Stencils are probably the most popular technique used in graffiti and street art worldwide. The popularity of pre-stenciled art has many different reasons behind it. The technique provided graffiti artists with several important advantages, most significant being the possibility to easily reproduce their work, hence to be more visible, and also to do it fast in order to disappear before getting caught by the police. Over time, artists started experimenting with multi-layered cut out stencils to add more colors and illusion of depth to their stencil art pieces. This artistic experimentation resulted in much more elaborate and highly sophisticated stenciled artworks. Today we take a quick look at some of the world's best stencil artists who took stencil art to a whole new level, both in terms of aesthetics and messages they are trying to convey.
Editors’ Tip: Stencil Nation: Graffiti, Community, and Art
Edited by Russell Howze, the founder of stencilarchive.org, the book Stencil Nation: Graffiti, Community, and Art is one of the most comprehensive reads on the subject. With the selection of essays that trace the origins and evolution of this beloved street art method, to beautiful collection of photographs, and words on over 350 stencil artists from across the world, this is an unparalleled reading material. Along with the overwhelming historic insight into the developments of the technique, the book also brings some tips and tricks for the newbies, with contemporary stencil masters giving away their secrets on how to do stencil graffiti. The book is a visual tour of some of the best artworks created with this efficient and popular street art technique and it gives you all you ever wanted to know about the art of stenciling.
Czarnobyl is a self-taught, highly talented Polish stencil artist, living and working in Berlin since 1993, known for his intricate cyber-punk stencil art. He has been cutting stencils since 1990, and today he is considered to be one of the Berlin's finest stencil artists. Czarnobyl's mixed style, which combines rough backgrounds with multi-layered grey scale stencils, results in captivating artworks of meticulous and precise images depicting strange, nostalgic characters, cyborgs and abstract patterns, which appear like hallucinations of dystopic future. These biotech visions of mutants and outsiders are here to warn us of our possible, and not-so-bright future we humans are heading to, with our technological progress and unsustainable overconsumption.
Nick Walker is an important figure in history of street art in the UK and one of the world's most famous street artists, who emerged from the ground-breaking Bristol scene in the early 1980s. This master of street art began combining his freehand work with stencils in 1992 and is credited with introducing stencil graffiti to Bristol. Since then, Nick Walker has been creating humorous, ironic and visually mesmerizing stencil art pieces that combine photographic imagery and rawness of traditional graffiti, and often feature his signature bowler-hatted Vandal character. These highly sophisticated, instantly recognizable intricate stencils gained Walker a huge following over the years, making his art highly desirable and known to fetch mind-boggling prices at auctions worldwide.
Mobstr is a renowned British stencil graffiti artist from Newcastle, widely recognized for his minimalist subversive works found in industrial and urban areas around London. Mobstr's witty and humorous, usually text-based stencil art conveys messages that are sometimes merely funny and entertaining, but very often tell sarcastic and meaningful stories of our consumerist world polluted by advertising. Mobstr thrives on this and intentionally places his clever stenciled interventions around other street signs, marquees, and billboards. Doing so, he boosts the effect as the viewers, already bedazzled and hypnotized by propaganda messages that bombard them from all sides, stumble upon one of Mobstr's stencil graffiti pieces that provoke thinking and offer different perspectives of our society.
Christian Guémy, better known as C215, is a French street artist from Paris. With a graffiti drawing career of over twenty years, C215 turned to stencils in 2006. This turn seems to have been the crucial one as his stencils brought him worldwide acclaim and recognition. Today, C215 primarily uses stencils and is considered as one of the world's best and most prolific stencil artists, whose pieces can be found on walls of Amsterdam, Barcelona, London and Rome. C215 is widely recognized for his intricate and vibrantly colored close-up portraits of marginalized people, typically refugees, beggars and homeless people. This subject choice tells a lot about C215 and his intention to draw attention to those among us we do not see and easily forget about.
Father of stencil graffiti in the history of street art in France, Blek le Rat (Xavier Prou) is a French graffiti artist from Paris, who has inspired generations of graffiti artists throughout the world. Inspired by the New York City graffiti art of the 1970's, he began his artistic career in 1981 by painting stencils of rats, 'the only free animal in the city', on the streets of his hometown. The true pioneer of street art, Blek le Rat is credited as the first to transform stencil from basic lettering into imagery, and the one to invent the life-sized stencils. He creates socially engaged artworks, intended to bring attention to global problems, often depicting marginalized individuals opposed to large oppressive groups.
DOT DOT DOT is the pseudonym of an elusive Norwegian stencil graffiti artist from Oslo, whose real name and age remain unknown to general public. He has been active on the graffiti scene since the late 1990s, and started working with stencils in 2007. This shift proved to be the crucial one in DOT DOT DOT's career as his stencils brought him wide recognition, and today he is considered to be one of the Norway's leading stencil artists. DOT DOT DOT had since left his markings on walls around Europe, including cities such as Berlin, Copenhagen, Malaga and Stavanger. His distinctive, intricate stencil art, inspired by politics and contemporary art world, features classic stencil work combined with witty, and often dark, pop art references.
FAILE is an internationally acclaimed street art duo from New York City, consisting of Patrick McNeil and Patrick Miller. Since the late 1990's, FAILE have been creating art constructed from found visual imagery, through fragmented style of appropriation and collage, and employment of various different techniques including, stenciling, painting, sculpture, typography and printing. Inspired by throwaway imagery of advertising and works of great artists, such as Roy Lichtenstein and Basquiat, FAILE's visually explosive works of distinct graphic design sensibility, bear the stylistic hallmarks of wheatpasting and stenciling. It often contains both passive and overt political statements and critique on society and consumerism, usually not explicit, but cleverly hidden in ambivalence.
Once an anonymous American artist, Above aka Tavar Zawacki has been creating public art since the mid 1990s, when he began writing graffiti and tagging freight trains in California. He has gained international acclaim for his multi-layered, full color stencils, large typography based murals and kinetic art installations. Above's stencils usually featured strong messages and commentaries on social and political subjects. In 2001, Above started his campaign of annual tours around the world. Each year, he visits and explores a new part of the world where he creates his art, often experimenting with new mediums and styles. These days, he is mainly dedicated to other mediums and more abstract approaches.
Banksy is yet another graffiti artist who tries very hard, and largely succeeds, to remain anonymous despite the huge buzz surrounding his work. This multifaceted British street artist, who also works as painter, film director and a political activist, began his career in the early 1990s as a freehand graffiti artist writing on the walls of his hometown of Bristol. Banksy incorporated stenciled elements from the early days, and turned to pre-stenciled work almost completely by the year 2000. This proved to be quite a practical step, as stencils allowed him to create his work much faster and disappear before the police showed up, while it also made his art become more widely visible. Banksy's stencil graffiti, clearly influenced by the works of previously mentioned stencil artists Blek le Rat and Nick Walker, feature clever and striking images that convey subversive anti-establishment messages, usually spiced with humor and irony.
Logan Hicks is an American stencil artist from New York City, widely recognized for his refined hand-sprayed stencil works that capture the dynamics of city life. Before turning to stencils, Logan Hicks worked as a professional screen printer, but he quickly accepted stencils as his preferred medium. The newly discovered style provided his art with grittiness used to depict the decay of urban environment, juxtaposed to sense of hope he creates by muted shine of metallic paint. These highly intricate, multi-layered stenciled paintings and murals of mesmerizing appearance, which are usually based on Hicks' own photographs he takes as he roams the streets of cities worldwide, wonderfully reflect the nuances of the concrete jungle life and existence.
All images used for illustrative purposes only.