Spanish Street Art

Walking in the back streets of Madrid’s art district, between small galleries and run-down buildings, I was stunned by the graffiti you see in the featured photo. It was painted on a sheet of plastic covering part of construction site. The beautiful skyline, minimally emphasized by the yellow lines, and the lettering were so assured, and at the same time so ephemeral! I was lucky that I walked by the few days of its lifetime.

I did not see more by this artist. In that sense none of the Spanish cities I visited seemed to have the prolific street artists of Porto. But what I saw captured me. Just as I captured some of what I saw. Here’s the gallery below, browse it and see if you like it as much as I did.

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Garbatella

The Garbatella metro station (featured image) is definitely not on the tourist circuit. It is fairly deserted at a time when Repubblica, Barberini, Spagna, Cavour and Colosseo are bursting at the seams with tourists. This is the metro station for the interesting Roman district of Ostiense. Via Ostiense, which gives the district its name, is the old Roman road which connected the city to the port of Ostia Antica.

Exit towards Via Ostiense from the Garbatella metro station

If you look up Ostiense in a tourist guide you will find only the Centrale Montemartini museum listed here. But when I arrived to visit the museum I found the place was full of spectacular splashes of colour: graffiti artists had been hard at work in the area around the metro station. A pedestrian bridge takes you across the tracks from the station. As you descend, the brutal concrete of the stairwell is softened with bright graffiti (photo above). After one flight of stairs there is a little terrace from which one sees a brick building with a colourful mural across it (photo below). I learnt later that the building belongs to ATAC, the company which runs the public transport system in Rome, and the mural has been painted by a Berlin artist called Clemens Behr

The ATAC building outside metro Garbatella has an eye-catching mural

The bridge was being used as an impromptu gallery for a group show of photography. On my way to the museum I’d looked quickly at it and told myself that I would come back to look more carefully. As I was strolling back, camera in hand, after photographing the nearby roads, a girl on a phone strode towards me. "Are you the official photographer?" she asked "I’ve been waiting." I’m quite happy to be mistaken for a professional, but I told her that I wasn’t. She smiled and said there was an exhibition of photos I might want to see. I replied that this is where I was headed. The exhibition had some very interesting photos. While I was looking at them, I heard the stuttering sound of a camera set on exposure bracket. The official photographer had arrived, and he looked nothing like me.

Porto’s Graffiti

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If you were to walk down a street and come across works like the ones above, you would certainly stop to admire them. The Family and I walked through the centre of Porto and its Baixa, looking at many things, including these beautiful, and possibly ephemeral, pieces of art.

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The redevelopment of Porto seems to have stalled in recent years because of the global economic downturn. Not only has the economy shrunk, but unemployment has been very high. A possible result is that right in the centre of town there are "mixed use" blocks of flats like in the picture above. There are flats where people stay, and water the flowering plants on their balcony, cheek by jowl with flats lying open and unused and painted over by quick-response street artists.

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This kind of graffiti also has individual styles: sometimes in the choice of colours, sometimes in the decorations added on to the letters. We walked slowly through Porto for a few days, admiring these differences. The decorative touches in the example above made us happy that we did not run into this work gang, although we liked the colours.

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But the most exciting pieces go beyond lettering and gang signs. This fish is incredible. It stands on Rua de Sao Bento da Vitoria, when it emerges behind the Clerigos tower. We stopped to admire it, and found that we were not the only one. It was a lovely complex piece, beautifully executed.

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On Rua de Sa da Bandeira, we saw this beautiful minimalistic aesthetics on the wall of an abandoned building. I liked it as it is, although this could be an unfinished piece.

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The reason we thought this could be unfinished is that we saw a similar piece as we climbed the steep lanes from the Sao Bento station towards Batalha. On the steeply sloping street two artists had placed their works next to each other. The work on the left is a version of the minimalistic piece that we saw near Bolhao. That on the right is signed by an artist (or consortium?) called Hazul, whose work we began to recognize. A beautiful example of Hazul’s work is in the featured image.

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The three pieces above are all by a person (or group) who signs as Costah. The stylistic similarity was such that we began to recognize his work on the road, and would be delighted to identify his signature on a work. The three pieces above are collected from various parts of central Porto.

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Even more prolific than Costah is Hazul. Three of the pieces that I like best are collected together above. Hazul seems to range all across the main parts of Porto: the Baixa as well as the Alto. There were beautifully realized pieces, clearly complete, as well as pieces which seemed more sketchy. Could they be works in progress? I wish I could go back in six months to check.

These signed works are so beautiful that I wish the city takes steps to protect them. There are other artists who are beginning to create an individual style. Maybe there is genuinely a movement beginning in Porto.