Famous Art Stencils

Written by melissa carpenter
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Famous Art Stencils
"Exit Through The Gift Shop" captures famous stencil use and street art. (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images)

The profound use of stencils is now being recognised by mainstream audiences as the street art movement continues to snowball with national media attention. Brought into the spotlight for often being controversial in both social commentary and location, famous stencil art is now being curated into major gallery showings and has even seen major feature film success with the documentary "Exit Through The Gift Shop." Much of the buzz about stencil art can be attributed to the mystique surrounding the street art lifestyle, where pieces are often done overnight, and wait to be discovered.

Blek Le Rat

One of the innovators in the stencil art revolution, Blek Le Rat was a Parisian known for stencilling life-size, dark figures in haunting locations like alleyways beginning in the 1980s. Most famous for his rat pieces, he stencilled silhouetted groups of the creepy critters from the outskirts of Paris to the centre of the city. Parisians became just as annoyed with the deviant art work as they would a real infestation.

John Fekner and Don Leicht

This duo begin an ongoing collaboration in 1982 with The Space Invader project. Space Invader stencils were used to paint the pixelized alien characters all over New York City. Fekner and Leicht sometimes painted social commentary scenes for the Invader to be highlighted in, and sometimes the alien was sprayed to be an individual piece. These original Invader stencils have even inspired other street artists to employ the Invaders in their pieces.

Shepard Fairey

Shepard Fairey's Obey the Giant phenomenon began as a project to teach a friend how to make a stencil, and has gone beyond to become a brand. Beginning with an Andre the Giant image and slogan, Fairey turned stencils into stickers, T-shirts, building-sized posters and more. The Obey stencilled logo is iconic in Southern Californian street culture.


A worldwide name in the street art game, the mysterious Banksy is known for countless stencil pieces. A common character in Banksy work is his famous larger-than-life rat. Sometimes spanning the length of the building, sometimes no more than a foot or two tall, the rats' accessories are what people pay attention to, often providing a social commentary on the area they appear within. Another basic Banksy stencil is the balloon girl. Similar to the rats, this piece is primarily white and black, and features a little girl reaching for a red heart balloon that is floating away. His pieces have been spotted all over the world, from his native UK to Hollywood to the West Bank.

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