Barcelona the creative city with a graffiti soul and a street art heart
It’s typical that when you return from a place it’s only then that you realise just how much of the place you didn’t see and how much you missed. Never mind that you might have seen so much of a vibrant city, you return with thoughts of what you would do if you went again and where would you go. Now how’s that for a first world problem?
The place I’m talking about is the Catalan city of Barcelona, a city with a gothic centre and a proud history. It’s also a place which in the late 90’s and early noughties was considered to be Europe’s graffiti capital such was the extent to which daubing on walls had become a thing.
Now it’s known for it’s street art and graffiti combined. The city authorities take a tough line with tagging and the city has been cleaned up significantly. It doesn’t touch doorways and shutters though so wander around the old town and you’ll see all sorts of little gems.
It’s also a place with a high number of legal walls made available for artists to go and paint and there are loads of them. A lot of these are in the east of the city in a place called Poblenou and needless to say they attract Barcelona based artists as well as artists from around the world. To wander around these walls is to see gallery after gallery of some of the best street art around.
The Barcelona trip itself was the result of an invite from the travel company ebookers. The plan was to send a bunch of bloggers to a city and then curate live updates from them in terms of what they were seeing and what they were doing. Each blogger would of course have a different experience in the city and so each update would different. Representative of the fact that each time you visit a city like Barcelona the chances are you could have a completely different experience.
Needless to say we were pretty chuffed to be invited out and we made the most of the opportunity to get to know a city and a street art scene which we’d never really considered before. Inspiring City is of course predominantly a London based blog covering a very specific and localised scene yet here we were spreading our wings in the spray of a Barcelonian can.
Content wise we produced loads and even used the trip to launch a youtube channel something new for Inspiring City and something new for myself as a blogger. It meant buying some editing software and figuring out how to use it as well as understanding how video content could be engaging and what people would find interesting from an artist based vlog.
Tying it all together though was the people. The title of the ebookers project was ‘MyBarcelona‘ and it was up to the bloggers to decide what made Barcelona for them. For me it was the people, and in particular it was the artists who made up the scene. It was what made them tick and what motivated them. It was seeing the real city through the eyes of these creative and talented individuals who couldn’t have been more welcoming.
I have a big shout out at this point to London based Spanish artist Elno, a friend of ours here on the blog and someone who we have previously featured a number of times. It was her advice which pointed us in the direction of a couple of players in the Barcelona scene, Rombillos and Seclestyle. They became our guides as they pointed out the places to go and the things to see in the hidden little corners of the city.
Through them we met the enigmatic Konair, a prolific street artist whose logo art is hugely popular and ever present in the city. He is part of a tradition of Barcelona based artists who have become known for repeated their tag everywhere and his is a popsicle, or in English, an ice-lolly…. and it is everywhere!
The Konair, as he was introduced, is just one a number of logo artists. Possibly the most famous being Pez whose happy fish have covered the globe and El Xupet Negre whose baby pacifier (or in English ‘a dummy’) has also become iconic. Other more locally known logo artists are Seta whose mushroom can be seen all over the place and Zone whose cartoon bomb is a literal symbol for the street art bombing of the city.
Of course all good street art cities have got to have a hangout and for this crowd it was the Nevermind bar, a kind of equivalent to Monty’s on Brick Lane but with significantly lower prices. It’s also a place with a graffed over skateboarding area in the back and walls crammed full of stickers. It’s a grungy place and a spot where I met even more artists such as the hugely talented Zems, Colp and Xgraffing, artists all straight out of the graffiti tradition and people who produced some pretty impressive sketches in my black book, sketches which I’ve included in the gallery at the end of this post.
I have Rombillos to thank for introducing me to this particular hangout. An artist himself, he is first and foremost a fan and a collector. His studio is crammed full of mementos from visiting artists and he took delight in showing me some of the nuggets he’d managed to collect over the years. Wandering around the streets he would point out the tags, the paste ups and the hidden works from local and international visitors. Rombillos is what I would call a fixer, there was no-one he didn’t know and he was a trusted player on the Barcelona scene, through him I would be led down another avenue exposed to a different element each time of the street art scene of the city.
It was through Rombillos that we were introduced to the cities urban art galleries, the places to go if you really wanted to buy urban art. Visits to the likes of Artevistas and the superbly named ‘Meatshop Tattoo‘ were arranged and their exhibitions were superb but it was in the Aladdin’s cave of Base Elements which really caught the imagination. We even featured the galleries founder Robert Burt in an Inspiring City interview.
