What is Urban Painting?
Updated: Feb 22
Urban Painting Timeline for Artists & Collectors
By: Xavier Hardison
"Art is not a thing, it is a way." – Elbert Hubbard
As a practicing artist with years of art education and professional experience, confusion around various forms of painting can be overwhelming. To trace the origins of modern urban painting, we begin with the first humans on the planet, the Neanderthals. The rise of urban painting today is actually the continuation of a 64,000 year old legacy.
1 - The Paleolithic Age
Cave art was the great ancestor to modern art. The Paleolithic Age, aka. The Stone Age (2.5 million years ago - 10,000 B.C.) marks the inception of creativity. Public communication via images on cave walls told stories of identity, recreation, and culture.
2 - The Italian Renaissance
The Italian Renaissance (15th - 16th C.) takes things further with "buon-fresco" and "fresco-secco" which translates as "true painting" and "dry painting" and introduces new ground pigments, increased durability using plaster, and an improved anatomical understanding, all of which more accurately depicted human experiences. Painters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael amongst others were pioneers during this period of art history.
3 - Pop Art
Fast-forward to 1949 with the invention of aerosol paint by Ed Seymour which eventually leads to graffiti, or "graffio" which is Italian for "to scratch". With the need to mark city territory and gain notoriety, street artist began "tagging" icons, symbols, and aliases on buildings, bridges, and eventually gallery walls... With the internet as its engine, and pop culture as its fuel, street art soon evolved to "Pop Art" and trendy saturated images began circulating rapidly throughout metropolitan areas.
4 - Urban Painting
Finally, contemporary art has arrived. Contrary to popular belief that "my kid can do this", urban painting is a very nuanced and unique reflection of modern life. The beauty here is that there are limitless points of view. This piece, "Double Portrait" by Jean-Michel Basquiat *may he rest in peace*, is a singular example... but your urban painting, and my urban painting may not look the same at all... What connects us and our art is the act of painting in this moment in time. Various cultural influences, experiences, and personal aesthetics all inform the modern artist how to paint. My favorite art quote goes:
"The most seductive thing about art is the personality of the artist themself." – Paul Cézanne
Everyone has an opinion, but as an artist or collector it is important not to believe that urban painting must look a certain way or fit a specific mold. The only way a painting should look is forward to the future!
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Image II - View into Lascaux, Dordogne, France. Photo J.M. Geneste. Courtesy Centre National de Préhistoire, Périgueux, France. September 13, 2018, 11:34am.
Image III - Raphael, School of Athens, fresco, 1509-1511 (Stanza della Signatura, Papal Palace, Vatican), A Primer for Italian Renaissance Art by Dr. Heather Graham. https://smarthistory.org/primer-italian-renaissance-art/
Image IV - Andy Warhol - Contemporary Art Evening ... Lot 27 June 2015 | Phillips. https://www.phillips.com/detail/andy-warhol/UK010415/27
Image V - Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988). https://www.christies.com/en/lot/lot-5698842