BERLIN – Remember when you were young and your mom gave you crayons with strict instructions to color on the paper and nowhere else? While you may have been content to keep your doodles confined to that white sheet, there were always those more adventurous kids who sought new surfaces for their masterpieces.
The walls, white couches, family photos – these forbidden canvases were soon given new life in the form of colorful, waxy scratchings. They were not ruined, just altered and made into something livelier than what they were before.
Street art could be considered the grown-up version of this. Through this type of expression, artists reject the traditional canvas and gallery route and instead, favor more unusual surfaces.
If drawing on the wall as a child is considered a sign of disobedience, let’s just say Berlin must be home to hundreds of adult “Dennis the Menace” types.
Walking around the historic city, I was struck by the many instances of street art I passed. Huge, colorful murals ranging from realistic astronauts to “Ren and Stimpy”-style cartoons seemed to appear on every blank surface. They were absolutely beautiful, and just as many people stopped to admire and photograph them as they did Berlin’s most historical monuments.
It added a splash of color to the city and hinted at the vibrant population that resides in Berlin. The once bare and boring buildings have now turned into something animated and beautiful. I was actually getting giddy on my walk, hoping to spot the next alien creature or spray-painted sonnet.
Street art is refreshing. It’s a reminder that art doesn’t have to be exclusive and highbrow, but should be accessible to everyone. We shouldn’t have to go to museums or uppity galleries to see what people are creating. I don’t know about you, but if I have a choice between looking at a gray wall or a larger-than-life depiction of King Kong climbing a Venus Flytrap, I would always prefer the latter.
Of course, street art isn’t confined to Berlin. In Paris, we saw pieces by famous street artist the Invader, who leaves his tag in the form of old-school video game space-invader mosaics.
In London, Banksy remains king of the street art realm, despite attempts by authorities to dismantle and eradicate his masterpieces. And if you haven’t seen the Banksy documentary, “Exit Through the Giftshop,” get on that right now. It’s absolutely incredible.
Philadelphia is no stranger to this underground art form either. A walk in any direction in North Philly is sure to lead you to some display of skill and spray paint. There are a few bigger names in Philadelphia street art, including STIKMAN – the tiny tribal robot man who crops up on streets and poles around the city.
Philly is also home to an abundance of murals. A jog down Broad Street will give you a preview of what the city has to offer. You could also opt for a formal tour given by the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.
For $17, you’ll be led on a two-hour walking tour past 17 of Center City’s favorite murals while learning the history of the program and how the murals are constructed. There’s also a special Love Letters tour that shows off a public art project from last year, in which each mural is a special letter. The whole project gives West Philly a warm, fuzzy vibe.
So skip the lines at the museum, and nurture your inner crayon-wielding toddler by checking out the galleries of the streets. No one will tell you to be quiet or throw away your Slurpee, and please, feel free to touch the art.
Caitlin Weigel can be reached at email@example.com.