The Bronx Murals: From Graffiti to Street Art
In the last 15-20 years, street art has grown in popularity in New York City. These days, there are entire tours dedicated to it. But you can’t talk about street art without mentioning graffiti, which is where it all started.
During the late 1990s, this art form could be found almost anywhere in New York. The Bronx, however, has seen the most significant shift from illegal tagging to publicly or privately funded street murals.
The history of Bronx murals
It took a long time for graffiti to evolve into street art. Graffiti is still an important part of New York City culture. The distinction between the two stems from the art’s focus and the aura surrounding it.
Many people don’t consider someone a graffiti artist unless they’re an outlaw who doesn’t follow the rules. Graffiti is typically created with aerosol cans and focuses on large, bold letters and bright colors.
Graffiti culture grew quickly in the 1970s when the South Bronx was in disarray. Kids used abandoned buildings as a canvas for their highly visible art. Friends and families passed the practice down through the generations, and it soon became ingrained in the borough’s culture.
While graffiti is a Bronx staple, it used to be commonplace throughout the city, particularly on subway cars. This provided the artist with more exposure outside of their immediate area.
However, in 1989, the city declared that all subway graffiti would be removed. Only what could be found on the streets remained.
Graffiti on the streets of SoHo began to take over the neighborhood’s art and gallery scene. Graffiti was recognized as more than just vandalism by art collectors.
This wave eventually made its way up to The Bronx. Today, many graffiti artists are paid to create work on the street or exhibit their work in galleries rather than operating under the radar.
The popularity of street art grew due to these commissioned graffiti pieces.
Today, much of the art in The Bronx pays homage to another of the borough’s inventions: hip-hop.
While hip-hop did not emerge until the late 1970s following the birth of modern graffiti, they both originated in the same place. Not just physically but also culturally.
Hip-hop was developed by young, working-class African-American men and women who used vinyl records and turntables to create music that could express their feelings. Graffiti began when young Black Americans used spray paint to make art that expressed their desire to be seen and heard.
Coincidentally, MTV’s debut in 1981 increased the visibility of both hip-hop and graffiti. The Beastie Boys also created a graffiti logo for their best-selling rap album in 1986.
Celebrating music and hip-hop through art
Like their graffiti counterparts, The Bronx Murals pay homage to various hip-hop artists and the culture surrounding them.
The Big Pun Memorial Mural pays homage to the late Puerto Rican rapper Big Pun, who died in 2000. Tats Cru, a well-known graffiti artist, designed it. Pun was the first Latino rapper to achieve platinum status as a solo artist.
On November 10th, Big Pun’s birthday, it is repainted every year. It’s also become a popular hangout for local street artists.
In the same area, you’ll find a more recent black and white spray paint mural depicting a 1980s breakdancer doing a backspin, another reference to the hip-hop genre.
Hunt’s Point Village of Murals Project is a collection of street art dedicated to preserving Bronx culture and bringing art to the community.
Legendary graffiti artist John “CRASH” Matos runs a similar project in the South Bronx called WallWorks, a contemporary art gallery.
This pattern has begun to emerge in the borough’s northern reaches. One thousand five hundred square feet of wall space on West Farms Road has been set aside for Bronx graffiti artists.
The Bronx Graffiti Art Gallery, as it’s known, is intended to allow younger generations to express themselves through street art while also promoting the overall value of graffiti.
Projects and movements like this help change people’s perceptions of graffiti and commemorate New York’s rich history of street art.
The Bronx Murals: Where to See Them
Murals can be found all over the borough, but most are concentrated in the South Bronx and Hunt’s Point.
- Take the 2 or 5 Trains to 3rd Ave.
- 149th St. or the 6 Train to 3 Ave. / 138th St. to get to that neighborhood.
The best things to do near The Bronx Murals
Why not visit Yankee Stadium while you’re in the area? We always include it on our bus tour because it’s only about a 20-minute walk away. It’s a must-see if you’re in the area.
The Bronx Museum of the Arts is located directly across the street. The Bronx Walk of Fame, a 23-block stretch with signs honoring the many famous people who have lived in the borough and many of their accomplishments, is only a 10-minute walk away.
Murals can be found both inside and outside of Hunt’s Point. Take the 2 or 5 Trains to Intervale Avenue Station or the 6 Trains to Longwood Avenue Station.
Honoring the past, while looking towards the future.
The Bronx Murals not only honor and celebrate some of the borough’s most notable contributions, but they also turn city streets into moving works of art. What was once considered deviant had become an important and uplifting part of many New York City neighborhoods, turning the streets into open-air galleries.
Check it out for yourself, whether on your own or with a tour and see how this art form has evolved. Consider this: you might notice something that won’t be there in ten years, or even five.
The Statue of Liberty (which we adore) will always be there, but The Bronx Murals are constantly changing, a vibrant neighborhood’s changing canvas.