Walking around areas like Mott Haven and Hunts Point, you might find intricate and impressive murals under bridges, down alleyways and on buildings.
The street art, often created with large letters and bright colors in a style known as “tagging,” has been a significant part of the culture in the Bronx for years, beginning with the graffiti wave that hit New York City in the 1970s. Artists would use buildings and subway cars to make political statements, express emotions or beautify a decaying area.
As the art became more popular, many started to criticize it as an act of vandalism, and the city outlawed subway graffiti in 1989. But artists continued to use the streets as their canvas, and eventually art collectors and curators came to recognize the work for its value.
With this, organizations have popped up in the Bronx to help cultivate artists in the medium, give opportunities and showcase the importance of street art for the community.
One of those organizations is the art gallery WallWorks New York in Port Morris, which showcases the work of both emerging and established artists, while mixing downtown and uptown art styles. The gallery often features local artists, but it works with international and other non-local artists as well.
The gallery was founded by the famed graffiti artist John Matos, also known as “Crash.” His daughter Anna is the gallery director.
“I think street art and graffiti are generally some of the first forms of art kids see and interact or connect with,” Anna Matos said. “It’s a way to be seen and heard to a generation that is often overlooked — urban youth.”
As street art has become more mainstream, artists in the Bronx are often commissioned to create murals for the city or for businesses, opening the door for a new style of street art that does not resemble classic graffiti.
“I think the very nature of how it’s produced makes it different from other forms of art. There is a level of intention with mediums like wheatpasting or stencils, but there is also still an element of the unknown in terms of the surface or timelines,” Matos said.
“Street art, to me, always seeks to be like a treasure hunt; sometimes the best pieces are hidden just out of sight, but when you find them, are like a gut punch on their message,” she said.
Wallworks opened a new exhibition on Dec. 18 called “Crossing Mediums” that will be showcasing the work of five artists who work in different mediums, including photography and street art.
The exhibition runs through Jan. 22.