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Why do investors like 'street' art? Because $200 can turn into half a million

From being dismissed as illegal vandalism to selling for millions of dollars in galleries — street art is going mainstream, and it's appealing to investors for a simple reason: It's cheap at the start.

Steve Lazarides, the man credited with bringing well-known street artist Banksy into the commercial art industry told CNBC that street art boasts a strong return on investment.

"Going back a decade, if you take one of those artworks that I sold for 149.99 pounds ($192.10), something of that value at that time would be worth upwards of 300,000 to 400,000 pounds ($384,000 to $512,000). So that's a pretty good return in your investment in a 10-year period," said Lazarides, who now owns Lazarides Rathbone, a gallery in London dedicated to selling street art.

From 149.99 to 400,000 would be a more than 266,584 percent increase.

The art movement has origins in graffiti on walls and public transport, but art investors found a way to buy into those works. Most famously, the piece of the wall where British artist Banksy painted "Girl With a Balloon," was removed and auctioned for over 73,000 pounds. Property prices for buildings in London's Shoreditch, which feature such iconic artwork, have soared.

Within the gallery space, artists are selling canvases, screen prints and even photographs in what is now a multi-million dollar market.

A Banksy artwork opposite the French embassy in London, criticising the use of teargas in the 'Jungle' migrant camp in Calais.
Carl Court | Getty Images
A Banksy artwork opposite the French embassy in London, criticising the use of teargas in the 'Jungle' migrant camp in Calais.

"The very best guys do something different in the gallery as what they do on the streets. And in my 15 years, all I've seen so far is it going from strength to strength," Lazarides told CNBC's "Capital Connection."

Banksy might be the face of those million dollar street art sales, but Lazarides pointed out that famous mainstream artists also emerged from the streets.

"You had Keith Haring and [Jean-Michel] Basquiat — people forget that they were graffiti artists and they would sell for tens of millions of dollars," he said. A Basquiat painting sold at a record $110.5 million in a Sotheby's New York auction earlier this year.

"When we started 15 to 20 years ago, we got chased off every single building. Nowadays, they're welcoming [us] with open arms," Lazarides said.

And the trend is not going anywhere, said Didier Jaba Mathieu, a Colombian graffiti artist who has participated in graffiti performances all across the world, and recently exhibited his work in Singapore.

"Forty years back, in the 1970s, people would say, 'Graffiti is a trend.' It has been a trend for 40 years and it is here to stay," he told CNBC.

But art lovers worry the commercial aspect might be compromising the message behind the art — and Mathieu said there's an intentional branding at work.

"Street art is just a more sellable word; it sounds better than graffiti, which is associated with counter culture," Mathieu said. "Street art is on everyone's mind, but what graffiti writers are doing in the streets — that's the true essence of the art form."