It’s funny how things come full circle because of of our first viral posts here on Inspiring City was a post which featured the work of an artist called ‘Art Is Trash‘. That work over a six month period in London really captured the imagination. Now I find out that his studio is opposite the gallery and that ‘Art is Trash’ is actually in the building. Having seen so much of his work in 2013 during that epic visit to London to now see the evolution of his unique style on canvas in the gallery setting is remarkable even more so when I realise that he is one of the galleries best selling artists.
But there are two scenes I found in the city. The first is the more underground and localised scene of the logo artists, the sticker and paste ups artists who are prominent in the old town and whose main means of display is on the shutters and doorways of the gothic quarter. The second is that of the more international and traditionally ‘street art’ community of artists attracted to the city often because of the combination of the sun, sea, mountains and legal walls.
This second scene is where we met the likes of Arububu a Brazilian artist who spoke perfect english with a lilting Irish twang and her partner Mr Oner, from Poland but who too spoke english with an Irish lilt given that they’d spent five years on the emerald isle is the great city of Dublin prior to launching a new life in Barcelona. Painting one of the walls in Poblenou we spent a good few hours with them talking about their work and even interviewed Arububu for the new youtube channel.
Another artist was Audifax mulching a wall just around the corner and who had come to the city to give street art a go. Originally from America the wall was only her second with her first being a feather. That piece, painted a few days previously, benefitted with coaching from from Zems, an artist we had only the night before met at the Nevermind bar. Here was an artist who could see a wall, rock out the cans and paint whatever comes into his head with zero preparation and yet with immense skill.
Speaking to Audifax gave us a different perspective in terms of what Barcelona meant. Here was someone who had uprooted from everything leaving her home country with the vision of just being an artist and giving it a go. Attracted by that combination of sun, sea and street art and who saw the city as a creative oasis driven by a desire to paint outside on walls. Her journey is something we’ve continued to follow and her vlog documents that journey in the moment as she negotiates the Barcelona scene and Barcelona life.
Other artists we met included the Venezuelan duo of Borneomoderfoker and Art3sano attracted again by the city’s creative heart but also no doubt because of the language links. In fact it was clear that the South American link is strong, that continent contains some of the best street art in the world with a vibrant and colourful urban art tradition with roots formed by the continents shared latin and indigenous culture and art. We’ve covered visiting artists from south america before and have featured big interviews with some incredible talents from that continent such as Martin Ron and Fio Silva.
We also met Bronik from Peru whose green people can be seen dotted all over and Mali Mowcka originally from Argentina and whose paste ups have often graced the walls of London in addition to Barcelona. The street art scene in Barcelona more generally seems to be male dominated so here were two female artists, who alongside the likes of Seclestyle, were making the city their own.
Returning home I knew I had a lot of content to put together but my first task was to re-write a post I’d put together just before I set off. I’d done some research and tried to figure out just who the top Barcelona based street artists were. As it happens I hadn’t got a clue and it was only when visiting the city and looking at the work and experiencing the culture that I could make any sort of informed judgement in terms of who might be worth knowing on the Barcelona street art scene. My initial list of 10 artists rapidly grew to 20 and to be honest could be a lot more.
Other posts included the interview with Base Elements Robert Burt which I mentioned earlier and also a street art guide to Poblenou, the region with the legal walls and where so much of the great art can be seen. You can even see a little video I made of the area below.
And so the thought I started with at the beginning of this post is the thought I am left with at the end. There is just so much to see in a city like Barcelona and as I sat at my computer writing up the experience an artist I met in London a couple of months before got in touch. It was Nevanka Pavic, a mosaic artist who had helped on Carrie Reichardt’s mosaic covered house in Chiswick. I’d actually cut my first tile with her and even laid my first piece of mosaic.
She got in touch and offered to show me round. Yet another act of generosity from a creative on the Barcelona scene and as she directed me to yet more spots online I figured that I really ain’t seen nothing yet.
The city of Barcelona was visited over the period of 21-25 May 2017. The trip was fully funded as part of the ebookers ‘MyBarcelona‘ project which sent bloggers to the city in order to curate the different types of experience people can have when they go out there.
MyBarcelona Artists Gallery
Throughout my trip I met many artists and lots of them were nice enough to sketch in the Inspiring City black book. There’s also a couple of videos showing the artists at work.
And here are a few other favourite pictures from the trip