When we began the research on this topic, we wanted to present a Top 10 list of the richest street artists. After hours of research, we reached the verdict that this will become a Top 5 list.
Not our fault, really, it just seems that street artists aren’t really that big on communicating their net worth. Although we were quite disappointed when we found this to be the case, we also understood why this is so.
Graffiti and street art originate from a subculture that opposes commercial reward for art. Moreover, usually the wealthiest are the target for the street artists criticism and ridicule. The idea of street art being transient public art that everyone can enjoy for free, makes being a millionaire undesirable for street artists.
That is not our opinion by the way, but a presumed reason for street artists not to reveal how much money they earn.
We excluded late artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring or DONDI from this list because it is unfortunately not their wealth now. We can assume that many of graffiti’s legends like Futura, SEEN or Lady Pink have also made big dough over the years but not enough to make it in the list of street art’s millionaire club.
The best thing about it all is that mountains of cash say nothing about the artistic brilliance of artists.
There is no official listing of Retna’s net worth, however, his catalog speaks its own language. His originals begin at around €15.000 at galleries. As Retna’s shows are regular sell-outs, a presumptions spanning the 200K per show are reasonable.
Retna paints commissioned murals for hip-hop superstar Usher, that are sure to spill in another 100K. The 2013 Artist Scarf collaboration with French fashion house Louis Vuitton was probably also a very lucrative deal.
Editors’ Tip: Alianza: The Mac & Retna These two artists have risen to prominence in recent years with their graffiti, murals and canvases.
The same goes for the commissioned mural he painted on the Bombardier €40 million Global Express XRS jet. Retna’s signature typo-graffiti conveys this unique aesthetic that makes his art very desirable for collectors worldwide.
It is, therefore, no surprise that Retna found himself among the top 5 wealthiest street artists.
The Frenchman Thierry Guetta aka Mr. Brainwash began his professional career as a photographer and filmographer. This career choice lead him into the venture with the British street artist Banksy.
This venture produced the best-known street art documentary Exit Through The Giftshop. Banksy's already big name in the realm of urban art was to become the biggest name in street art as a result. But Thierry Guetta was also a huge benefactor of this Academy Award nominated documentary.
Banksy convinced Thierry Guetta to become a street artist himself and Mr. Brainwash was born. Mr. Brainwash puts on a show he names Life is Beautiful and virtually becomes an overnight millionaire. The profits of the exhibition are reported to have been €1 million.
Adding that to the other sell out shows and the huge commercial success of Exit Through The Giftshop, the wealth of Mr. Brainwash sums up to roughly estimated $10 million.
The Obey Giant is the street art’s equivalent of Jay Z. Shepard Fairey is an artist with great entrepreneurial skills.
Starting off with Andre the Giant Has a Posse posters, the American artist has built an empire from the ground. His progressive street style earned him the design for the 2008 Obama election campaign.
From there, there was no stopping the giant. Shepard Fairey collaborated with Urban Outfitters to produce and sell his own fashion line at their stores. Just think about how many Obey caps or tees you’ve seen in the last couple of years and you can begin to fathom the unbelievable success story of the Obey brand.
While keeping this in mind also think about the starting prices for his originals (20K) and his gallery space in LA Subliminal Projects and you will have calculated a sum of around $15 million.
Most people would expect the world famous, yet infamous Banksy to be the wealthiest street artist. No, he is not, someone else is, but we’ll get to that.
Banksy obviously had his first commercial success with the documentary Exit Through the Giftshop. It is our sincere hope, but also reasonable assumption that he earned more money with the movie than anyone else (Thierry Guetta).
Editors’ Tip: Banksy: Art Breaks the Rules
Banksy is known around the globe, not only for his art, but also for his exhibitions, film work and books.
However, even more valuable than the earnings from ticket sales, was the mass recognition that Banksy received. The prices for his artworks skyrocketed, with the most expensive painting achieving over €1.5 million at an auction.
The original artworks lie anywhere between €20.000 - €250.000 at galleries. This amounts to a net worth of $20 million.
How this happened, I have no idea but the art world is a funny place; so is Facebook. And doing a mural at FB in lieu of money for shares is pretty f-ing hilarious. As my mother would say about Choe, "He's okay at painting, but more crazy than anything else. Maybe people are just looking for crazy? Someone should pray for him..." Apparently, my mom is an excellent prayer.
We wanted the words of street art genius (and his mother) to speak for themselves first before we begin our written praises. David Choe is a genius.
In 2005, David Choe was approached by the media startup Facebook. Facebook had just moved up the office space ladder and commissioned Choe to paint a large mural at their new headquarters. For his time and effort they wanted to pay him $60.000. Choe, however opted that he’d rather have 3.7 million in shares of the company instead.
When Facebook enlisted at the stock exchange the shares were valued at $56 each. And so David Choe who had been homeless for several months of his life became the richest street artist there is thanks to his nose for business. There is no one else than him that deserves it more.
One last remark, David Choes didn’t just sit on the money; instead he worked, moderated, painted, filmed and documented to earn even more money.
That’s how it's done.