Graffiti. Wheatpastes. Stencils. Murals. Once renegade and considered urban blight, street art is now a cultural movement showcased in sold-out museum exhibitions and co-opted by brands from Adidas to Dolce & Gabbana.
We’re not talking about the aimless tagging that litters public and private spaces. Think instead of the more famous urban street artists, from Banksy and Basquiat, to Blek Le Rat and Espo.
Or locally think of Tim Kaulen, one of the most recognized street artists-turned-legit. His works–the iconic Deerhead at Carrie Furnaces and his classic Amaco Bulls–were among the first urban art fixtures in the city. Today, his commissioned work appears throughout the city, including The Workers, a 20-foot sculpture honoring Pittsburgh’s heritage located along the South Side riverfront.
Our city’s architecture provides a rich canvas for artists—both authorized and transient. And there are some areas where the art is so concentrated that it’s like walking through an outdoor gallery.
We spoke with Shannon of PGH Murals, street artists Jeremy Raymer and Shane Pilster and visited many neighborhoods with great street art. Here are some of the best places we’ve found and a good start to your Pittsburgh street art tour.
1. Carrie Furnace
In 2012, Shane Pilster, a San Francisco Bay native who moved to Pittsburgh over a decade ago, took a tour of the Carrie Furnace. Pilster, who has been painting graffiti, marveled at the rich “collection” in the historic site—pieces by artists like Hert, Prism, Mfone, Necksi, Onorok, and 21Rak, to name a few. He convinced Ron Baraff, who directs the furnace’s archives, not only to preserve a few of the works but also to designate a couple of spaces for street artists to produce new ones.
In these new walls, Pilster and artists like Kaff-eine have created work that is a sight to behold. Pilster holds Urban Art Tours and Workshops at the Carrie Furnace, a great immersive experience to get a broader understanding of street art’s culture and wide-ranging style.
Of course, uber-hip Lawrenceville makes the list. Start at Doughboy Square to check out Kaff-eine’s work on a boarded-up building. It reflects the street artist ethos, says street artist Jeremy Raymer. “Note how she preserved a Shepard Fairey ‘Obey’ wheat paste by incorporating it in the creature standing.” Raymer’s work, both commissioned and otherwise, can be seen around the city, including the street art gallery on the walls of houses on 35th St. and 42nd St. Don’t miss the“Exploding Homer” by Matt Gondek on Dresden Way between 54th and 55th St. PGH Murals lists 23 works in this area alone.
3. Braddock and North Braddock
With 33 works listed on PGH Murals, a street art tour is just one more reason to check out Braddock. Works by James Simon, Anthony Purcell, Kaff-eine, Swoon, and the 30 artists collective enliven the one square-mile town. Make sure you veer off Braddock Ave. to check out Lady Pink’s Brick Woman under the bridge on Library St. along with Maya Hayuk’s pattern on 809 Talbot Ave., and portraits of local residents by Swoon under the railroad on 505 Verona St.
Since you’re in the area, head over to North Braddock for a short stop. Street art royalty Swoon and the Transformazium art collective have taken over an old church in North Braddock to launch the Braddock Tiles project. You can see some of her work outside the church, on 798 Hawkins Ave. including a super adobe structure at 714 Jones Ave.
4. The East Busway
At 5880 Centre Avenue on the Busway is one of the most detailed murals in the East End (see top photo). “This mural is only visible from the busway or from Tay Way or College Ave where it wraps behind the Tokyo Japanese Food Market off Ellsworth Ave in Shadyside. It’s worth the effort to find a vantage point to see it,” notes PGH Murals. Multiple artists contributed to the work but Ashley Hodder’s Mother Nature image on the left is especially noteworthy for its breathtaking detail. Bring binoculars or a telephoto lens to catch every element that makes up this beautiful work.
And not to miss: On the busway’s North Homewood Ave. end, Hodder and other artists have created “Peace Over Pittsburgh” an exceptional mural under the overpass.
Wilkinsburg may not have the most concentration of street art but it does have a great mix of murals and graffiti. Start at 1105 Franklin Ave. to see Lucas Stock’s and Kyle Holbrook’s graffiti-style mural, Wilkinzburg. Trace the busway route and go off on the side streets to catch other great work. Don’t miss 701 Wood St. where multiple artists including Colleen Black have covered five large walls and a gazebo. There is so much detail in this dense collection that you can spend hours just taking it all in.
It’s no surprise that artist James Simon’s neighborhood is on this list. Simon’s work can be seen throughout the county, but along Forbes and the short expanse of Gist St. is a concentration of his work and that of his colleagues. Don’t miss the the whimsical Base Man with Moon and the towering Urban Rhythm along Forbes Avenue. Exploring the street art is a good way to get acquainted with this up and coming neighborhood.
Start your Oakland tour by checking out the Locks of Love on Schenley Park Bridge, modeled after a project in Paris. Couples can write their names on a lock and fix it to the chain-link fence to commemorate their love for each other. Then go on a scavenger hunt of sorts to spot some pink dinosaurs, protractors and the Doors of Oakland project.
Bonus: The Garfield Gators Mascot
This work is the only noncommissioned work on the PGH Murals site. And rightly so because it is a beautiful, site-specific work—once discovered, the developers on the site decided not to paint over it. The work is located along N. Pacific Ave at Kincaid St in Garfield and it will take some climbing to find it. The location is about 2/10 of a mile walk from Penn Ave. on N. Evaline. It’s very much worth the hunt.
One of the best sources for street art maps in this city is PGH Murals. Founded by two avid cyclists who go by the names Shannon and Vannaver, the site is the most comprehensive map of legal street art in the city, an eye-opening collection that showcases some of the city’s hidden gems. Growing from 150 locations three years ago to more than 500 today, it includes every commissioned public art, from the Sprout Fund murals we know and love to Shepard Fairey’s 20 sites from 2010, once vivid but now worn and familiar.
Street Art Pittsburgh is another online resource that maps some specific work like riot robots and pink dinosaurs, a good source for “non-commissioned” street art.
Got a favorite we didn’t mention? Feel free to comment below or email us.