Barcelona is well renowned in the street art community as a mecca for the practice. For this project, I decided to dive into this subculture and spend time with several artists currently working in the largest city on the Mediterranean coast of Spain. The following is a visual account of My Time With The Street Artists Of Barcelona.
- 1. Welcome to Barcelona
- 2. A Unique Aesthetic
- 3. Where Are the Artists?
- 3. Targeting the Source
- 4. The Break
- 5. An Introduction To Raw Talent
- 6. Barriers to Artistry
- 7. Creative Support
- 8. The Mural Commences
- 9. Going All Out Out
- 10. Several Cans of Beer Paint
- 11. Leg It!
- 13. A colourful Conclusion
- Links & Handles
1. Welcome to Barcelona
Whenever someone mentions Barcelona, minds will often wander to picture crowded beaches that stretch as far as the eye can see, A buzzing metropolis of bars, clubs and restaurants that cater to the 27 million tourists the city attracts each year, Or, most notably, one of the many structures designed by the late architect Antoni Gaudí. Buildings like the Casa Vicens, the Casa Battló, and of course, the famous Sagrada Familia, which after 133 years of construction, is now entering its home stretch towards completion.
But besides the picture-perfect brochure images advertised to attract its outstanding volume of visitors or the countless highly polished Instagram photographs they publish to the world wide web each year. Barcelona is also home to another unique and somewhat underrepresented aesthetic. Street art.
2. A Unique Aesthetic
As soon as you exit the Barcelona Sants Train Station, Barcelona’s largest train station and starting point for most tourists, you will find yourself thrust into its vibrant world of the colourful, creative, and often crass scene of artistic expression. I would be comfortable to place a high wager that one would find it impossible to find a single door, shutter, electricity box or garage entrance not sprayed, stencilled, pasted, or painted in some form.
Smooth surfaces at ground level, are guaranteed to be used by artists as crude, ad hoc canvases for their artful endeavours.
While most of the graffiti in Barcelona is illegal, the local council does provide a few locations for artists to paint without fear of repercussion from the law. The most popular of these, certainly the largest, is Jardines de las Tres Chimeneas. A sizeable urban space that also caters to skaters, ping pong players, and those looking to shoot some hoops. Hoping to meet some local artists for this story, I decided to visit the location.
3. Where Are the Artists?
After spending some time there documenting the busy walls, I noticed individuals without skateboards recceing the location. And sure enough, after they had identified a suitable position, the spray cans began to emerge from the tatty carrier bags and paint encrusted rucksacks they had brought with them.
Soon after approaching these individuals with my questionable Spanish, it became evident that they were not local. The first two artists I spoke with were from the UK, and the third was Canadian. Each one had come to Barcelona to paint and skate in the city and were only here for a short time. And while their work was impressive, and it was interesting to hear about the lengths these artists were willing to travel to contribute to the scene, they were not going to grant me access into the inner circle. It was time to take a different approach.
3. Targeting the Source
Where should I go to meet a group of people that otherwise prefer to remain elusive? I knew spending time waiting at walls would be a non-proactive use of my time. It could be days before I met a local. The next step was to target the suppliers at one of the many paint stores.
Armed with my camera and tripod, I began ticking off each shop on the map, hoping to exchange shots of their stores for information on artists that may be willing to be documented for the project.
After several failed attempts, the contact details for the cultural head of Montana paints came my way after visiting the Montana store in Gràcia, close to La Sagrada Família.
Following a short volley of emails and telephone calls explaining the project, the number of Antoine, the founder of street art Barcelona, was handed to me. An organisation founded 12 years ago in 2012 to help secure locations for street artists to showcase their work on several legal public walls on a rotating bi-monthly basis.
4. The Break
Antoine spoke of a mural project planned for the proceeding week and expressed his interest that I attend to document the event. He also graciously passed me the information of the two artists collaborating on the mural. Two unquestionably talented creatives that go by the street handles Twee Muizen and Slomo.
Perfect, I had found my route into the scene. The next step was to set up dates with these artists to find out a little more about them, their work and their views on the street art landscape as it presently stands in Barcelona.
After contacting the two, it was unfortunate to hear that Slomo had fallen sick and would not meet before the project commenced. Fortunately, Twee Muizen (Denis) was in good health, so I arranged a visit to his studio/gallery in the heart of the gothic quarter that dates back over 2,000 years.
5. An Introduction To Raw Talent
After a short while navigating the undulating and somewhat claustrophobic streets of the fascinating neighbourhood, I arrived at the studio to find Denis and his girlfriend, Christina, another talented creative, waiting to welcome me warmly into their inspirational space. One, they tell me they had renovated themselves from a once dilapidated condition.
After exchanging a few niceties, we sat down in the rear studio section of their gallery to discuss their work and their views on what it means to be an artist in Barcelona in 2022.
Both Denis And Christina were originally from the Spanish countryside, roots evident in the organic forms and textures that combine in their stunning works. Both artists had travelled to Amsterdam to study fine art (Denis) and Textiles (Christina) for their undergraduate degrees. Here, they would meet each other for the first time and begin working on collaborative projects, showcasing their work in several museums and exhibitions for some years before deciding to move back to Spain and Barcelona. A decision based on the financial benefits of being based in a place renowned as a cultural capital with a torrent of foreign traffic. One that worked well for them both as they explain they now supply clients worldwide.
