Graffiti: The Changing Face of New York’s Art Scene

Graffiti artist Ian Sullivan finishes the sketch for his next masterpiece.

By: Maddy Streets & Kelsi Trinidad

Native New Yorker Ian Sullivan cultivated his love of graffiti art on the city streets at the age of 12, illegally tagging up any surface that he could. Now, at 23, he’s forming a legitimate career as a graffiti artist and has gained a following that has lead to commissions and art shows.

Sullivan is currently working on a number of commissioned works ranging from plans for murals, to skateboard designs, to developing a comic book. He works out of his bedroom-turned-studio while a stream of hip hop and rap creates the pulse of his work.

Sullivan’s somewhat chaotic desk is a canvas in itself, bearing the tags that compose his art.
His art is present throughout the room, with frames that grace the bedroom walls while portfolios and spray cans rest on his nightstand.

Once seen as vandalism and associated with crime, graffiti has now transformed into a coveted medium. The once anonymous artists that roamed New York City streets in the dead of night, now stand amongst the city’s most recognized, burgeoning artists. Sullivan has seen the shift before his eyes as the art of graffiti has developed alongside his career.

As Sullivan shifts to more legitimate graffiti work, he predominantly keeps his illegal works on rooftops — they are easy to access, but hidden from the police. Though he is gaining traction in his endeavor of creating a career out of his commissioned work, he still works illegally if an opportunity presents itself. Sullivan, much like the art of graffiti, lives a dual life of legitimacy and crime.

Sullivan’s newest works include an illustrated figure composed of graffiti and markers (left). He sits atop a garden box smoking a cigarette (right).
Sullivan’s friend, Jon Litt, models a leather jacket that Sullivan tagged (left) while his favored Montana spray paint cans stand beside one of his new works (right).