It’s like an Aladdin’s cave of artistic goodies. We have just entered the ‘sotano’ or the basement of the Base Elements urban art gallery in Barcelona’s gothic quarter despite protestations that it’s a bit “untidy” down there but this is what we like. In amongst the old stone archways are works from many of the artists the gallery represents including the likes of ‘Art is Trash’ and Ivana Flores. “It’s going to be unrecognisable in a weeks time” Robert tells me. I’m not so sure what I think about that, I think it’s pretty cool as it is.
We have visited as part of a gallery tour led by our friend Rombillos, the street artist who also specialises in sticker and badge art. He has promised to show us the best galleries in town, the galleries that, he says, really support urban artists and as usual he has not disappointed.
First exploring the likes of the more traditional Artevistas gallery and then the superbly named ‘Meatshop Tattoo‘ on the Passatge del credit, we’ve already seen some great art and some good galleries. But it is on the final recommendation, that of Base Elements on the Carrer del Palau that our imagination is really taken.
There on the outside we are already intrigued, stencils from local artist Btoy decorate the awnings. Here is a stencil artist who blazed her own trail in terms of developing the multi-layered technique that is now her trademark working initially alongside the likes of frenchman C215, an artist who is perhaps more familiar to readers of a London based blog.
Btoy is just one of the artists represented inside, walking in and the likes of El Xupet Negre the old school graffiti legend nestles alongside the work of Francisco de Pajaro otherwise known as Art is Trash, a late bloomer to the urban art scene but one who has taken it by storm. There they snuggle up with the likes of fine artists such as the dreamlike Ivana Flores and the realism of Christopher Rote.
Robert Burt, the founder of the gallery, is an artist himself who came to Barcelona in 1999 initially to work on his art but who ended up opening a gallery. He came to the city at the back end of what I’ve heard people term as the ‘golden age’ of graffiti in the city, a time when every corner was covered with art and before the authorities really cracked down.
“When I arrived in 1999 many of these walls in the Barri Gothic were covered in graffiti” Robert tells me. “Yes it was cool but in the end I was happy when the city came in and cleaned it up because I like it how it is today.” The golden years are still here though says Robert “they never left.”
For a while the authorities really did take a no nonsense approach to graffiti in the city taking a hard line with anyone found to be flouting the rules should anyone be found painting in an area under the jurisdiction of the city. Even now they are rapid at cleaning up anything on the streets although they leave the doorways and shutters alone. It explains the propensity of doorway and shutter art whilst the surrounding walls are generally pristine, albeit with the exception of the odd badly scrawled tag whose shelf life is likely to be limited.
The Barcelona scene is now much more spread out explains Robert and not limited to just one particular area. That’s certainly what we’ve seen as evidenced in our wanderings in the more industrial area of Poblenou to the east of the city. That area plays host to a number of legal spots attracting street artists whilst the gothic quarter and the old parts of the city maintain a more urban feel with logo artists and paste up artists tending to drift more towards it’s hidden doors and shutters.
Opening in 2003 the Base Elements gallery has found itself at the heart of the urban art scene and Robert skillfully namedrops the fact that one of Barcelona’s most famous graffiti sons, Pez, is due to visit the gallery later. I mope about the fact that I’ll probably miss meeting him on account of the fact that my flight back to London is only in a couple of hours, “next time”, Robert consoles me.
That said we do have one surprise visitor, that of Francisco de Pajaro otherwise known as ‘Art is Trash’ and the man who took the London scene by storm in 2013 when his creative artworks made from rubbish in the streets appeared everywhere, gaining himself international exposure and also, perhaps more lucratively, a feature on this very blog. Francisco himself describes the time he spent in London as the best work he’s ever done and looking through pictures from that time you can really see why.
The artists on the roster are impressive and there are real links to the heyday of the Barcelona graffiti scene of the late 90’s. The aforementioned Pez of course but also the prolific El Xupet Negre whose ‘baby pacifier’ or ‘dummie’ can be seen everywhere. These two in particular says Robert are key personifiers of logo art which is popular in Barcelona “he must have painted that logo about a million times” he says of Xupet Negre.
Other artists from the period whose evolution has taken them from the street to the gallery include the likes of J. Loca, Zosens and Soem. Artists well known for their work outside and whose work would have once decorated the city. But it is some of the work from Ivana Flores which really leaves me entranced with her dreamlike self portraits sitting alongside the work of these street legends.
The gallery is unique for Barcelona in terms of its dedication to primarily urban art. Burt is in the main an artist though and also has a background in art restoration which he brings into his work. He shows me some of his pieces down in the sotano, nestled in some of the coves he is a collector of found objects and he’ll often shape these into sculptural style creations. It’s clear that even though today he is perhaps better known because of Base Elements he is still an artist at heart.
Base Elements gallery in Barcelona can be found in the Gothic Quarter on Carrer del Palau. Robert Burt was interviewed on 25 May. This post is part of the ‘MyBarcelona‘ series with ebookers with who Inspiring City was invited to visit the city. For other posts in the series check out ‘Top street artists to know about in Barcelona‘ and ‘Where to find street art in the Poblenou area of Barcelona‘
Base Elements Gallery