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Murals abound on Gough Street in Central.
Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Cape Town... these creative cities express themselves through street art.
Once confined to back alleys and dodgy neighbourhoods, street art has evolved into a complex creative medium that’s rapidly rising to the same status as contemporary art.
Taking various forms – from graffiti to stencils, prints, murals and large-scale paintings – urban art has simultaneously become a highlight of many travel itineraries, offering a glimpse into the cities’ cultural and creative mindset.
Captivated by street art? From Cape Town to Lisbon to Los Angeles, and even right here in Hong Kong, we’ve rounded up a few of the best cities in the world to soak up this flourishing urban art form.
Hong Kong: Dense streets, daring designs
Over the past decade, Hong Kong’s concrete cityscape has become an incubator for local and international street art. Murals have been popping up on storefronts and hotel facades, tong laus, and steep staircases – injecting new character into many neighbourhoods.
The city even has its own street art festival, HK Walls, an initiative launched in 2014 that invites graffiti artists to create new urban art pieces in a different neighbourhood each year – including Sheung Wan, Wong Chuk Hang, and Sham Shui Po. “Since we started, we have curated more than 200 murals,” says HK Walls co-founder Jason Dembski. “This year alone, we created 40 artworks in Wan Chai.”
No matter where you go in Hong Kong these days, it seems there’s a captivating piece of urban art to discover. Just for example, in Sham Shui Po, a 3D fox by Spanish artist Okuda San Miguel has become a major landmark, while Russian graffiti artist Zmogk has enlivened Wood Road in Wan Chai with bold geometric style.
Beyond the festival, other pieces have become attractions in their own right, like local artist Alex Croft’s colourful depiction of old townhouses on Graham Street – now a fixture of the selfie circuit. Murals also shine in Sai Ying Pun’s ARTLANE, in the area around Chung Ching Street, where nine local and international artists have created vibrant murals around themes of art and music.
Explore more: Download the HK Urban Canvas app or book a private, customisable tour with Wanderlust Walks.
Los Angeles: Where the streets tell a story
Despite being illegal, street art is everywhere in Los Angeles – but nowhere does it shine brighter than Downtown LA (DTLA). Unlike other neighbourhoods, graffiti artwork is welcome here: building owners often invite artists to paint over their facades to add more pop and personality to the area.
Most of the 100 murals can be found in the city’s official Arts District, an industrial area turned art enclave in the 1970s that today brims with galleries, artists’ studios, graffiti and stunning public artwork.
Adorning Joel Bloom Square, for instance, Bloom by artist Hueman is a not-to-miss creation. A bouquet of pink, blue and purple flowers, the artwork is named after Joel Bloom, a community advocate and the man who helped shape the Arts District.
There are lots of amazing Mexican-American graffiti too – reflecting an essential component to LA’s social fabric. The Pope of Broadway, a 70-foot mural of legendary Mexican-born actor Anthony Quinn ‘dancing’ across from the historic Bradbury Building, is one of the most famous.
Explore more: Many organisations offer walking tours of the Arts District, though Downtown Art Walk is perhaps the best.
Perth: A living urban tapestry
Melbourne might be Australia’s ‘official’ art hub, but Perth is quickly catching up when it comes to street art. That’s mostly due to FORM, an independent not-for-profit organisation that works with communities and artists across the region to foster street art and creativity.
From Northbridge to Fremantle, most public spaces are adorned with some type of artwork, installation or graffiti, making it one of the best cities in the world for artistic discoveries on foot.
Among them, the murals of local artist Daek William are real highlights. Known for using bright colours and vibrant faces, his work pops up in unexpected places – on the sides of salons (Gemma’s Health & Beauty Spa) or cafes (Standby Espresso, Fresh Provisions) – all over the city.
In addition, Polish artist NeSpoon, who is on a mission to ‘embroider the world’, made her mark in Chinatown as part of FORM’s 2015 festival. She created a lacey-white mural that’s based off a handmade design crafted by local artisans to add a delicate, gentle touch to the otherwise industrial surrounds.
“I create works that are somewhere in between street art, pottery, painting, sculpture and jewellery,” says NeSpoon, who has also created murals in Portugal, France, and the Netherlands. “Why lace? Because there is an aesthetic code, which is deeply embedded in every culture. In every piece of lace we find symmetry, some kind of order and harmony, isn’t that what we all seek for instinctively?”
Explore more: Streets of Perth has created an interactive map to get around, while Oh Hey WA organises private walking tours.
Cape Town: Street art with a purpose
A semi-industrial area just outside Cape Town’s CBD, Woodstock is where you’ll find the city’s best street art. In recent years, these suburbs have gone through extensive urban renewal, drawing creative types to explore social issues, environmental concerns and painful periods of the country’s history through their artwork.
Nature, a dominant force in South Africa, inspires some of the most notable murals, from an evocative portrait of the endangered Cape Pangolin by Belgium artist ROA (one of the largest works in town) to a safari of brightly painted wild animals like tigers, elephants and birds. Many of the murals take on heavier political meaning while more still express highly localised concerns about gentrification or commercialisation.
“The art scene in Cape Town is constantly changing and there are always new murals to enjoy,” says Andrea Oschetti, founder of international travel agency Blueflower Inspired Travels, which offers tailor made street art tours of the city. “Some of my favourite artists include Skubalisto, The Bushman, Faith47 and Falko. The art itself has a higher purpose – it’s not merely something nice to look at.”
Lisbon: Vacant spaces filled with light
The streets of Lisbon are covered in art. But this isn’t just any graffiti – each mural is truly stunning, spanning themes like the country’s history, music, pop culture and social welfare.
In the area of Mouraria, for instance, a few walls pay homage to fado, a musical style that developed in this part of the city. Across town, vacant buildings have been beautified through graffiti – like those of Cargo Collective, a group of artists responsible for bright displays of street art between Alcântara, Avenida Almirante Reis and Avenida da Liberdade.
Then there’s the Blue Wall, a half mile-long stretch of concrete surrounding Lisbon’s Psychiatric Hospital, where murals communicate distress and distance – an important reminder of the toll of mental illness.
Explore more: Underdogs, an organisation that aims to create a new language of urban visual culture, leads art tours around the city.