Photo by Jessica Quadra Andrews
A Francisco de Pájaro creation
In the narrow streets of the Barri Gòtic, the Born and the Raval, along the walls and doors, the street art tells a story of desperation and passion. The knotted layers of painted lines, the torn and fluttering poster edges, the images and colours chaotically arrayed: a withering canvas painted on by artists working against imminent erasure. In this volatile environment, graffiti removal teams, weather, building renovations and other artists competing for space assure that, by artifice or element, a piece of street art will be erased. It’s only a matter of time. How do street artists cope with the knowledge that their art is actually targeted for removal? For two Barcelona urban artists, it is the joy of the present and a few moments of lingering happiness for the viewer.
Rodrigo Villas will admit his enduring love for graffiti art, but these days his voice lilts towards unspoken reservations. He knows that he could spend a week completing a wall-length mural only to see it painted over a week later. “It’s always at the front of my mind how at-risk my work is. It’s an ego thing, I think.” The possibility of erasure bothers him, but it’s not only that. “I see more and more repetition and mimicry in graffiti, and it’s difficult for me to find a personal connection with that type of work.” And so, he is looking in new directions. “I want to interact with the city in a different context. Instead of searching for space on a crowded wall, I’m seeking remote spots, void of colour, like around electric cables.” He calls his new project ‘Love Birds’. It consists of small, brightly-painted bird cut-outs hung on strings over electrical cables. “I’m putting little points of colour in empty spaces to show people that those places, otherwise invisible to us, actually exist.” His Love Birds swing happily from wires in the Born, the Gòtic and the Raval, embodying Villas’s joy towards life unencumbered. With a heavy bolt on the end of the thick string to counterbalance them, it’s difficult to see these pieces as anything more than temporary, happy to enjoy life for a moment before moving on.
A strong breeze, a tall truck, a person with a ladder and a brazen disregard for possible electrocution: all these variables put Villas’s work at risk. And here is where the egoist—what little of one there is in him—surfaces. “It’s uncomfortable. On the one hand, I’m happy that someone would risk electrocution for a bird, but on the other hand, I do it in the street for a reason. They’re a gift for everybody.” He considers this a moment longer—for the Love Birds that his art imbues with life, and for his artistic presence that manifests itself through them. “This concern works both ways. I never created these birds to last forever. They have a cycle, and I like that.” Villas is Brazilian but lives in Barcelona and it is his experience here that engendered the project. “The bird is a constant immigrant, searching for a place to survive. I do the same; I move and adapt.” Ultimately, thinking of his art as temporary invigorates him. If it is temporary, then it is free. As is Rodrigo Villas.
Extremadura native Francisco de Pájaro works on a piece of street art for 15 minutes, half an hour, maybe a little longer. Not much time by traditional standards, but his art is at odds with time anyway. His mantra “arte es basura” (art is trash) is a literal translation of both content and process. On a cloudy afternoon deep in the Raval (while looking for a decent pile of rubbish), he explained his strange obsession: “I paint in the street because I have no other place to do it. I had a studio, but the economic crisis quickly put that luxury out of reach.” Now he works predominantly with the piles of trash people heap up outside their doors, oftentimes using nothing more than a fine tipped brush, a couple of cans of acrylic paint and the rubbish at his feet. He fills in negative spaces, connects complimentary shapes, and suggests, often overtly and sometimes crudely, his vision of the urban landscape. Today, the pickings are slim. Settling on a pile of cardboard boxes, a drum head and an old dot matrix printer, he creates a piece of trash art like a bird constructing a nest—a face here, a box there, both connected by a strip of masking tape—the parts themselves standing for nothing but suggesting a tenuous whole. After applying the final stroke, he leaves his signature “arte es basura”, enjoys a fleeting glance at his creation and moves on.
In the roiling urban art landscape of Barcelona, De Pájaro’s work is a reaction reduced to near absurdity. A Love Bird floats along for months, a wall mural may last a year or a week. His art emerges from rubbish, it speaks as rubbish, and as rubbish it lives to be hauled away. “My work is a metaphor for the value that should be placed on art. I believe that a person is worth more than any piece of art, and also that people should not be denied the opportunity to see art.” Today, some people take pictures while others laugh at the ghoulish face on the drum head. “I am part performer, part artist. My work is for the street, in every sense. It could never be placed in a gallery. It’s too ephemeral. It lives here and it will die here.” As his creation takes shape, people gather, whispering, speculating and, most importantly, smiling.
When De Pájaro walks away from a piece, it will be the last time he ever sees it. For him, this is OK. “The streets belong to everyone, and I leave my art behind to come alive in this unpredictable, disposable setting. Yes, it will live only a short time, but I don’t lament this at all. It’s meant to give a little happiness to the passerby and to me as well.” He puts the finishing touches on the drum head as the rain begins to fall. The wet paint mixes with the rain water, drips from his brush down the side of the drum head, and makes the ghoulish face appear even more so. De Pájaro ignores it. He runs to add a final detail to an arm on the left as the rain washes away the work he did on the printer. He fixes a piece of tape that has fallen and tries to add a few more details to a box, but now the cardboard is too damp to take the paint. The rain erases faster than De Pájaro can create, and this piece will die unfinished. He doesn’t get frazzled, nor does he think his efforts (or his ink) were wasted. He just stops, hoists his backpack over his shoulder and smiles at his work. “It’s becoming something else,” he says, and I can see his mind working, evaluating this exciting new phenomenon. After another minute, the cardboard boxes slowly, pitifully droop towards the ground and the painted faces appear to be crying, but De Pájaro has already walked away.