Street Art is, without question, the most influential art form of the 21st Century—and understandably so. It is for the people and by the people, uncensored by commercial or political influence and displayed where all can see. Of course, much of it is illegal; even many of those who have graduated to galleries and commissioned murals made their bones drawing outside the lines of the law.
"A small group create, promote, purchase, exhibit and decide the success of art," states street art's still at-large MVP Banksy in his 2006 collection "Banksy: Wall and Peace." "When you go to an art gallery, you are simply a tourist looking at the trophy cabinet of a few millionaires."
Because of its transgressive, feral existence, the lifespan of graffiti is fleeting. Though pieces by bankable artists, such as Banksy, are occasionally captured and domesticated by collectors (as happened here in NOLA), most works are ephemeral, living on through the collective memory of Instagram.
As such, some of the images featured here may have been scrubbed clean or even painted over with other public art by the time this goes to print. Regardless, these 10 artists have left a lasting impression on New Orleans's street art scene.
Az first caught the attention of local street art-enthusiasts in 2015, many of whom mistook his work for the second Big Easy appearance of Banksy (more on that later). The resemblance is certainly there since both craft their compositions with stencils and share a socio-political sardonicism throughout their portfolios. However, the attentive onlooker will notice not only the sharper detail and greater inclusion of color in Az's works, but also the fact that he signs his work as his artistic alter ego. An easily accessible example of his work sits beneath the ATM to the right of the entrance outside of Gasa Gasa on Freret Street. Recently, Az has channeled his creative energies into creating robotic street-art sculptures, as seen on his Instagram account.
The face of 21st-century (and perhaps all before it) street art, Banksy stealthily stormed the Crescent City during 2008, scattering 14 of his iconic stencils across its still Katrina-ravaged carcass. Many of these illustrations parodied the former New Orleans anti-graffiti vigilante The Grey Ghost, who subsequently smeared over most of these with his fugly brand of censorship. Pity the poor ghoul, for unauthorized Banksy works have been estimated to be worth millions, with many property owners carving them out of their walls and selling them for as much at auction. One such golden ticket was tattooed on the side of an Elysian Fields warehouse belonging to local business-owner Sean Cummings. Titled The Looters, the piece had been defaced by taggers; however, Cummings had the vandalized vandalism removed and Banksy's work retouched over several years, premiering his restored treasure at Studio Be late last year.
Three works from Banksy's decade-old exhibition remain preserved by plexiglass in their original locations throughout New Orleans, though the one on Washington Avenue is now fenced off and, therefore, mostly out of view on private property.
Editor's Note: Due to Hurricane Ida in 2021, Brandan Odums' "Jazz Musicians" mural received extensive damage during the storm.
Brandan Odums became an overnight street-art sensation in 2013 when he transformed the 9th Ward's abandoned Florida housing projects into the nationally-recognized illegal exhibition Project Be. After being shut down, Odums was commissioned to again transform a sprawling apartment complex on the West Bank, also vacant since Hurricane Katrina, into a similar, now-authorized showcase. Exhibit Be premiered one year later as part of New Orleans's art initiative Prospect 3, playing host to more than 30,000 visitors during its three-month run.
Odums's activism-inspired street art—many paying homage to the Civil Rights movement, social justice, and equality—serve as portraits of inspiration all throughout the city. His works are also available at his Bywater workspace, Studio Be (2941 Royal St.), open Wednesday through Saturday from 2 - 8 p.m.
"I've never had a formal job," Courtney "CeAux" Buckley told Where Y'at during an interview at the 2018 Buku Music + Art Project. "I started painting trains when I was 17, and I have been an artist working for myself ever since." A multidisciplinary illustrator of many hats, CeAux sells and exhibits his work at Ferret Street's Axiom Gallery and via his website, and does tattoos by appointment (IG: @Ceauxtattoos). CeAux has gained notoriety as of late, especially since his mural of New Orleans rapper Lil' Wayne was featured in the music video for Drake's latest bounce-infused single "In My Feelings." The piece can be found Uptown on the side of Phase III Body Shop, located at 8401 Olive Street. CeAux has commissioned public portraits around town, having given up graffiti a long time ago. "First off, it's illegal—and I don't get paid for it," CeAux says.
