to catch not bombers putting up tags but people defacing what’s already on the walls. Just about every city in the world—as well as suburbs and deserts—has stickers, murals, and wheatpastes to admire. But what if it’s all graffiti to you? Here are 14 terms to know when it comes to street art.

1. TAG

Wall at 5 Pointz

A stylized name or signature done with various materials, such as a marker or an aerosol spray can, often freehand. Depending on its format or complexity, a tag may be called a throw-up, as in “that throw-up is amazingly detailed,” not as in “this Sharpie scrawl makes me want to throw up my cookies.” A person who tags is known as a writer or bomber.

2. CHARACTER

Sweet Toof

Cute or creepy, cartoonish or realistic, a character serves as a signature or visual shorthand. If you know the character, you know the artist. Some artists take their characters from comic books or television, but many invent wholly original beings. A character can be put up on its own or as part of a larger narrative scene.   

3. WILDSTYLE

Tag on Bogart Street, Brooklyn

Elaborate, interlocking letters or symbols used when tagging. Wildstyle forms a complicated code that excludes non-writers, as generally only experts or practitioners can read the name.

4. PIECE

Kobra

Short for “masterpiece.” The term is frequently used to describe a more labor-intensive work, usually with at least three colors. A street artist might be said to get up a piece or a tag. Pieces are sometimes called burners, as in “this piece is so hot, it’s burning off the wall and onto my retinas.”   

5. ROLLER

Skewville

A work done with a roller brush. Most rollers consist of block-letter tags or phrases, sometimes with drop shadows or intentional drips. The brush’s long handle enables artists to paint in hard-to-reach or tricky spots, such as down the side of a building, or to complete really large pieces.   

6. CREW

Robots Will Kill

A group of artists who regularly get up together. The crew’s collaboration might consist of unified pieces that tell a coherent story, or it may be a series of individual tags done in a concentrated area.

7. LEGAL WALLS

Sheryo, The Yok, Flying Fortress, Never, Nychos, and Most

In recent years, property owners and even entire neighborhoods have allowed artists to bomb their houses or buildings. Legal walls have helped bring about the transformation of graffiti into public art. Because artists don’t have to execute quickly, at night, or with one eye out for police, legal walls allow for bigger or more involved pieces that seek to beautify, moralize, empower, or entertain.

8. MURAL

How & Nosm and RRobots

A huge work, often on a legal wall. It might be done by an individual, an informal group, or a crew. A mural might depict a single scene, or it might be a series of standalone or loosely connected images or characters.  

9. INSTALLATION

Invader

A site-specific work, often 3D or sculptural. Temporary or permanent, an installation may combine several techniques, as when a stenciled scene of a child pulling a wagon includes part of an actual wagon attached to the wall. Some installations have a political bent, such as a street sign that has been altered, and some are optical illusions.     

10. STICKER

Various artists

Easy to make, easy to tote, and easy to place, a sticker is a fast, simple way to disseminate a character, tag, image, or message. The drawing or tag may be done quickly, on a priority mail label from the U.S. Postal Service or a “Hello My Name Is” badge, for example. Or the sticker may be designed and printed in a studio. Regardless, stickers show up on street signs, poles, doors, ATMs, walls, benches, subways, and pretty much every other surface you can think of. As with artisanal coffee shops, the presence of one in the neighborhood somehow beckons many others to follow.   

11. WHEATPASTE

Swoon

An adhesive made from equal parts flour and water; also the name for a type of street art that relies on it. To put up a wheatpaste, an artist covers an area with the paste, then unfurls a poster, drawing, painting, or photo made off site. After smoothing out the paper’s wrinkles and bubbles, another smear of wheatpaste goes on top. The result is sometimes called a paste-up.    

12. STENCIL

Icy and Sot

A design cut into heavy paper or cardboard, then spray-painted onto a wall. A stencil may be a phrase, an image, or a combination thereof. Some stencils are one-offs; others are repeated throughout a geographic area or around the world. Blek le Rat, the so-called father of stencil graffiti, popularized the form via images of rats he began putting up in Paris in the early 1980s.

13. YARN BOMBING

Olek

In 2005, Magda Sayeg knitted a cozy for a doorknob at her Houston boutique, and spawned a movement. Since then, knit bombers have covered statues, buses, signs, trees, grocery carts, telephone poles, benches, and other objects both sentient and non. Also called “grandma graffiti,” yarn bombing brings an element of domesticity into the streets, counterbalancing the traditionally male world of street art with a traditionally female art form.

