We have become quite used to street art or ‘urban art’ illuminating our lives through its presence on the walls, floors and infrastructure of our major cities. In many ways it offers a vibrancy and invigoration that traditional art cannot replicate. It interacts with the urban landscape and with the lives of millions.
In the past, and quite possibly in the present, it has been derided as glorified graffiti, but whatever your taste, street art has come a long way in terms of value and prestige. In an age of surveillance, street artists carry an enigmatic air of mystery that only helps increase the fame and value of their work. Though street art does not yet match the value of the old masters or even modern art, its popularity continues to grow and beguile the art world.
The World’s Richest Street Artists
- Retna, aka Marquis Lewis, has been creating graffiti art since the later 1980s – developing a unique style that blends paintbrush with spray can and fine art with street art. He has worked with brands such as Nike, Louise Vuitton and VistaJet, developing unique imagery for their various physical spaces. His artwork often fetches up to $20,000 at auction.
- Initially finding fame with his ‘Andre has a posse’ street stickers – which featured stylized images of professional wrestler Andre the Giant – Shephard Fairey reached greater heights designing the iconic ‘Hope’ poster that came to represent the 2008 election campaign of Barack Obama. His art is exhibited at LACMA, MOMA and the V&A Museum in London, although he is criticized for some for using a grassroots art movement for self-promotion. He, however, considers himself a populist artist who uses street art and other media to reach as many people as possible.
- Mr Brainwash is the pseudonym of French artist Thierry Guetta, who began his creative life as a filmmaker and was subject of the Banksy-directed film Exit Through the Gift Shop. Encouraged by Banksy to enter the world of street art, it was thought at first that his art persona was an elaborate prank by Banksy and mystery lingers as to whether he is legitimate. What is true is his immense wealth, partly accumulated through successful art exhibitions around the world and partly from a vast real estate portfolio in California.
- It would be impossible to talk about street art, especially about wealth, without mentioning the man known as Banksy. Emerging from the street art scene in Bristol in the early 90s he became known for his extensive use of stencils – creating anti-authoritarian and anti-consumerist statements. Though he has been criticised by groups who see his work as vandalism and those who consider his art to be ‘trite’ or ‘facile – he has a built a brand known around the world. His work is synonymous with recognised features of street art such as guerrilla style creation, counter-culture and anonymity.
- David Choe is an intriguing tale as his wealth does not come primarily from his artwork, but from some fantastically smart negotiation. When tasked with creating a mural at a growing start-up in California, he opted to take stock in the company rather than $60,000 in cash. Choe is now worth a reported $160million – an amazing turnaround for an artist who spent years hitchhiking around America, stealing to survive and who also enjoyed a three month stint in a Japanese prison in 2003. The start-up he gambled on? Facebook.
It is harder to think of a greater endorsement of street art’s value than sales at prestige auction houses like Bonhams or Sotheby’s who made millions from a Banksy exhibition last year. In the words of Gareth Williams, head of Contemporary Art at Bonhams – ‘The market is phenomenally strong. Ten years ago, the street art market was driven primarily by Banksy investors, but since then it has expanded hugely.’