The World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti / Urban Art Books

People have been making graffiti for millennia. Street art is a new term, dressing up a once-reviled practice for the age of MFAs and grant applications. A conservatory sensibility is evident in the stencil that Ben Frost left stuck on a wall in Brisbane, Australia above, which rips off Roy Lichtenstein as shamelessly as Lichtenstein ripped off the comics. The aim of Mr. Frosts appropriation isnt ironic, though, but satirical. His crying girl is funnier than Lichtensteins, and more topical too—one imagines the flat black slab of a beloved iPhone cradled against her ear. As Rafael Schacters The World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti Yale, 399 pages, $35 makes clear, graffiti artists rarely miss the chance to repurpose the visual iconography of everyday life. The Paris artist called Zevs “liquidates” corporate logos by defacing signs with spray paint that suggests they are melting, and Disney, McDonalds and Coca-Cola are popular targets the world over. Yet Mr. Schacters atlas makes a convincing case that graffiti has local styles, too. Brazils walls boast a garishly colored collection of caricatures; the mythic creatures of Mexico City fuse folk art with surrealism, while Amsterdams artists tend toward the abstract. Ambitious practitioners like Berlins Clemens Behr—who fills empty spaces with elaborate, colored cardboard origami—have made a leap into three dimensions. One artist, Aram Bartholl, has taken things further, constructing large, thin sculptures that imitate the tear-drop-shaped pins of Google Maps, then setting them up in squares and parks in Germany, France and China. Its like stepping inside your iPhone. Public art in the most literal sense, graffiti is also more popular than pop art ever was.