Melbourne © TigTab

Some of the world’s most
creative artwork lives—often temporarily—on buildings, walls, and sidewalks.
Here’s where to find it.

For much of 2005, I walked the
same five-block stretch of Rivington Street, on New York City’s Lower East
Side. A direct route to my favorite bars and restaurants, the street was lined
with tenements and storefront bodegas that I usually strode right past. Then
one day something stopped me in my tracks.

It was a painting. Rising up
against the dirty white brick of a derelict building, this was no hurriedly
sprayed graffiti. It was a beautiful, arrestingly detailed black-and-white
image of a young boy in a baggy T-shirt, one arm raised proudly above his head
as if to show off his biceps.

The portrait was a complete
mystery. Who was the boy? Who had painted him, and why here, where he seemed to
be growing right out of the sidewalk? Intrigued, I started looking for other
great street art on the walls and alleyways of my city—and I found them

“Street art can change your
relationship to a place,” says Marc Schiller, cofounder with his wife, Sara, of, a website devoted to street art around the world. (The
duo, well-known street-art aficionados, have lectured on the subject at the
Tate Modern in London.) “It opens up your peripheral vision, so you start to
notice things you didn’t before. You start to tap into a city’s underbelly, its

If the proliferation of
street-art galleries, exhibits, online photo albums, and websites like and are any indication, people are increasingly
enthusiastic about finding that “soul.” These days, says Sara Schiller, people
“don’t just make a beeline for the big museums. They walk around and
explore…and see what people are putting up without permission.” That could mean
poking into mural-covered alleyways in Melbourne and São Paulo, venturing into
far-flung, nontouristy neighborhoods around London and Paris, or visiting
iconic sites of political unrest, like the West Bank and remnants of the Berlin

Of course, what some call soul,
others call vandalism. Even exquisitely crafted street paintings like the one
that first grabbed me (which turned out to be the work of Swoon, now an
internationally famous street artist), or the stencil paintings of Banksy,
which have fetched six-figure prices at Sotheby’s auctions, are illegal in most
places around the world. Consequently, the preferred media for many street
artists—stickers, posters, stencils, and wheatpastes (drawings that are cut out
and slapped up with adhesive, like sheets of wallpaper)—are ones that allow for
quick-and-dirty installation.

But according to Marc Schiller,
street art’s fly-by-night quality—the fact that it can be torn down or obscured
just hours after it appears—is part of what makes it magical.

 “There’s an energy about street
art that you know is ephemeral,” he says. “Your relationship with it becomes
really immediate and personal, almost visceral. It may not have staying
power—but it has power.”

Click for slide show