Essential Introductions: UK Street Art

Essential Introductions: UK Street Art

Street art is a notoriously tricky genre to define. Often associated with graffiti, it refers to artwork created in public spaces, typically without “official” permission. It encompasses a massive variety of media and styles - open to anyone, anywhere, anytime. 

You don’t have to walk far through any UK city before seeing walls daubed with colour, posters and stickers. It brings a sense of life, energy and inclusivity to abandoned industrial spaces, public parks and corporate buildings alike. 

Street art is a form that’s captured the imagination of artists, the public and collectors. Some of its pioneering artists - Banksy, Bek le Rat, Keith Haring, and closely followed by Stik  - are now household names. But what exactly is street art, and who are some of the major artists working in the UK today? 

What is street art?

Street art doesn’t conform to a particular style, nor is it accurately described as one “genre” at all! Street art, in essence, is interested in the possibilities of art - rather than rules.

Street art differs from “urban art” in that it lives and breathes in public spaces. Whilst urban art can be found in gallery spaces and museums, street artists primarily create their work in “open” areas.

Street art usually (but not always) conveys a social or political message. With roots in graffiti, the style is graphic with artists typically expressing themes of equality, inclusion and social responsibility. 

The french artist and “father of stencil graffiti” Blek le Rat once described it as the most important development in the history of art itself. There isn’t a city in the world that doesn’t have artists publicly expressing their creativity.

So how did street art arrive in the UK, and how can we explain its seemingly unstoppable rise?

How did UK street art develop?

Whilst artistic expression and public graffiti have been around since humanity learned to make marks - the roots of street art are more recent. It arose in New York, bubbling out of social and political tensions surrounding race, class and the failed “American dream”.

Art in public spaces was a way of railing against repression. It gave a voice to people and messages ignored by mainstream society. Street art gained pace during the 1970s and by the 1980s artists such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat who had developed their own signature graphic styles. 

It wasn’t long before this exciting new art form travelled across the Atlantic to the UK. Groups such as the DryBreadZ (DBZ) Crew formed in the city of Bristol in the early 1990s. Early members included Kato, Tes and the now infamous Banksy.

It took until the 2000s for street art to be widely accepted by the UK artistic community. After this point, many artists dropped their closely-guarded, secretive tags and built successful commercial careers. 

Who’s creating street art in the UK?

Whilst street art didn’t originate in the UK, it quickly became one of the most exciting and innovative places for artists to work. Here’s a few of the biggest current UK street artists:


What guide to street art would be complete without mention of one of the most famous names in contemporary art? Whilst Banksy’s real identity remains a closely guarded secret, his iconic work has come to define street art today.

You’ll find a lot of his work in Bristol. It’s heavily influenced by stencilling (allowing artworks to be created quickly), with predominantly black and white murals featuring strong social messages. 


Best known for his large-scale stick figures, Stik started painting unofficial, socially conscious murals in his hometown of Hackney, London in 2001. 

His simple (and instantly likeable) stick figures place characters against vivid monochrome backgrounds. They raise issues of gentrification, destruction of the authentic urban environment, social care and the NHS.


Growing up in London, Zombi was engrossed by the capital’s growing street art scene during the 1990s. Maturing during this “golden era” of British street art, he was inspired by the graphic stencils of Blek Le Rat and Banksy. 

Today, Zombi creates true explosions of energy, culture and colour - testing the boundaries between street and fine art.

There are many, many more artists creating fantastic street art across the UK. 

Other exciting names include Birmingham-based Annatomix, who’s bright geometric designs are influenced by science, religion and philosophy. Inkie (once described as the “ringleader” of the UK scene), My Dog Sighs (based in Southsea and known for his “eye and hug” figures as well as playing a key role in “Free Art Fridays”) and Nomad Clan in Manchester.

Rogue One and Smug are producing some particularly exciting work in Glasgow, often utilising a photo realistic style inspired by 1980s hip hop and pop culture.

What’s the market like for street art?

The market for buying and selling street art has boomed in recent years. In 2020, Banksy’s Game Changer, depicting a child playing with a toy nurse, raised £16,758,000 for the NHS when it was sold at Christie’s 20th Century Art Evening Sale in London on 23 March 2021 – exactly one year after the UK’s first national lockdown.

Ironically for a genre that’s grown out of publicly accessible art - it’s now hot property for collectors. Many artists now create a mixture of “street” and “traditional” art across public spaces, canvasses, photographs and screen prints.

The Knight Frank luxury investment index shows art prices have grown by a staggering 146% over the past ten years. With its ever-growing popularity, street art has played a key role in this. It is now one of the most dynamic sub-sections of the contemporary art market.

If you’re thinking of purchasing your own slice of street art, make sure you’re dealing with reputable galleries and dealers. As well as financial value, remember that the real return on art is the pleasure a piece brings. So if there’s a particular street artist you adore, go for it! An artwork you love will never be a wasted investment.

The Artmarket Gallery is an award-winning independent gallery, based in the village of Cottingham, East Yorkshire. We pride ourselves on our friendly and knowledgeable approach, with a team that deeply care about helping people find artworks they love. 

With some of the biggest names in Street Art, from Keith Haring to Banksy, Stik and Zombi, get in touch today to discuss how we can help you find art to enrich your life.

Back to blog