10 inspiring pieces of subway art and design

The subway – also known as the Metro, Tube, or Underground, depending on where you are in the world – isn't just a great way to get around a busy city quickly. Its miles of underutilised walls and ceilings have also become a platform for amazing subway art and design.

Seen by millions of commuters on a daily basis, subway art is the perfect way for creatives and advertisers to showcase their work to a guaranteed audience, particularly if a level of ingenuity is employed.

In this post we've collected together 10 inspiring examples of how clever subway art and design has made best use of the opportunities this unusual subterranean canvas presents...

01. Chiho Aoshima

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Aoshima's playful images bring a smile to London commuters

Japanese pop artist Chiho Aoshima is part of the Kaikai Kiki collective and her dreamlike art and playful visuals have been displayed across the world. She was asked to bring her unique vision to the London Underground Gloucester Road station, where she produced this beautiful and surrealist mural.

02. KAWS

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Brian Donnelly's iconic designs marked Thanksgiving this year in New York

KAWS is Brain Donnelly, a visual artist from New York whose work has appeared internationally and has allowed him to collaborate with creative people from all fields. He hit the headlines this month when his iconic designs were used this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade and as part of the campaign he gave a makeover to this MTA subway shuttle with his distinctive character designs.

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New Yorkers commuting between Grand Central Station and Times Square got a special treat this Thanksgiving

03. Tropicana

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Tropicana's subway campaign was anything but subtle

America's favorite juice drink found another way to bring itself to everyone’s morning. Tropicana came up with a huge advertising campaign, covering the New York City subway with its bright yellow designs. The campaign carried through from standard advertising posters, to murals and inside carriage designs.

04. Keith Haring

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Keith Haring brought his message filled art to the subway masses

Not quite a graffiti artist, yet not quite a designer, in the 1980s Keith Haring's message-filled work filled unused advertising spaces on American subways, bringing 'art to the masses' and eventually giving him the chance to work with some of the biggest names in the industry.

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Haring first came to public attention with chalk drawings in the subways of New York

05. Apple iPod

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Apple brought its dayglo sensibilities to stations around the globe

Apple saw subway stations across the world as a perfect platform for their products - one that communicates well to a fast moving society. The company used underground walls and pillars as a way to promote their iPod products to a mass audience in a colourful and lively way.

06. Million Dollar Design

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Million Dollar Design transformed this Dutch train carriage into a fantasy world

Million Dollar Design was asked to design the interior of a subway carriage in Amsterdam. The fantasy inspired visuals give the artist the platform for their work to exist but also offer passengers a unique experience through the city, brightening the often dull underground journeys.

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The artwork depicted beautiful sea creatures and mermaid-like muses

07. Art For Transit

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Art for Transit has commissioned some amazing pieces of subway art for New York, some of which have become permanent

Art for Transit is a great initiative taken in New York City, which commissions different artists to come and make their mark in different subways. This beautiful and colourful example is used as one of the designs that has been made permanent.

08. IKEA

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This makeover by furniture giant Ikea turned a train carriage into a home

Ikea has taken product placement to new levels by placing its famous minimalist furniture across subway stations in Europe. From the inside of carriages to the platforms, passengers are made to feel as if they haven’t yet left their houses.

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The campaign took product placement to a new level

09 . Olympics 2012

Visitors to London this summer were left in no doubt the city was hosting the Olympics

Visitors to London this summer were left in no doubt the city was hosting the Olympics

Earlier this year, the London Underground came under pressure to deliver a large number of additional passengers due to the 2012 Olympics. To mark the occassion, some eyecatching visuals were commisioned to appear on underground carriages, celebrating the various sports in which the visitors were competing.

10. Times Square Train Station Mural

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This subway mural is a fitting testament to the life and work of Roy Lichtenstein

Possibly the best known example of subway art, this 6-foot tall, 53-foot-long, enamel-on-metal mural was created by pop artist Roy Lichtenstein in 1994. The futuristic vision turned out to be one of his last works before his death in 1997.

Words: Meryem Meg

Meryem Meg is a Leeds-based graphic designer and illustrator whose inspiration lies in melodic word play and typographic experimentation. Follow her on Twitter at @meryemmeg.

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