14. POST-GRAFFITI

Hellbent

Another name for street art. The lines between graffiti, street art, and public art have begun to blur. As legal walls have proliferated, street artists are no longer marginalized, but are lauded for their creativity and craftsmanship. Perhaps in response, they have pushed past spray paint, stickers, and other common approaches. Today, work on the street encompasses a fantastic range of materials and styles from LED throwies and light projections to skywriting to abstract collage.

All photos by Flickr user Garrett Ziegler.

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Ape Meets Girl
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Pop Culture
Epic Gremlins Poster Contains More Than 80 References to Classic Movies
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Ape Meets Girl

It’s easy to see why Gremlins (1984) appeals to movie nerds. Executive produced by Steven Spielberg and written by Chris Columbus, the film has horror, humor, and awesome 1980s special effects that strike a balance between campy and creepy. Perhaps it’s the movie’s status as a pop culture treasure that inspired artist Kevin Wilson to make it the center of his epic hidden-image puzzle of movie references.

According to io9, Wilson, who works under the pseudonym Ape Meets Girl, has hidden 84 nods to different movies in this Gremlins poster. The scene is taken from the movie’s opening, when Randall enters a shop in Chinatown looking for a gift for his son and leaves with a mysterious creature. Like in the film, Mr. Wing’s shop in the poster is filled with mysterious artifacts, but look closely and you’ll find some objects that look familiar. Tucked onto the bottom shelf is a Chucky doll from Child’s Play (1988); above Randall’s head is a plank of wood from the Orca ship made famous by Jaws (1975); behind Mr. Wing’s counter, which is draped with a rug from The Shining’s (1980) Overlook Hotel, is the painting of Vigo the Carpathian from Ghostbusters II (1989). The poster was released by the Hero Complex Gallery at New York Comic Con earlier this month.

“Early on, myself and HCG had talked about having a few '80s Easter Eggs, but as we started making a list it got longer and longer,” Wilson told Mental Floss. “It soon expanded from '80s to any prop or McGuffin that would fit the curio shop setting. I had to stop somewhere so I stopped at 84, the year Gremlins was released. Since then I’ve thought of dozens more I wish I’d included.”

The ambitious artwork has already sold out, but fortunately cinema buffs can take as much time as they like scouring the poster from their computers. Once you think you’ve found all the references you can possibly find, you can check out Wilson’s key below to see what you missed (and yes, he already knows No. 1 should be Clash of the Titans [1981], not Jason and the Argonauts [1963]). For more pop culture-inspired art, follow Ape Meets Girl on Facebook and Instagram.

Key for hidden image puzzle.
Ape Meets Girl

[h/t io9]

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Kehinde Wiley Studio, Inc., Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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presidents
Barack Obama Taps Kehinde Wiley to Paint His Official Presidential Portrait
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Kehinde Wiley
Kehinde Wiley Studio, Inc., Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Kehinde Wiley, an American artist known for his grand portraits of African-American subjects, has painted Michael Jackson, Ice-T, and The Notorious B.I.G. in his work. Now the artist will have the honor of adding Barack Obama to that list. According to the Smithsonian, the former president has selected Wiley to paint his official presidential portrait, which will hang in the National Portrait Gallery.

Wiley’s portraits typically depict black people in powerful poses. Sometimes he models his work after classic paintings, as was the case with "Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps.” The subjects are often dressed in hip-hop-style clothing and placed against decorative backdrops.

Portrait by Kehinde Wiley
"Le Roi a la Chasse"
Kehinde Wiley, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

Smithsonian also announced that Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald has been chosen by former first lady Michelle Obama to paint her portrait for the gallery. Like Wiley, Sherald uses her work to challenge stereotypes of African-Americans in art.

“The Portrait Gallery is absolutely delighted that Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald have agreed to create the official portraits of our former president and first lady,” Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, said in a press release. “Both have achieved enormous success as artists, but even more, they make art that reflects the power and potential of portraiture in the 21st century.”

The tradition of the president and first lady posing for portraits for the National Portrait Gallery dates back to George H.W. Bush. Both Wiley’s and Sherald’s pieces will be revealed in early 2018 as permanent additions to the gallery in Washington, D.C.

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