There is nothing like seeing street art up close and personal. But simply strolling by a mural, won’t typically give you an understanding of the artist’s intent or cultural context for the piece.
These street art and graffiti books will give you that context. They will help you find the best cities for street art, learn more about the artists you love and help you discover new ones.
A Word About How to Buy Graffiti Books
Graffiti books are a niche market and they don’t get large print runs. If you see a book you like, don’t wait to buy it, because by the time Christmas or your birthday comes around, it may be gone. I’m only listing books here that were available at the time of writing, so you should be able to get them.
If you see a book that you like but it’s become unavailable on Amazon, don’t give up hope. Make a note of the ISBN number, which is the ten digit inventory number. Then call or visit your local indy bookstore and see if they can order it for you through the distributor or publisher.
I live in California, but have actually purchased street art books from Foyle’s in London and had them shipped to me. This of course, is much more expensive but worth it if you want to feed your library of graffiti art books.
(This article contains affiliate links. This means that if you choose to purchase, I’ll make a small commission.)
General Street Art Books
The World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti, Rafael Schacter
This is one of the best books on street art and it earned a spot on my shelf because it manages to comprehensively cover both great street art cities and the artists who spray them. Each section features background on a city such as Barcelona or Melbourne along with a several artist profiles for each location. It’s a 400 page encyclopedia worth referencing before you head out into the world.
Tresspass: A History of Uncommissioned Urban Art, Carlo McCormick
Trespass examines the rise of graffiti and urban art by looking at its history, global reach and the technical developments which enabled it. The book identifies key graffiti figures, and their illicit expressions of protest and performance. The book is organized into chapters that present themes such as: “the rules of the game”, “environmental reclamations” and “public memory/private secrets”.
Lonely Planet Street Art, Ed BartlettBartlett’s book is a great primer for 42 street art cities. It has an introduction with background for each city’s graffiti culture along with suggested neighborhoods to explore. It’s not the most exhaustive book about street art, and it’s missing a few of my favorite cities, like Banksy’s Bristol. However, it will help you begin to put together a pretty respectable bucket list.
Better yet, Lonely Planet’s street art book (and many of their other themed books) are available digitally for free if you have a Kindle Unlimited account.
If you don’t have a Kindle Unlimited account, you can get a 30-day free trial HERE.
Street Logos, Tristan Manco
Street Logos explores new developments in twenty-first-century graffiti. It includes chapters like: “signs,” “iconographics,” “logos,” “urban characters,” and “free forms”, which describe how the artists profiled change our view of the urban landscape. You aren’t going to find massive murals from super famous street artists here, but rather quirky and lesser known graffiti forms.
Graffiti Women: Street Art from Five Continents, Nicholas Ganz
Too many of the graffiti books I’ve seen have way too much testosterone on the page. It’s nice that Ganz is drawing attention to the contributions of these amazing female artists. The book is exhaustive and features over 1,000 illustrations with blurbs about the artists. “The art of graffiti itself is (usually) gender-less, but the culture is NOT. The bits about each artist clearly illustrate every woman has a different take on it.”
This book has 2,000 pictures and an up-to-date look at the state of the art in the graffiti world. “Delightfully featuring some of the greats but also diving deeper into the world of some of street art’s lesser-known artists, Graffiti World will open your eyes past just the art of Banksy or Swoon. “
Street Artists 2: The Complete Guide, Xavier Tápies and Eleanor Mathieson
This book is the second in a series published by Graffito Books. It has 54 artist bios with information about what motivated them to become a street artist, and how their work has evolved. You’ll learn why Swoon loves portraits, how Faile started their collaborations and how D*Face found inspiration at a mind-numbing job. Each bio has 4-6 samples of the artist’s work.
Street Art Today, Björn Van Poucke and Elise Luong
This volume also features profiles of influential street artists. It’s worth buying in addition to Street Artists 2 because it features additional artists like Nychos, Space Invader and Rone (whose tender portraits you can find on grain silos in the middle-of-nowhere Australia). The book is organized by art genre such as: figurative, hyperrealism and abastract.
Street Art, Simon Armstrong
This book examines how street art evolved from its origins in the 1980s New York graffiti scene to embrace many new materials, styles, and techniques. The author discusses street art’s relationship to pop art and digital art. It also explores the ways in which it has evolved into a mainstream art form.
Street Art, Fine Art, Ingrid Beazley
Beazley collaborated with Stik on a project to break down barriers in the art world. They had a dozen street artists (like ROA, Conor Harrington and Phlegm) do their own take on a 17th or 18th century masterpiece (like Rembrandt, Gainsborough or Franceshini). The book cataloged this extraordinary effort with the new works being featured side-by-side next to the originals.
