Staff Top 10
Top Ten Current Visual Artists, Part II

colleen’s Top 10 last week touched on some artists doing fascinating things. I wanted to follow up on her Top 10 with a similar list, because even though it doesn’t have a name, there is something of a movement forming in the street-level art that was introduced last month. Nearly all of these artists are young and their art is informed by the things they grew up with: skateboarding, graffiti, hip-hop, punk rock, toys, comic books, vibrant packaging... It is art for everybody, by its very nature larger in scope than the gallery circuit, rich collectors, and university art classes. I’m sure, though, that in 10 years, a Doze Green or Yoshitomo Nara slide will follow a Roy Lichtenstein in art history presentations and the Met will be holding a retrospective on the graphics of (Obey)Giant and Ryan McGinness.

Futura 2000

Futura has been on the scene since the early 1980s, putting spray paint in public places across the world and appearing on the 1983 Clash album The Escapades of Futura 2000. Eventually moving away from straight graffiti and into design, Futura began to apply his talents with the paint can to product design, album covers, and installation pieces. In many ways a godfather of the scene, he did a lot to break down the boundaries between tagging and fine art. The man does things with spray paint that the best Photoshop jockeys could never hope to emulate, and he has a fondness for freaky atmospheres and sci-fi aliens, as demonstrated on the UNKLE album and various other MoWax records. The book dedicated to him is, in typical fashion, a beautiful piece of design and layout.

Shepherd Fairey

Shepherd Fairey is better known as the man behind the “Obey Giant” campaign. If you’ve been outside in a city in the past seven years, you’ve seen his work. Starting out as a project for his own amusement, the Obey Giant campaign began with messy looking, photocopied sticker of Andre The Giant. It didn’t mean anything, but people thought it did, and this fascinated Fairey, who continued to put the semi-subversive stickers everywhere so he could gauge the public reaction. Over time, Fairey’s resources and sense of design evolved, and thus the stickers did too, becoming the highly graphic and superbly rendered items we see today on posters, ads, t-shirts across the world. Fairey’s work has been terribly influential in both the worlds of design and street art, and it is a line that he seems happy to straddle. Read more about his mission statement at:


Similar to Giant in that he puts subversive work in highly public places, the U.K.’s famous stencil artist Banksy is getting his message across one wall at a time. His work is powerful and often political, a black and white, well-rendered stencil that he can put on a wall in a matter of minutes, which he often does in broad daylight. The legend goes that when he’s questioned, he says it’s an advertisement, and everyone believes him and walks away. This really is the core of his work: is painting on a public wall really any different than a corporation putting up a billboard or a “street team” flyering an entire neighborhood? Public space is public space, and is for the people...whether you agree or not, there’s no denying the immediacy of his work.


Another graff artist from the old school, Kaws keeps his work public like the aforementioned artists. Kaws has been known to create canvas paintings and statues (which are every bit as subversive as his other work), but his typical modus operandi is to steal the big promo-type posters found at bus and subway stations, paint on them, and re-install them where he found them for the enjoyment/confusion of the general public. Kaws always finds a way to insert his trademark painting of a highly stylized skull, which has become iconic due to the sheer volume of his work. Now it’s pretty uncommon for a Kaws poster to stay where he puts it for longer than a day because people see it and steal it...and thus, the gallery system gets thrown out the fucking window with a swiftness. Rumor has it that the companies that produce the original poster sometimes contact Kaws and contract him to paint on their posters so they can look cool and deviant by association. Beautiful.


Dalek has been spraypainting for a number of years, and he’s been painting the same thing the whole damn time. Well, variants of the same thing, a creature he refers to as a “space monkey.” The space monkey doesn’t look much like a monkey, but does look like a happy, deranged cartoon that lives in some psychedelic parallel reality. Dalek, with consummate skill, changes the space monkey’s features and environments to reflect the most symbolic elements of cartoons and the city streets at the same time; a pair of space monkeys in flying saucers with mysterious holes and joysticks fly through clouds that look like cool-whip while blocky faded numbers loom in the background. Elsewhere, another space monkey who has a wheel for a bottom half and a crown for a halo has one hand reaching into a hole in the wall and a bloody knife in his other hand. And a hole in his chest... These milieus don’t necessarily tell an entire and obvious story; but they suggest it through symbology and are often moving for all of their simplicity.

Evan Hecox

Evan Hecox enjoys painting everyday things- televisions, broken cars, bicycles, buildings, pigeons, a flight of stairs, a crate of oranges. His work is the epitome of flat color- nearly always in only three or four colors, sometimes only two colors, and never with any gradients or soft lines. Everything is conveyed with pure line and muted color, and it is as stunning as it is basic. Evan captures, perfectly, the most interesting parts of what most people consider a mundane environment. His talents have been employed by various corporations, such as Carhartt and Volkswagon, as well as a series of amazing skateboards for the Chocolate team.

Ryan McGinness

Ryan McGinness makes terribly interesting work. He is a bit more academic than many of the other artists on these lists, very consciously working with notions of symbology, commercialism, and patterns of human consumption. His work is diverse, often reflecting elements of logos and advertising common to everyday life, but always giving them a subversive twist. Witness his first book, “flatnessisgod,” which discusses concepts such as identity, dominance in advertising, and why people attempt to convey three dimensions in a two-dimensional space. Oh yeah, and he’s a superb designer and painter too.

Doze Green

Doze Green is yet another artist who began as a graffiti writer and proceeded to combine it with fine art. Doze, like Futura, has been living the lifestyle since the early 80’s, when he was a founding member of the world famous Rocksteady b-boy/breakdancing crew. He was, at the same time, attending art school, and has just never really stopped painting. His current work is something fresh in the art world, combining graffiti elements with figurative painting and metaphysical and spiritual concepts.

Dave Choe

Dave Choe is nothing short of inspiring. He paints pictures in a phenomenal variety of techniques and medium, and nonetheless has developed a completely unique and distinctive style. His work ranges from recklessly scrawled line drawings to vivid watercolors to multi-layered collage work, and he can easily switch from realistic to abstract, often within the same painting. His work is personal in nature, drawing from a wide range of life experience- and it is exactly this that makes it so appealing. He has self-published the comic “Slow Jams,” the incredible art book Bruised Fruit, and is a frequent illustrative contributor to Giant Robot magazine.

Ashley Wood

Ashley Wood is another who is unafraid to go to unorthodox places with line, color, and medium. He is predominantly an illustrator and comic book artist, but his work is set light years away from the typical notion of a comic book. His work is often dark, and has a dreamy, hallucinogenic feel. He treats the comic book page with the same disdain for convention that he displays in his illustrative work, mixing styles and mediums across haphazard borders and panels- and he makes it all look wonderful.

By: Tony Van Groningen
Published on: 2002-08-12
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