Art

Mapping New York City’s Best Graffiti Art

The top (legally commissioned) aerosol works across the five boroughs.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The art form that defines New York City more than any other? Graffiti. The creative medium—which first came to the city in the 1960s—has become an indelible and beloved part of the urban landscape. When Long Island City’s famed 5Pointz mural—long heralded as a mecca for aerosol artists—was torn down to make way for a residential complex in 2014, the uproar was global.

But there’s still plenty to see. Scroll down for a look at the city’s most phenomenal spray-painted scrawls, from a storied schoolyard showcase to a scattered display that’s (quite literally) for the birds.

Know any out-of-towners looking to see these spectacular works in person? Join a walking excursion led by Brooklyn Unplugged Tours or Runstreet. For an even more “breathtaking” experience, sign up for Runstreet’s Art Run (founder/runner Marnie Kunz talks about her art and fitness inspiration here). Jog and gawk!

East Harlem’s Graffiti Hall of Fame

The Jackie Robinson Educational Complex—on East 106th Street and Park Avenue—has been a haven for spray-can artists since 1980, when local community activist and graffiti virtuoso Ray Rodriguez sought to establish a safe and permanent place for street artists to hone their craft. Every summer, the outdoor gallery—which spans the walls of the sunken playground—invites noteworthy graffiti artists including TATS Cru, a Bronx-based professional group of artists known as the Mural Kings, to create new art on the ever-changing canvas. Dubbed “the granddaddy of all old-school graffiti shrines,” the wall has been graced by the hallowed likes of SEEN, the “Godfather of Graffiti”; Blade, the “King of Graffiti”; and subway art pioneer Lee Quiñones.

Art in Dumbo

Down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass lies a smattering of animated characters, from Craig Anthony Miller (CAM)’s psychedelic owls to Yuko Shimizu’s formidable octopus to Shepard Fairey’s “Lotus Woman.”

Founded in 2012, the spirited series—sponsored by the Dumbo Improvement District and Two Trees Management Co. in conjunction with the New York City Department of Transportation Urban Art Program and the Jonathan LeVine Gallery—occupies a four-block stretch along the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Other street artists currently on view include DALeast, MOMO, Stefan Sagmeister, Faith47, and Eltono.

The Bushwick Collective

Take the L train to Jefferson Street for one of Brooklyn’s most incredible street art displays. The vivid stretch—which snakes up Troutman Street and bends into Saint Nicholas Avenue—was founded by Bushwick native Joseph Ficalora, who aimed to transform the grimy, crime-ridden neighborhood he grew up in into a vibrant showcase. Ficalora isn’t an artist but a curator who has worked tirelessly to secure all the necessary permits for hundreds of artists—including Parisian phenom Blek le Rat, often regarded as the father of stencil graffiti—to legally display their work. From Yok & Sheryo’s wicked motorcycle spread to Beau Stanton’s awesome “Kraken,” the compendium of scapes is a sight for sore eyes.

Hunts Point Murals

Spanning more than 200 feet, this Bronx sprawl lives on the side of a private industrial warehouse on the corner of Drake Street and Spofford Avenue. The stretch is overseen by TATS Cru, whom the building’s owner charged with curating the best street artists to decorate the space in order to keep the bad ones at bay. Hunts Point is also home to Crystal Bruno’s “Bronx Rising”created to celebrate and inspire the South Bronx community, it urges the neighborhood’s residents: “Don’t Move. Improve.”

Welling Court Mural Project

Commissioned by members of the Welling Court community in collaboration with Ad Hoc Art’s Bushwick gallery, this multiblock exposition saw its first mural painted in the frigid winter of 2009. It officially debuted six months later with more than 40 graphic illustrations, and each year, the collection grows to accommodate more art—or “messages to the masses,” as the project refers to the works on Instagram. Today, the Astoria masterwork encompasses more than 140 pieces by local and international artists, from Mastro and Rubin415 to EpicUno and Royal Kingbee.

Audubon Mural Project

Head to Hamilton Heights to see the city’s most colorful flock—that is, the Audubon Mural Project, commissioned by the Gitler&_____ Gallery in partnership with the National Audubon Society. The striking work of art—which blankets brick walls and metal security grates throughout the Harlem neighborhood, all the way up to Washington Heights—immortalizes the 314 avian species currently classified as climate-threatened or endangered in Audubon’s Bird and Climate Change Report—among them the bald eagle, the Baltimore oriole, and the American kestrel.

The project, which launched in 2014, was inspired by the life of artist and ornithologist John James Audubon, one of the area’s most notable residents. Each painting is tagged with the project’s website, encouraging viewers to learn more about the at-risk creatures and what can be done to save them.

Photo credit: Mike Fernandez/National Audubon Society