Urban Art Evolves: ‘Next’ Urban Painting Review

Exploring the vibrant world of street art, “Next: A Primer on Urban Painting” dives into the heart of graffiti culture. Director Pablo Aravena’s debut feature-length documentary paints a global picture, from the iconic spray-painted alleys of New York to the dynamic urban canvases of cities like Montreal, Berlin, and Tokyo.

They capture the essence of street art’s evolution, showcasing how artists like Os Gemeos and Delta have transitioned from illicit murals to the hallowed halls of galleries. With interviews from a diverse cast of cultural influencers, this film offers a multifaceted look at an often misunderstood art form. Stay tuned as we delve into a review of this groundbreaking documentary.

What is Urban Painting?

Exploring the Origins of Urban Painting

Urban painting, commonly known as street art or graffiti, originated from the bustling cityscapes of New York. It began as a form of expression for those who felt marginalized and overlooked by mainstream society. In the precarious times of the financially-strapped 1970s, artists like Lee Quinones became the voice of the disenfranchised through their vivid and provocative work on subway cars and derelict walls.

The movement was initially about visibility and rebellious thrills, with artists seeking to make their mark on public spaces that weren’t theirs. This impulse to be seen led to the crafting of monikers and signatures that would become synonymous with the individual artist’s identity. These early graffiti pieces were less about complex artistry and more about the act of creating something personal in a public forum—a stark representation of the artist’s existence.

Understanding the Evolution of Urban Painting

Over the years, urban painting has undergone a significant transformation. From tagging and simple styles, it has matured into a world-recognized form of art, one capable of initiating social conversations and upending traditional art norms. Artists like Keith Haring pushed boundaries by incorporating socio-political messages in their work, elevating the craft from mere vandalism to a respectable mode of expression.

The evolution doesn’t stop on the canvas of urban landscapes; it extends into the gallery scene of cities like Tokyo. Urban painting now encompasses various methods such as wheatpaste illustrations, murals, and more complex pieces that are both socially conscious and aesthetically compelling. The modern urban painter is now part educator, part activist, and wholly artist.

Their work continues to evolve, reflecting the current socio-economic and cultural climates. In a poignant illustration of life imitating art, urban painters embrace similar marketing strategies used by corporations, employing tactics of logos and branding to promote their work and message. In doing so, they subvert the very concepts they utilize, offering a mirror to hyper-capitalist structures by transforming urban landscapes into canvases that question, disrupt and engage the public.

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The Benefits of Urban Painting

Enhancing the Aesthetics of Urban Spaces

Urban painting, often manifested in vibrant murals and intricate wheatpaste illustrations, injects a burst of color and life into the concrete canvases of city landscapes. Far from being mere visual noise, these artistic endeavors play a significant role in transforming bland walls into captivating public exhibits. Murals have the power to convert an ordinary alleyway into a gallery, and an unremarkable building facade can become a thought-provoking masterpiece. By reimagining urban spaces, street art lessens the visual effects of decay and abandonment, replacing them with inspiration and vibrancy. It’s a democratization of art that doesn’t require a ticket to a museum — it’s accessible to all who traverse the city’s streets.

Moreover, urban painting can serve as a tool for place-making, assisting communities in crafting a unique identity for their neighborhood. The visual stories told by these artworks often reflect the local culture and history, crafting a narrative thread that links the past with the present. This beautification process can invite new visitors, instill pride among residents, and even stimulate economic benefits as the area becomes a cultural hotspot.

Encouraging Community Engagement and Collaboration

Street art doesn’t just beautify; it also acts as a catalyst for community engagement. Urban painting frequently involves local residents in its creation, sparking important conversations about the shared spaces within a city. Whether it’s a small stencil or a large-scale mural, these works can trigger discussions on topics ranging from social justice to community values.

The process of creating street art is often collaborative, involving artists, residents, city officials, and businesses. This cross-sector collaboration encourages a sense of communal ownership and stewardship over the newly adorned spaces. Individuals from diverse backgrounds find common ground in their appreciation and concern for the aesthetics of their environment. As they work together to bring these artistic visions to life, there’s a reinforcing sense of togetherness and empowerment among participants.

Moreover, urban painting can be a tool for youth engagement, providing young people with creative outlets and opportunities to contribute positively to their communities. Such participatory art projects can nurture talent, instill confidence, and keep the youth vested in their neighborhoods. It’s another layer in the fabric of society where artistic expression becomes synonymous with community development and enrichment.

Urban Painting Techniques and Styles

Graffiti: The Pioneering Style

Urban painting, often associated with the rebellious roots of graffiti, showcases a diverse range of techniques and styles. Graffiti is the pioneering style that emerged from the streets of New York, with artists using spray cans to create vibrant tags and elaborate pieces. These often served as a voice for the voiceless, punctuating urban landscapes with colorful, personal insignias. Over time, graffiti evolved from simple monikers to complex, stylized murals. Artists like Lee Quinones, referred to as graffiti’s grand old man, exemplify how graffiti has been a transformative force within urban settings. The drive for visibility remains a powerful motivator, with artists striving to be seen by as many onlookers as possible. This style is characterized by its spontaneity and raw energy, embodying the full spectrum of urban expression.

Muralism: Expressing Creativity on a Large Scale

Muralism takes the essence of graffiti and expands it, both literally and figuratively, onto larger canvases. Murals transform entire walls into thought-provoking and often socially-engaged pieces of art. These grand-scale works often involve the local community and can articulate the cultural identity of a neighborhood. The creative process includes detailed sketches and collaboration among artists, with murals serving both aesthetic and narrative purposes. Unlike the rapid execution associated with traditional graffiti, muralism requires planning and persistence, allowing artists to convey intricate stories and evoke a strong sense of place within the urban environment. The results are captivating public exhibits that reshape the notion of what urban spaces can represent.

