New York City is the art capital of the world. But if you’re only spending time in our prestigious and cutting-edge museums and galleries, you’re—amazing, but true!—only seeing half of it. The streets here have long been incubators for DIY artistic risk-takers (if you haven’t yet, take in the “Beyond the Streets” exhibition now for a fascinating history of graffiti and street art). While you can find killer outdoor murals in almost every neighborhood, there’s one spot where a man named Joseph Ficalora has made it easy to check out top street artists from around the world in one place.
In 2013, Ficalora started the Bushwick Collective in an effort to transform his Brooklyn neighborhood’s once desolate and crime-ridden blocks (his father was murdered in Bushwick in 1991 when Ficalora was just 12) into vibrant streets of pride. Working with local building owners and businesses, the collective designates wall space for art, then invites artists from around the world to create temporary murals. Its rules: no images that are offensive to children, women, or the local businesses, and no politics. The artists, who work for free and usually with donated paint and supplies, respond with fine portraits, designs, and fantastical creatures in colossal proportions on the sides of the factories, garages, coffee shops, and construction walls.
The result? The most street-art bang for your buck you’ll find anywhere in the city. The colorful concentration of art here—which rotates and refreshes every year or two—has drawn new business to the area, too. So you can spend the whole day in the Bushwick Collective’s rectangular patch of streets—bordered roughly by Jefferson and Starr Streets to the north and south, and Irving and Cypress Avenues to the east and west—taking in the best of NYC’s street art, coffee, cocktails, pizza, tacos, and more. Here’s how to make the most of it.
STOP 1: Cupcakes and Coffee
When you exit at the L train’s Jefferson Street stop, you’ll be conveniently near Wyckoff Star Coffee Shop, which has excellent cold brews and, naturally, Twin Peaks memorabilia. Grab a cup before turning the corner onto Starr Street to see an epic collaboration between prolific area artists (who were not commissioned by the Collective, but remain must-sees on any trip here): Muffin Man, a Bronx native whose signature is a Pop Art pastry, and Phetus (originally Phat Phace), a longtime street artist who gives the cupcakes their bite. The mural is right next to another favorite Bushwick brunch spot, Pitanga, should you crave an açai bowl to go along with your coffee. [Editorial note: We originally misidentified Muffin Man and Phetus as Collective artists.]
STOP 2: Beer and Beyoncé
Walk back on Starr toward Wyckoff, where you’ll see an image of Queen Bey peeping over one of our favorite collective creations, a hungry goblin by NYC ’80s skater kid–turned–graphic artist L’Amour Supreme on the pop-up wall of the Brooklyn Beer Garden, a seasonal gallery-bar that was created by artists. Of the mural, L’Amour says, “As above, so below. Let yourself be swallowed by infinity.” We think we get it, but we know we like it! The Beyoncé head is part of a mural on the other side of the wall, inside the beer garden, that’s just as much of a must-see. So grab a pint and peruse this smaller street exhibition within the the larger one. So meta.
STOP 3: Tortillas and Biggie
Keep strolling down Starr Street, picking up some fresh tortillas (they are the best) from Los Hermanos Tortilleria Mexicana along the way, to St. Nicholas Avenue. You’ll pass a skeleton by Nychos riding a mermaid by Lauren YS, two California artists who could have been biology textbook illustrators in another life. Directly around the corner from that collaboration, you’ll find one of the area’s many—and arguably best—tributes to Brooklyn’s famed son the Notorious B.I.G., on St. Nicholas. Deconstructed Biggie by Dominican Republic–born Ruben Ubiera segments the hip-hop grandfather’s head into slices that drip gold (a treatment similar to the one he gave this gorilla). Take many pics!
STOP 4: Cocktails and Potato Chips
Head toward Troutman Avenue on St. Nicholas and pop into Idlewild, a small, standby neighborhood bar for a quick drink. Inspired, doodle on your cocktail napkin. When you step back out into the relentless Bushwick sun (most buildings in the area are capped at three stories and trees are scarce), adjust your eyes and set them upon the beauty of this young girl eating a chip across the street on Troutman. The Sicilian artist duo Rosk & Loste create gorgeous, hyperrealistic portraits that completely change how you interact with pedestrian space. Look at the detail of her curls, her nails, and her eyes, which seem to gaze back at you and ask, “Uh, why are you staring at me?” (Look for another one of their portraits, of a man touching his nose, on Troutman.)
STOP 5: Braids and Tags
Continue on St. Nicholas to Jefferson Street, where you’ll see one of the most popular murals from 2018, a woman with braids by the Chilean artist Javier Barriga (who has cornered the market on painting women with braids) set against a floral-pattern backdrop by Chile-born Nelson Cekis. It’s an incredible piece of art, but also notable here as an example of how outdoor art is subject not only to the weathering effects of the elements, but also other street artists and taggers (this is what it looked like before it was tagged). Note the subtle tag at the bottom left: “Fuck Street Art.” The inevitable wear and tear is why most of the Bushwick Collective works are switched out every year or so. On the Jefferson side of the street, you’ll see a man in a puffer vest who definitely warrants a closer look. The work, Pietr, is by Netherlands artist Michael Velt, who, like Rosk & Loste, is known for hauntingly realistic large-scale portraits. Pietr’s hazel eyes are exquisite and seem to glint and glow in the changing daylight. Velt is the Rembrandt, a fellow Dutchman, of street art.
STOP 6: Madonna and Keith Haring
Followed by Pietr‘s eyes, continue down Jefferson to House of Yes, the nightlife anchor of the neighborhood and a (very sexy) pillar of the community. Snap your Instagram profile photo against the hot pink, whole-building design by Shawna X, a Brooklyn artist who creates ultrastylized Pop Art in Technicolor hues, and remind yourself to come back later for one of the venue’s epic dance parties. Keep walking on Jefferson toward Irving, passing another standout eyeball (by local artist Cody James) along the way. Then look up and prepare for a religious experience. On the side of one of the few tall buildings in the area, you’ll see a stunning, multistoried mural called The Radiant Madonna by New Zealand artist Owen Dippie, featuring a beatific Virgin Mary cradling a Keith Haring baby. Dippie explained his monumental work: “If art is a religion, then Keith Haring is a god.”
STOP 7: Pedicures and Napping Monsters
Once you hit Irving, turn left and then right onto Troutman, where you can treat your barking dogs to a quality pedicure and dope nail designs at our favorite nail salon in the area, Local Honey. Continue your art walk on Troutman to Wyckoff, checking out the can’t-miss sleeping monster, whose belly opens and closes a lot like a garage door, by Brooklyn artist Sleepy Doodle, as well as the famous Til Death Do Us Part mural by DFace, as you go.
STOP 8: Pizza and Love (Aww)
Stop at Artichoke Pizza on Wyckoff for one of our IT guy/pizza guru’s favorite Margherita slices before checking out more of the incredible pieces that line Troutman and Wyckoff: a winged creature by Mr. Blob; gummy bears come to life by Golden and Ruben Ubiera; a relaxing bulldog by the canine-centric Patrick Kane McGregor; and New Moon by Son-Hijo. But to end your day at the Bushwick Collective, we think a photo in front of this neon heart bursting with flowers is only appropriate. Created by Natasha May Platt, who paints her blooms freehand with a brush and has several floral designs in the collective, and Adam Kiyoshi Fujita, whose optical illusion designs look just like neon lighting, this piece pretty much sums it all up: artistry, collaboration, transformation, and love.