1 of 2
Street Art Matters
2 of 2
Street Art Matters
By Amanda Astramowicz
After Franco’s death, a new sense of freedom was born in Barcelona, and artists, not just those living here, but from all over the world, started to paint in the city’s streets.
By 2005, tourism was booming, bringing with it big businesses and property speculators. Under pressure, the city council started to clean up the city and make it more ‘tourist-friendly’. Graffiti laws were dramatically tightened with big fines imposed on anyone caught in the act. As a result, Barcelona’s street art scene is no longer as vibrant as it was 10 to 15 years ago but the city makes an effort to support legal street art through sponsored festivals.
In 2008, the CCCB organised a festival called ‘The Influencers’, showcasing independent projects of art, guerrilla communication, and radical entertainment. Blu, a street artist from Bologna, was invited to participate. He painted an enormous, aggressive shark, whose body is entirely covered in 100-euro notes. The work took him 12 days to complete, and is located in the city’s Carmel neighbourhood.
The Italian artist, who conceals his real identity, has been active in street art since 1999. He has gained worldwide recognition amongst street art and graffiti aficionados for his large-scale installations. His murals are painted on walls throughout Central and South America, Western and Eastern Europe, as well as the West Bank. As an urban and industrial artist, Blu’s murals are undetachable from the places in which they are conceived. Each piece communicates with the inhabitants and wider society, eliciting thoughts and reactions.
The Shark—El Tiburón—in the Carmel serves as a constant reminder of Spain’s economic doom and gloom. I spoke to people from the area and asked their opinions of the mural.
Santiago, 68, who has been living in the neighbourhood for nearly 20 years said, “This [mural] refers to all the theft done by politicians. They are like sharks, they want to eat up everything and leave us with nothing.” When I asked Santiago if the mural offended him in any way he replied, “It doesn’t bother me, no, no… we have to bring to light all of the [political] crooks we have in Spain.”
Blu’s refined techniques have become the signature of his easily-recogniseable work. He paints with house paint, using rollers mounted on top of telescopic sticks, allowing him to cover a bigger surface area, creating stronger visual statements. His paintings re-interpret the architectural forms of public spaces, creating new and imaginative shapes and dimensions.
“When I saw it, I recognised the style, but originally I didn’t know there was one [of his works] here,” says 30-year-old Louis-Pierre Boivin, a painter and graffiti artist from Montreal, currently living in the Carmel. “To me, it’s a metaphorical image of an aggressive animal and people who have money. It’s not my favourite one by Blu, but I prefer it a lot more than an empty wall.”
But, just like any other ordinary street artist, Blu’s work can magically disappear just as it appeared. Sometimes covered over by other paintings done by the artist, and sometimes worn by weather and time, but more commonly removed by authorities in the name of tidiness.
Born in Brazil and based in Barcelona, street artist Tom14 has a similar philosophy and is persistent in his anarchical rejection of contemporary art, politics, and capitalism. For Tom14, who grew up in Poblenou, it’s all about creating a voice for the inhabitants of the neighbourhood. He began to paint with the aim of reclaiming the streets from real estate investors and urban planning projects that make large profits, yet do nothing to improve the situation for the locals.
Written in the top right corner of his several-year-old mural in Poblenou is ’Fora 22@’. Fora means ‘out’ in Catalan, and 22@ is the name of the government-sponsored project that aims to re-invent the barri. “People who grew up in this neighbourhood feel a strong attachment to it and they don’t like seeing it change,” said Michael, a guide from Barcelona Street Style Tour, a company that offers a three-hour bicycle tour of the city’s main pockets of street art. “I think the two-headed monster is almost supposed to be like a gargoyle. One of their purposes was to ward off evil spirits, and that’s how I see this piece here, as trying to ward off the 22@ project”.
22@ was conceived in 2000, long before Spain’s financial crisis. According to Michael, local critics of the project joke that the crisis was the best thing that happened to the neighbourhood of Poblenou: they lost all the money needed to tear down the old buildings to build the new ones.
Barcelona Street Style Tour reservations can be made by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting barcelonastreetstyletour.com