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Stencil Art: Precision and Detail in Urban Painting

Stencil art represents a methodical approach to urban painting, involving the meticulous cutting of stencils to produce sharp and repeatable imagery. This style offers precision and detail that can be difficult to achieve with freehand spray painting. Stencil art allows for complex layered effects and a high degree of nuance in the final composition. It’s a popular technique among street artists aiming to produce a clear and concise message or convey political and social commentary through repetition and placement. The use of stencils democratizes the production of street art, providing a means for artists to execute their visions with speed and accuracy while engaging with the public in thought-provoking ways.

Urban Painting as a Means of Activism

Addressing Social and Political Issues through Art

Urban painting has long transcended its status as mere street art, embodying a powerful platform for activism. Artists wield their brushes and spray cans as instruments of change, embedding messages within vibrant murals and tags to address pressing social and political issues. Murals in particular have transformed the walls of cities into large-scale canvases, where urban painters can visually communicate themes of inequality, justice, and community struggles.

These visual statements located in public spaces are unavoidable by their very nature, making urban art one of the most incisive means of bringing attention to societal problems. Artworks often become local landmarks, emblematic of the issues they depict, galvanizing communities to reflect on conditions that may otherwise go unnoticed or be disregarded.

Creating Awareness and Sparking Conversations

The proliferation of urban painting across cityscapes globally serves not only to beautify but also to provoke dialogue among viewers. Engaging the public in conversations about the environment, human rights, and cultural identity, these artworks harness the power of visibility to create awareness.

Stencils, wheatpaste posters, and freehand graffiti offer diverse methodologies for different artists to express their viewpoints. While some urban painters create works to satisfy a rebellious thrill, many are dedicated to stirring the pot of public discourse, cultivating a more informed and engaged populace. Art, in this regard, acts as an open invitation for people to consider new perspectives and join the global conversation on a range of contemporary issues.

Urban Painting Events and Festivals

Celebrating Artists and Their Work

Urban painting events have grown to become significant platforms for artists to showcase their work to broad, diverse audiences. These festivals are more than mere exhibitions; they often embody the very essence of the culture and community that street art represents. At these gatherings, artists converge from across the globe, bringing with them unique styles and perspectives that contribute to the rich tapestry of urban art.

Notable events include the Urbanworld Vibe Film Festival where groundbreaking films like “Next: A Primer on Urban Painting” are premiered. This type of festival provides a holistic celebration of street culture encompassing not only visual artists but also filmmakers, musicians, and cultural critics who highlight the growing influence of urban art in contemporary society. With screenings scheduled in prominent venues, such as the Loews on 34th and 8th in NYC, these events fuse the excitement of fresh artistic perspectives with the accessibility of mainstream media.

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Bringing Art to the Streets: Public Art Initiatives

Public art initiatives take the energy and vibrancy of gallery-bound urban art and unleash it in the streets where it originated. These initiatives facilitate the transformation of gray cityscapes into flamboyant expressions of local narratives and socio-cultural dialogues. They ensure the democratization of art by making it viewable to all echelons of society, thereby eradicating the exclusivity often associated with conventional galleries.

Urban painting’s role in activism is showcased during these initiatives, as artists employ walls as large-scale canvases to project themes of justice, community, and identity. Programs may invite global artists to cultivate a palette of styles and messages that resonate with the locale’s current socio-economic environment. In essence, public art projects nurture an ongoing conversation between the artist, the art, and the everyday passerby, enabling art to be an active participant in community life and urban development.


Urban painting has undoubtedly transcended its rebellious roots to become a dynamic medium of cultural expression and activism. It’s a vibrant testament to the power of art to provoke thought and inspire change. With every stroke and spray, artists continue to challenge perceptions, turning city walls into canvases that reflect the zeitgeist. As urban painting garners more recognition and enters new spaces, its role in shaping conversations around contemporary issues grows ever more significant. Whether it’s through the bold statements of graffiti or the intricate narratives of murals, this art form remains an essential part of urban life, inviting viewers to engage with the world around them in profound and colorful ways.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is urban painting, and how did it originate?

Urban painting, commonly known as street art or graffiti, started as an expression venue for the marginalized in New York City during the 1970s, focusing on visibility and rebellion.

How has urban painting evolved over the years?

Initially seen as vandalism, urban painting has evolved into a globally respected art form that advances social dialogue and challenges traditional art norms, finding its way into galleries alongside public spaces.

Who was Keith Haring, and what was his role in urban painting?

Keith Haring was an influential urban painter known for infusing socio-political messages into his work, playing a significant role in the transition of street art from mere graffiti to a recognized form of expression.

What techniques are utilized in urban painting?

Urban painting encompasses diverse techniques such as graffiti, muralism, stencil art, and wheatpaste illustrations, allowing artists to convey nuanced messages and engage the public in unique ways.

In what ways does urban painting serve as activism?

Urban painting acts as a platform for activism by addressing pressing social and political issues through art, with artists using city walls as canvases to project themes of justice, community, and identity.

What role do urban painting events and festivals play?

These events celebrate street culture, offering artists a chance to showcase their work to wide audiences and fostering a sense of global artistic community and conversation.

How does urban painting integrate into public art initiatives?

Public art initiatives incorporate urban painting to transform cityscapes into expressions of local narratives and socio-cultural dialogues, underlining the art form’s connection to community and activism.

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