Four years of taxi and Uber rides to JFK has opened my eyes to the neighborhoods of the East Village and the Lower East Side — especially to their street art.
With a new camera to try out on a bright, sunny July weekend, I decided to trek through the streets of East Village and the Lower East Side to document and to have a firsthand look at the murals that add splashes of color to these neighborhoods. Being that it was a humid, sweltering hot NYC summer’s day, I didn’t get to scour every street that my walking path entailed, but the opportunity to resume this eight -month-old walk presented itself on the last full day I spent in New York before Americans were told to put their lives on hold and stay home.
I wouldn’t call this a goodbye ode to New York (despite me being a second semester senior), but a tribute to the largest art gallery in the city: the streets! Whether you notice them or not, the murals that line the streets are everywhere, serving as art installations that are open to all. Below, I highlight the path I walked in July 2019, and its March 2020 continuation, along with the many artists from around the world that have given our city its vibrant color.
St. Marks Place
If you’ve walked on the east end of St. Mark’s Place near Tompkins Square Park and have never noticed this mural featuring King Kong — conveniently titled “King Kong” — then the next time you find yourself over there, I encourage you to take a look at this scene of the gorilla-like monster imposing over the city skyline. This mural was painted by Parisian artist Moi One who now calls New York his home. I just had to stop and take a photo of this mural. The cluster of skyscrapers set against the horizon just shouts New York. Moi One’s art can be found throughout Manhattan, Long Island City and on the beaches of California.
I have a soft spot for hearts in art, and I always take a photo of them whenever I notice them on the streets. I can definitely call this heart — constructed out of smaller hearts — my favorite mural because of the unique way in which this heart is constructed and the rainbow of colors that comprise this composition. You have probably seen the art of this Bronx native if you’ve spent a lot of time in the Lower East Side and Chinatown because Hektad’s “Love Drunk” hearts decorate the corners of many brick walls and restaurants throughout these neighborhoods. I remember looking through photos of New York on Instagram, and when I saw photos of Hektad’s bleeding hearts, I just knew that I had to take a look at them for myself.
First Avenue & East 7th Street
This mural that formerly occupied East 7th street made me feel all the feels. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who felt that way when they looked at it after reading the words, “You are loved,” painted across the mural. This poignant mural was painted by artist and transgender activist Samo Arts for World Pride last year. Samo Arts uses their artistic ability to add sentiments of peace and love to the world.
East Houston Street
At the entrance of the Ridge Hotel — known as the Ridge Wall — stood a mural by artist INDIE 184 (formally known as Soraya Marquez). This portrait of the iconic old Hollywood actress Audrey Hepburn seems to have been influenced by Andy Warhol’s pop art paintings, which is one of the artistic styles that has influenced Marquez. Her art has also made its way inside art galleries and museums throughout the world.
Honestly, I found it difficult to navigate the streets of the Lower East Side, so I ended up choosing a random street that had an eye-catching mural. This mural of Marilyn Monroe by New York-based artist Zimer was the first mural I encountered on this very long street. I definitely had to do a double-take after seeing it initially since Marilyn’s dress almost seems to blend into the red-colored wall. Zimer’s talents showcased on the streets of New York City have also been seen on London’s South Bank and at the Philadelphia Tattoo Convention.
I never realized how long Allen Street was until I saw several works of art lined one after another. This mural depicting the skull and face of a big cat by the Italian art retail site, Gram Publishing, is my second favorite piece from this walk because of the unique perspective that this composition of a big cat’s face provides. Support the independent artists that they represent by checking out the art for sale on their website.
First Avenue & East 4th Street
My walk back to my apartment in Greenwich Village greeted me with another mural sighting on East 4th Street by the artist, Drew Straker, known as Straker. I have never seen a work of art with a neon light effect before, so this is the first! According to Straker’s bio, he was most likely the first artist to integrate “the neon glow technique” in painting.
Fast forward eight months later, and our time in New York is suddenly shortened due to the COVID-19 outbreak. I decided the best way to collect my final memories as a college student was resuming the walk I never finished last summer. Although I didn’t fall in love with as many works of art like I did in the summer, I sure had some favorites.
Broome Street & Allen Street
This mural created by the U.K. artist Conor Harrington is truly a beauty, and it’s hard to miss this mural since it occupies a large wall at 266 Broome Street. While numerous interpretations from spectators say that this is an image of a matador, Harrington says it is actually a depiction of two people fighting.
Oh, Allen Street. You definitely exhausted my legs with your length, but you surprised me with many street art treasures on my walk home, like this slice of pizza. Sadly I didn’t take note of the artist that painted this delicious looking slice, but whoever did, I appreciate the visual pleasure you bring to New Yorkers that pass by your creation.
If this essay has piqued your interest in taking an art walk, there are quite a few Instagram pages that showcase some of the street art to check out in the city, such as @fomofeed, @artworldnyc and the page for the hashtag: #thenewallen.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 13, 2020 e-print edition. Email Sara Miranda at [email protected]