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Stencil Art: A short history.

Updated: Dec 13, 2019

The street art world is full of artists who use many different techniques, from freehand spray paint to elaborate installation art. But perhaps no other technique is so tied to its practitioners like the stencil.

Stencils are nothing new—they originated over 35,000 years ago when pre-historic man held their hand to the wall and blew pigment on it. Widely used in industrial settings and the military as a quick and effective means of communication, aerosol stencils naturally quickly found their way onto the streets.


It’s this ease of use and ability for replication that makes them attractive to stencil artists, making it possible to dodge in and out, throwing up art quickly and effectively. It’s no wonder that artists like Banksy and Jef Aerosol are known for their use of the stencil. A lot of stencil graffiti is inspired by government propaganda or political culture at the time. See John Fekners work below highlighting urban neglect in the 70's and 80's.





The stencil is also a democratic technique. Everyone from grandmothers practicing arts and crafts to bakers decorating cakes employ stencils to facilitate intricate designs. There’s also overlap with screen printing and many stencil artists also work in printmaking.



Sometimes called the “father of stencil graffiti,” Blek le Rat was one of the first street artists in Paris. He started by painting rats on the streets of Paris in 1981, he was influenced by graffiti in New York, but adapted it to suit his purposes in Europe. He spent 10 years incognito until the French authorities arrested him while stenciling a work whose style gave away his identity. Still active today, see left to see his signature style. Blek’s work has had a clear influence on Banksy whose early career was defined by two-layer graphic stencils.


The world truly is a canvas. And anyone can take centre stage!


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