Transcending Tags: 16 Typographic Works of Urban Art

Street art began with names, letters and symbols scrawled on public surfaces, and those markings have become more and more complex over time. Today, artists explore the beauty of lettering itself, bringing typography into the streets in fresh and unexpected ways, from complex calligraphy to words written in string and tape.

Typography String & Grass Art by Sean Martindale

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Multimedia artist Sean Martindale brings text to the city in at least two highly unusual ways: with his string art installation, ‘FREE’, and ‘PARK’, a grass installation at a bare construction site.

Of the latter, Martindale says, “For some time now, the spot in has been relatively empty aside from mud, waste and strewn garbage. There’s an application to build condos on the site. It has remained undisturbed since Monday and I watered it yesterday because there hasn’t been any rain lately… Grass is pretty resilient, so it should survive and take root unless/until somebody removes it. Joe Clement assisted me with the install”

Bold Letters by Eine

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Big, bold letters are artist Eine’s M.O. Known for painting them on shutters all over the world, Eine expresses his love for letters in nearly all of his works, including those he does on canvas for gallery exhibits. According to Time Out London, “His shutter pieces developed out of a mistake: he ran out of room while painting his name and realised that single letters raised fascinating questions: ‘Why? Who? What does it mean? Is it an advert?’ He takes pleasure in that lack of clarity, using his super-sized alphabet to trace a personal, interpretative trajectory across the city.”

“By the Time You Read This” by Above

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This cheeky message on a wall in Guatemala City refers to the artist’s hyperactive travel schedule. ‘Above’ explains that he completed the work in two hours in between having three beers with his local Guatemalan friends.

Moss Lettering by Anna Garforth

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Letters carefully carved from sheets of moss are glued onto urban surfaces for one of the prettiest, most natural forms of graffiti we’ve ever seen. UK-based artist Anna Garforth takes her experiments with typography into a range of media, including some extremely awesome edible posters.

Rero’s Messages in Abandoned Paris

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From WebUrbanist’s ‘Art in Abandoned Places’: “Rero, a conceptual artist with a graffiti background, applies minimalist typography to gritty abandoned surfaces in cities like Paris, London and Berlin. This series, ‘Image Negation’, was carried out in the latter. See more at Rero’s Flickr stream.”

Calligraffiti by Greg Papagrigoriou

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Artist Greg Papagrigoriou approaches graffiti in a familiar, yet fresh and unexpected way: instead of the traditional form of tagging, Papagrigoriou takes a calligraphic approach. From Graffuturism: “My experience with wall painting started about a year ago but somehow I was always attracted to graffiti. Within this framework, calligraphy provided the best opportunity for me to start bringing my ideas to practice and this is how I ended up combining the three, i.e. typography, calligraphy and wall painting. The letters on the wall I make are not intended to pass a message but they function as decorative elements – patterns on my compositions.”

Cropped Typography by Faust

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New York-based visual artist Faust is inspired by “the perpetually changing image of the city.” His work includes this cropped typographic piece spelling out his name on the facade of the White Box Gallery in the lower Eastside.

Wild at Heart Masking Tape Typography

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A chain-link fence in Catalunya, Spain becomes a nearly-invisible canvas for artist Anna Garforth, known for her work with moss and edible mediums. The temporary work is striking and evocative, bringing text into a very unexpected place.

Brick Lettering by SpY

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Urban artist SpY, from Madrid, loves to confuse people with surreal and unexpected imagery like sky-high basketball hoops and ‘Don’t Walk’ LED pedestrian symbols that escape from their confines. One such project was these stacked letters, made of bricks.

Billboard Typography by Robert Montgomery

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Taking over billboards and other public spaces, Robert Montgomery’s thoughtful typographic art brings surprisingly poignant messages to urban spaces. One reads, “The flood will lift the ghosts from the Hollywood Lawn Cemetery and they will disappear like ether in the new dead air. All the names will be erased from the billboards and the theaters and the piers and the magazines and the monuments. You live by myths of immortality, and your myths are not safe.”

‘HELLO’ 3D Text Installation

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In this clever work by Dopludo Collective, three-dimensional shapes that stand up on their own in a parking lot reveal themselves to be a word when viewed from a certain angle.

Public Typography Experiments by Francois Chastanet

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After making their own gigantic calligraphy brushes measuring up to three feet long, a group of artists led by Francois Chastanet went out intuit he streets to write messages onto the pavement with water. Chastanet is a graphic designer specializing in typography, and is especially inspired by “Cholo writing”, the graffiti of Latino gangs in Los Angeles.