Editor’s Note: This article was originally written for the photojournalism class I took abroad in Barcelona, Spain in the Summer of 2017!
Street art in Spain is a powerful form of social expression. The types of art works and the artists vary between different cities. What was once known as a brazen way act out against authority and send a calculated message of defiance of power, is now a way to express opinions and share thoughts in a creative way. They often take days of visualization, thought, and planning to become successful.
The beauty and complexity of the variety of pieces which can be found in different cities around Spain is endless. Artists of different styles, backgrounds, intentions, and talents decorate the country with their efforts. Street art can commonly be associated with “graffiti” which carries a negative connotation of being dirty and low class. This is not always correct, because there are many types of street art and ways to make street art that are not destructive. Different types include stencils, oil, acrylic painting, and spray painting. I’m going to look at the graffiti and street art in the cities of Barcelona and Valencia.
Street art in Barcelona began with the end of the Franco dictatorship in the 1970’s and the beginning of a movement towards freedom. The explosion of street art culture officially began in the 1990’s. Despite this massive cultural movement, Barcelona has previously never been a stranger to art. It has always been the home to magnificent architecture and the paintings of Picasso, famous sculptures and a wide range of different rich cultures from all over the globe.
After the graffiti and urban art culture movement took off in Spain, works of art which paint the walls and streets became both inspired by and started cultural movements in the city. This mural “Todos juntos podemos parar el SIDA” (Together We Can Stop AIDS) in El Raval is located in an area of the city to be well known as notoriously drug plagued was created in 1989 by American artist Keith Haring to speak out and educate against the dangers of AIDS. He produced this work for free in an effort to spread the message for a healthier city. It has become an iconic piece of art and was restored and moved next to the MACBA for visitors to look at and appreciate its message.
In 1992, the city of Barcelona was given a makeover and the culture and art of the city took off with the presence of the 1992 Olympic Games. Between 1999 and 2005 Barcelona’s street art culture flourished. International graffiti artists flocked to the city to try to become discovered and Barcelona was considered the unofficial graffiti capital city of the world.
In El Raval there is a graffiti park with a purpose of letting artists paint on the large walls facing Ave Parallel without having fear of getting fined. The scenes are ever changing and it’s interesting to watch the transformation of artist’s works take place over time on the walls. It’s never be the same wall between two visits.
Barcelona still does not condone works outside of the designated spaces, which street artists defy by using stencils to install pre made work with speed efficiently and effectively to not get caught. The underground art culture still flourishes outside of the designated walls, but doesn’t always get the chance to last for very long.
These works can be to spread a message and make a statement, or they can just be a creative form of expression for the artist. This particular piece pictured below is located close to the University of Barcelona in the neighborhood “el Raval.” The piece below translates to “something to give, something to do, something to live with you.” The message resonates and continues to “live” with the viewers after they leave the neighborhood. Art is powerful because it can tell a story without using words.
Street art can also be a way for groups in the city to communicate with each other and recruit new members for themselves. Stickers are a common form of mosaic decoration on the walls in Barcelona which plaster the sides of buildings in neighborhoods like El Raval and the street Caller de Tallers. To be able to send this message with art is to have the ability to spread it without needing to be present… a powerful concept.
One of Barcelona’s oldest and most famous street artists is El Xupet Negre, which means ‘The Black Pacifier’ in Catalan. His work has progressed from late night illegal secret taggings to international live painting performances at galleries and festivals. His recognition as an “artist” rather than a “vandal” was iconic for the future of culture of the street art in Spanish cities.
While the street art in Barcelona is an iconic part of Catalonia, it’s also a large cultural component in the more southern Spanish city of Valencia. There are a few main well known street artists in Valencia which decorate the city with their works. It’s important to recognize the difference between “graffiti” and “art,” and the street artists of Valencia know how to differentiate their works.
One of the mainly recognizable artists of Valencia street art is Julieta. Her style is a rainbow of colors mixed with components of nature and a Japanese manga feel. Her works always feature the same doll-like appearing girl with her eyes drawn shut.
Julieta is a member of the urban artist group XLF also known as Por La Face, a collective of artists which began 16 years ago as a group of friends joining together with the common desire to create and appreciate urban art.
They now decorate the city with their art, transforming the walkway between walls and buildings into a brighter place to enjoy. Their relationship with the city is stable, and their works are legally painted on the buildings around the city.
In certain places of the city street artists can get pretty territorial with their pieces, even daring to paint over each other’s works to make a bold statement challenging the other artist. Respecting each other’s space is an unspoken but important custom between the different artists.
Some works still remain politically driven and have their unique way of making a statement against government. One example would be this mural below, created by XLF against United States president Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. The mural makes jokes about their “bad” hair but the deeper underlying meaning in its message denounces the dictator-like tendencies of both these leaders, calling back to the painful memories roots driven deep into their culture from their own Spanish dictator in Spain less than 40 years ago.
Street paintings are a large part of artistic culture in Valencia and Barcelona and the artists show their work with pride for the effort put into the various pieces around the country. The journey through the streets of Valencia and Barcelona shows the diversity of talent and the richness of the messages the art that resides in the street tells those who take the time to look as they are passing by.
Special thanks to John for being my amazing and extremely helpful Photojournalism professor, and to our tour guides in Valencia for giving me this amazing and educational information.
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