In 2013, Buzzfeed News named Richmond one of the top cities for street art in the world, alongside Vinz, Paris, and Montreal.Richmond is famous for its street art. Over 100 murals color the streets of Richmond, Virginia, featuring artists from Brooklyn to Belgium. It's not uncommon for me to walk to the store for some milk (okay, let's be honest -- walk to the store for some chardonnay), and pause, completely stunned as I find a larger-than-life ladybug or gigantic whale greeting me. It's this color and character, infusing life into the dull industrial landscape, that makes living in the city tolerable for me. When you're surrounded by cars, skyscrapers, banks, and corporate headquarters, cities become desolate landscapes of gray, black, brown, and yellow -- with the rare exception of a scarlet STOP sign or a glaring neon storefront marked OPEN in fluorescent lights. It can deaden the soul, to be in such a gray world. The world feels gray enough already, sometimes. This has never been a problem in Richmond. [gallery type="rectangular" ids="8847,8868,8850"] Unlike many cities who commission expensive, large-scale art projects, Richmond's stunning landscape of raw talent splayed onto industrial buildings, as if creativity simply bled out of its populace and art accidentally got there, doesn't feel forced or dishonest. It doesn't feel like the city's trying to be something. Richmond is a place of art, counterculture, and broken things trying to fit into capitalism and not quite, always, succeeding. The city is confused. The city is alive. The city is a little bit angsty, a little bit inspired, a little bit bitter, a little bit idealistic, and a little bit angry. The street art reflects that.
When I was in high school, I went to Berlin. In Berlin, my notion of what an industrial landscape looked like was utterly shattered. I always wondered why we had to paint things the same colors -- white, brown, and gray -- like we somehow defaulted to a triad palate and forgot we had the entire rainbow at our disposal. Berlin broke every single rule of what dead-set reality, inert city landscapes are "supposed to" look like. Berlin was alive with color. It was pulsing with poetry. I'd never seen that kind of love for raw material in the United States; I'd never seen that kind of creative impulse applied to the inert masses of brick and concrete which delineate the spaces in which we confine ourselves to live our lives. [gallery type="rectangular" ids="8843,8841,8864"] But I see it being born in Richmond. I wandered around the other day with my cheap Canon, just staring at the walls of this city. I wasn't supposed to be wandering; I was supposed to be going shopping. But I couldn't keep walking in the linear way I know you're supposed to, because every block, another raw moment of color and character was there, on the side of some dead, inert building -- some mass of mortar it had breathed life into again -- to greet me, and I had to just "capture it real quick." I took hundreds of photos. Not a single one fully did the feeling of being in this city justice. Thankfully, there are hundreds of others who saw the same dead buildings brought to life, the same boring businesses alchemized by a single artist who thought, "Hey, forget canvases, my art is public property; my art is this city." Thankfully, innumerable admirers were also afflicted by my awe, and were also frozen in their path just long enough to take a photo. In this gallery, you can browse but a glimpse of the scribbling angst that colors the bricks of the city's buildings as captured by photographers worldwide. What you won't see in this gallery (but what I would be remiss to not mention) is one of my favorite forms of street art. These are the infamous, ubiquitous stickers slapped onto virtually every single lamppost and newspaper stand, each of them making their 3x6-inch plea for veganism, anarchism, absurdism, or punk music. I love these stickers because they are raw, they are honest. They are unapologetic. They are the thumbprint of passion, of someone who didn't fit in but was okay with that -- they are the imprint of someone who cared about something, someone who didn't belong here, but tried. [caption id="attachment_8884" align="aligncenter" width="548"] Courtesy of my cheap Canon camera, and whatever glorious comrade saw fit to stick these stickers all over the financial district.[/caption] The murals you see in this gallery are, for the most part, either city-commissioned works or the donations of individual artists, most of which are part of the Richmond Mural Project. You can even find a printable map of Richmond's murals so you, yourself, can scavenge the free art museum that is every bit the bastard child of detritus and obsolescent consumption divorced from the unfulfilled dreams of success that bore this bizarre blood child of technicolor brick, a metaphor for our dysfunction if ever there was one. In a semi-inspiring yet semi-capitalistic twist, every year, you can visit the RVA Street Art Festival, where artists from around the globe congregate to transform inert matter into something with color, something that breathes. We are all just trying to feel alive after all, right? Looking at a brick building and seeing the smiling face of God, or a poignant rebuke of capitalism, is a telltale testament to the post-ironic, slightly nihilistic, secretly quasi-idealistic spirit of this city.
Richmond is splattered with over 100 street murals, not even including the other ever-emerging, slightly-strange artistic twists emerging as commentary on a regular basis. If you like these murals, you'll like this city. Here are just a few examples of the stunning street art in this city I find everywhere I go. Photographer credit can be found in the caption, and you can find artist credit on RichmondMuralProject.Com. Click one image to scroll through the gallery full-size. [gallery type="rectangular" size="full" ids="8849,8867,8873,8848,8865,8882,8845,8855,8844,8875,8861,8854,8866,8874,8853,8860,8858,8869,8852,8859,8856,8862,8876,8863,8870,8871,8842,8872,8846"] What's your favorite work of art in your city? Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below.