Nov 30, 2023
Street Artists: A Closer Look at Dondi White, Keith Haring, Shepard Fairey, and JR

Who is a Street Artist?

A street artist is someone who creates visual art in public places. Unlike graffiti writers, street artists often seek permission to paint in certain locations.

Their works can be anything from a tag to a mural. Some street artists encourage participation from the public and even allow people to add their own work to their pieces.

Dondi White

During the 1980s, DONDI was an important part of New York’s graffiti art movement. He was one of the first writers to make a transition to galleries, though he always kept his graffiti roots. He was very generous with his time and expertise with other graffiti artists, often painting outlines for them to follow or touching up their work himself. He was also known for his acrobatic lettering and for being one of the first artists to focus on shapes over meaning.

His urge to create combined with his incredible talent helped him become one of the most influential street artists in the world. His bold and clear writing drew admirers across the five boroughs, and later his gallery work earned him international recognition. He was the founder of the Soul Artists and Fashion Moda, groups that played an important role in moving graffiti into the galleries. He exhibited in the small East Village galleries alongside such luminaries as CRASH, KEL 139, and FUTURA.

Keith Haring

After moving to New York City in 1978, Haring became fascinated by street art and began drawing graffiti, or unauthorized chalk drawings, on blank black advertising panels on subway station walls. His cartoon-like figures quickly gained popularity amongst New York commuters.

His images spoke to universal concepts of birth, death, love, sex and war. They were able to transcend cultural and societal barriers through their primacy of line and the directness of message.

In the late 1980s, Haring exhibited his work in numerous galleries. He also opened the Pop Shop, a retail store that sold T-shirts, toys, posters and buttons featuring his paintings. This was in keeping with his philosophy of making his artwork accessible to as many people as possible.

He was a socially conscious artist who campaigned against AIDS and illegal drugs. He worked with thousands of children to paint a massive mural and hosted workshops at schools across the country. He died of AIDS-related complications at the age of 31.

Shepard Fairey

Shepard Fairey is one of the most popular street artists today. His work is often a combination of parody, subversion, and dissent. His work challenges the boundaries between traditional and commercial art, and questions notions of public space and expected behavior. He has also made a name for himself in political and corporate spheres, creating posters for high-profile campaigns.

Originally from Charleston, South Carolina, Shepard Fairey is an American contemporary artist, graphic designer, and social activist. He is the founder of Obey Clothing and began his career in the skateboarding scene. He became famous with his Andre the Giant has a Posse sticker campaign in 1989 and later designed the iconic Warhol-esque Hope poster for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Shepard Fairey’s work steeps itself in the ideology of self-empowerment and is a call for resistance to the machine of manufactured consent. He uses a minimal black, white, and red palette and explicitly accessible images that can be screen-printed, stenciled, painted, or pasted.

JR

Jean-Rene, known as JR, is to the current era of photography what Nan Goldin was to hers. He’s a photographer, poster artist and activist all at once – a synthesis of his times. His work is heartening in that he doesn’t seek fame and glory but rather the collective adventure his projects produce.

His work takes on global issues such as poverty, war and discrimination. He uses his art as a tool for bringing people together, often through humor.

From humble beginnings as a teenage tagger, his work has gone on to achieve global acclaim, winning him the TED Prize in 2011. His photographic trompe-l’oeil public art installations can be found across the world. His most notable projects include posting portraits of Israeli and Palestinians on opposite sides of the barrier dividing their communities, and printing self-portraits for thousands of people to paste in their communities as part of the Inside Out Project. Then there’s the Ecole Kourtrajme, his program to teach low-income youths in Paris the basics of photography and video production.

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