Urban Art Legends, KET
This is not a compendium of all things street art. Rather, it’s a curated selection of 38 artists that KET (a graffiti artist), believes to be the most pioneering and influential in the field.
Books on Street Art Styles & Mediums
Spray Can Art, Henry Chalfant and James Prigoff
An interesting history lesson on the art of 1980’s graffiti and a good pick for someone who wants to collect samples of this ephemeral medium.
Graffiti Alphabets: Street Fonts from Around the World, Claudia Walde
This book is great for typography nuts. Walde had 154 active and former graffiti artists do the same project. They each designed all 26 letters of the Latin alphabet within the limits of a single page of the book. The result is a unique typographical source book.
Sticker City, Claudia Walde
For this project, Walde (herself a graffiti artist), traveled the globe from Philadelphia to Prague, Barcelona to Berlin, to find the creative custodians of sticker art. They are presented here with 80 artists and over 300 images.
This street art book is a hybrid which explores the history and rising popularity of spray as an art medium. It also includes information and advice on spray skills and techniques. “… it’s as much a history lesson, as it is a guide for the hands-on artist…”
Graffiti Books Focused on NYC, London and San Francisco
Street art may be a global phenomenon, but it’s also intensely local. These books take a look at what’s going on in New York, London and San Francisco.
London: New Street Art, Claude Crommelin
Crommelin is a spotter. He’s out there, nearly every day capturing street art before it disappears. This book has 270 pages images from London but it’s international in scope. It features artists from 25 countries and six continents spraying, pasting up and spraying down London.
You can learn more about how to find London’s street art with this guide to graffiti in Shoreditch.
New York City: Subway Art, Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant
It all started in the 1980’s with graffiti subway art in New York City. So much of the proliferation of street art traces its origins to New York. In this updated edition, Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant recall how they gained entry into the New York City graffiti community in the 1970s and 1980s. The book looks at graffiti’s gritty beginnings and how it has become a worldwide movement.
Find it for yourself on this tour of New York’s street art scene.
San Francisco: Street Art San Francisco: Mission Muralismo, Annice Jacoby
With 600 stunning photographs, this comprehensive book showcases more than three decades of street art in San Francisco’s legendary Mission District. Beginning in the early 1970s, a provocative street-art movement combining elements of Mexican mural painting, pop-art and graffiti has flourished in the Mission.
Many of these murals are still up today and you can find them using this SF Mission street art tour.
Learn More About Popular Artists
Covert to Overt, Shepard Fairey
Fairey’s “Hope” poster, created during Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, is arguably the most iconic American image since Uncle Sam. This monograph showcases his most recent evolution from works on paper to grander art installations, cross-cultural artworks, and music/art collaborations. “… Fairey’s still got ideas to burn, worthwhile ideas to boost, and a spectacular sense of design.”
There is also an earlier monograph that chronicles his artist journey called Obey: Supply and Demand.
D*Face, Dean Stockton
I first saw D*Face’s cartoonishly menacing murals in Reykjavik and am delighted have found them in New York and Paris as well. This monograph follows his 20 year career trajectory and would make a great gift for fans of his work.
Stik, by Stik
“Social change is what art does. I don’t know what else there is, to be honest. Social change seems to me the primary function of art. I feel that’s my duty. That’s why I’m here. That’s what art is supposed to do.” —Stik
And you do it well, sir. His work is simple and subtly packed with feeling. You’ll get 224 pages of it with this monograph.
Blek le Rat: Getting Through the Walls, Sophie Prou and King Adz
Blek le Rat has been a major creative inspiration to artists like Banksy and he institutionalized the stencil form. From small, simple stencils to complex multimedia events, Blek’s distinctive art is showcased here for the first time, demonstrating the development of his technique and creativity over two decades.
Banksy You Are An Acceptable Level of Threat and if You Were Not You Would Know About it, Patrick Potter and Gary Shove
Speaking of Banksy…this volume is loaded with information on his street art career, from the 1990’s to 2018. “… A mixed-media book spliced with an indulgent fabric of solid writing, art and actual photographs of Banksy’s work from around the globe.”
If you are an uber fan, you should also check out his earlier monograph Wall and Piece.
Whether you are trying to feed your own addiction for street art or you are looking for a gift, these graffiti books cover the gamut. I’m always on the look-out for new books so if you find some, please comment below and I’ll add a link.
If you are planning to travel anytime soon, be sure to do some research on how to find street art wherever you go.
Study great street art in other cities by checking out my guides to:
Top Street Art Cities in the World | Books About Street Art|Street Art Festivals | Buenos Aires | Bogota | San Diego | San Francisco | Los Angeles |Nashville | Chicago | New York | Havana | London | Reykjavik | Belfast | Bristol | Berlin | Paris | Estonia | Rural Australia | Melbourne
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