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Ugly Cities Transformed

Cairo, Egypt in the style of Henri Matisse

Art State of Mind

Ugly Cities Transformed

Seeing a place, object or person through the eyes of an artist can change our perception of the subject of the artwork. So, if art is such a powerful and emotional medium, can we use art to transform something ‘ugly’ into something more beautiful? Here are several examples of ugly cities that look better after artistic transformation!

Our brain engages at an emotional level when we look at art. Our responses are different to those used in standard object recognition. We can release emotions in a satisfying way and feel things the artist felt when they created their work. Colour and symbolism can tap into primal emotional cues without us even realising.

The concept of transforming ugliness into beauty mentioned above has been explored in a light-hearted way through digital art. The designers at Express Doors Direct took 10 of the worlds ‘ugliest’ cities and transformed them into works of art in the style of famous artists. The results are interesting and pleasing to the eye!


Let’s start by analysing why our ugly cities often get labelled with being less than aesthetically pleasing. Cities are busy places built to accommodate masses of people. This means traffic, industry, high rise buildings and expanses of concrete usually follow. Lack of planning can lead to urban sprawl which is certainly not attractive. There’s a richness and diversity of life found in cities that’s undoubtedly beautiful, but the overall vista of some cities can be stark, dull and dense. This is a far cry from the uplifting open landscapes that are often chosen as subjects by artists.

What is found in ugly cities however is plenty of light and shade, colour and even some snapshots of nature. These are the aspects that artists would be likely to focus on to bring out the beauty in these otherwise ‘ugly’ scenes. So how would Van Gogh paint Charleroi, otherwise known as the most depressing city in Europe? How would Kandinsky interpret the composition of busy, high-rise Benidorm? What about Monet’s take on congested LA, or Benson’s view of concrete-heavy Houston?  


So, there we have it. The style of artists changing your perception of the world’s ugliest cities. When we look at these images, we don’t see industry, overcrowding or dereliction. We see colour, composition, light and shade.  The artistic interpretations of ugly cities lift our spirits more than the photographic images of the cities. Whether the beauty shines through is a matter of opinion, but this piece goes to show that we can always look at something with different eyes and see beyond the obvious. 

Claire Brain


Claire is part of the content team at Boom Online Marketing who works on producing visual and graphic art projects for a variety of different clients. A lover of all things art and craft, she enjoys working with a talented team of designers to see creative projects take shape. 

This is our guest profile for occasional authors. If you have an interesting story about art to tell, send it to our Editor-in-chief Kate at [email protected] You might be the next here!

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