But besides their relative success as artists (they can support themselves entirely from their art). The couple explained that it has not always been easy for them. In the start, they both had to work part-time jobs and had to juggle the perfection of their crafts around their other professional commitments. Furthermore, they both agreed how the Spanish fee system for freelancers makes it difficult for emerging artists to begin to support themselves with work deemed less economically valuable in the eyes of society. Both artists and lawyers pay the same to practice their professions.
6. Barriers to Artistry
When questioned about their views on street art, the most problematic barrier the two agreed on was that since 2005, when the local council decided to clean the inner city in a bid to make it more appealing to tourists, things had become far more challenging for real projects such as murals to be painted on the buildings here.
Denis continued that before the clean-up, the place was somewhat of a wild west for street art, with even more of the city painted than today. And while there are still several murals within the inner city, the current rules state that they must not be visible from the main streets. Furthermore, they must also conform to a Pantone set by the architects responsible for overlooking the cities development.
7. Creative Support
Besides these and other barriers they face, they explained how there is support for artists, Such as Street Art Barcelona and another named B Murals, an organisation that fights for urban real estate and provides exhibition space for artists too.
After our conversation, I thanked them for their time and expressed my excitement to document the mural project that would commence in the coming week.
8. The Mural Commences
On Tuesday, I arrived at the location at Plaça Raquel Meller just across the road from Jardines de las Tres Chimeneas to find Denis and Ricky (Slomo), sketching out the rough lines of the mural. It was great to see Denis once more and meet Ricky for the first time.
Slomo, his prefered name, is originally from Venueszala and has been a resident in Barcelona for the last two years. And even though he only started painting five years ago, he has already become a well-known figure in the city, being extremely active and demonstrating a unique style of hard lines with bold colours he creates with the help of masking tape, an approach that gives his work a unique style that contrasts sharply with the more fluid lettering and characters painted by other artists.
As the days progressed, the few rough paint lines the artists had sketched slowly began to take a more complex form as they began blocking out and layering the mural. It was the first time I had witnessed this kind of artwork made, and I felt privileged to have the opportunity to document the entire process as a first-hand observer.
Two days into the project, during one of Antoine’s work windows. He passed by to check on the progress of the wall. During our talk, he mentioned that evening he would be going to a bar with more artists to watch a drag show of a performer being painted on a wall the following week, and I should join him to meet them. “Of course,” I replied eagerly. The more creatives I can talk to, the better.
9. Going All Out Out
Later that evening, I met Antoine and the rest of the group at the mural location. The first of the artists I spoke to was named Nemo. A tagger utilises paint rollers with letters of her name to paint walls and pavements at small and large scales. The result resembles something close to tyre tracks. Disorientating to see on a vertical wall. As if someone had become bored of driving bound by gravity and decided to use the walls instead.
The second was Morky, an artist that has been primarily using black and white in the streets for decades. Both professional murals and graffiti alike. His tag is a burning matchstick and is one I had noticed extensively throughout my time documenting the street art in the city.
Another, we will call Amy, uses the written word to provoke thought and emotion in those that read her text in the street.
After our brief introductions, we began to the drag bar to catch the show. But not before stopping at one of the paint stores I had visited in the previous week to collect some paint supplies. I could tell that the night was going to be an interesting one.
Following the show, we indeed took to the streets to contribute a hint of the artistic flavour the inner city is better known for, illegal graffiti.
10. Several Cans of
Barcelona is a city with a strong police presence. With countless officers patrolling the streets in cars and motorcycles. Sniffing out the drunkards and rowdy tourists like hawks circling the vermin of a cornfield. Eager to pay their wages by handing out of fines for those unfortunate enough to be spotted while performing any unsavoury act.
There was a strong sense of danger permeating the air while I watched these taggers practice their profession, but the thrill of of getting caught by the vultures, was perhaps the most enjoyable part of the night. And we almost were spotted at one point.
While Morky had Nemo on his shoulders to paint a for sale sign above a shop’s shutter, sure enough, A police car turned a corner just 100 meters away, with its blue lights illuminating the uneven orange walls. It was close and we knew it had us in its sights.
11. Leg It!
We instantly broke formation and headed for cover. Fortunately, that 100 meters was enough distance between us and them for us to escape. After this close call, we decided to call it a night, retreating to the safety of Morkys studio to enjoy the rest of the night in peace.
12. One Fine Mural
The next day I returned to the mural to document the final day of Denise’s and Ricky’s project. There was little to do beyond filling in a few details, meaning the day had strong overtones of a relaxed nature. What these two had created in such a short space of time was truly outstanding. A shame, however, that it would only last for two short months. But such is the impermanent nature of street art, and the photographs taken will go on.
13. A colourful Conclusion
To celebrate the completion of the wall, and because it never truly winters in Spain, Slomo arranged a BBQ on the private rooftop of his terrace building located just 200 meters from Denis and Christians studio. I was fortunate enough to receive an invite to the party and meet even more artists involved in the scene here.
Watching these guys do their thing while eating good food with a beer in hand to the sun setting over a pastel Barcelona skyline was the perfect way to wrap up this project and say goodbye to people that had not only been the subject of this photo essay but people that had become good friends over its duration. Cool Dudes, I must return to visit soon.
Links & Handles
If you are interested in finding out more about any of the artists or organisations mentioned in this project, follow these links:
Street Art Barcelona:
If you are visiting Barcelona and are interested in street art, Antone with Street Art Barcelona offers highly informative tours. You can find out more details by visiting his site here: Street Art Barcelona
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