Fat Kids has been decorating NOLA with his cartoon-inspired iconography for around a decade now. Fat Kids's paintings have been showcased in the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, in the Buku Music x Arts Fest Live Gallery, and during Prospect 3, as part of Brandan Odums's Exhibit Be. While his images can be seen all over the city, he has several commissioned murals adorning both Mid City Pizza locations, including a delightful Ninja-Turtle inspired take on his signature snaggle-toothed alien head outside their Uptown restaurant. He also has an illustration featured inside Stein's Deli on Magazine Street just above the entrance.
French-muralist Mateo Lepeintre, best known for his hyper-realistic monochromatic portraits, visited New Orleans in late 2013, leaving behind two commissioned pieces that remain to this day. The first, covering the side of a home on Touro Street in the Marigny, is now slightly defaced, but still visible from the street. His more recognizable works, however, are the sunglass-wearing faces yelling at passersby from the exterior of Freret Street music venue Gasa Gasa.
It is impossible not to smile at the colorful, cartoonish portraits of Jules Muck, a.k.a Muck Rock. The Venice, CA-based muralist, best known for her amorous bunny rabbits, has several pieces spanning from Uptown to the Bywater. Among the most detailed and joyful of her pieces is a floral design framing a watching pair of woman's eyes adorning a local business on Magazine Street between Napoleon and Louisiana Avenues.
Pottspurls is best known for yarn bombing old phone booths, those 20th-century fossils starved into extinction by smart phones, throughout the Crescent City. For those unfamiliar with the art form, yarn bombing is a style of street art in which knitted designs are placed over public displays or objects. Pottspurls attracted much attention when her quilts quoting Bob Dylan's ode to New Orleans on Tchoupitoulas Street across from Tipitina's were featured on local news stations. Because yarn bombs are more easily removed than graffiti, Pottspurls's designs do not remain on the street for long. It's best to keep up with her amazing creativity on social media.
Los Angeles-based WRDSMTH is a world-renowned artist recognized for his iconic vintage typewriters with accompanying sheets of inspirational text. WRDSMTH first made his way through New Orleans during 2014, spending a week tattooing his unsolicited musings across the canvas of our city. Though it is doubtful that any of these initial works remain intact, the artist is said to have struck up a friendship with the owner of District Donuts, and he designed several original works for the inside of their Magazine Street location across from Whole Foods.
You Go Girl
You Go Girl (YGG) has had her neon-green zombie hand in New Orleans's street art scene for some time now. Nearly every graffiti enthusiast has taken notice of her colorful Halloween-meets-girl power proclamations around the city for the past decade or longer. While still a staple of the local street art scene, YGG's work extends beyond her virtuoso displays of vandalism: She teamed up with fellow NOLA graffiti artist READ for the studio showcase Spectacles in 2016 at PORT (2120 Port St.); this past summer, she revisited the space as co-producer of "Choke Hole," a late-night drag wrestling event. One of her most recent additions to the city was a large mural on lower Esplanade Avenue, celebrating Pride Fest late last Spring by playfully restyling her signature to read "You Gay Girl."
Having family in Atlanta and Miami, I am often blown away by the plethora of panoramas by world-renowned street artists beautifying their hip downtown districts. Most of these works are made possible and maintained thanks to public art non-profits. Thanks to street art's modern pervasiveness, like-minded organizations are trickling down to smaller metropolises, including our neighbor Baton Rouge (thewallsproject.org) and, as of last November, here in New Orleans. The Nola Mural Project strives to bring more vibrant and inspiring art displays to public spaces by pairing artists with walls. If you are a street artist in search of a canvas, have a barren, publicly visible wall in need of a facelift, or just interested in supporting the cause (volunteering with artists, helping connect visiting artists with housing, etc.), drop them a line through their website to learn how you can get involved.