It is considered a nuisance in the United States, a hooligan hobby, tactless maiming of public and private property. However, in Barcelona graffiti has garnered respect in its own right. Already known for its stunning local artistry by Antoni Gaudi and Salvador Dalí, the streets of Barcelona boast another form of art. Colorful graffiti can be found all over the city, from delivery trucks to heavy, wooden doors but the most popular canvases, by far, are store shutters. Unlike my native Kansas City, the city of Barcelona has been thriving for millennia and so the pastelería where I get my daily croissant is in a building that predates the founding of my country. Naturally, space in any building in Barcelona is at a premium so many shops, restaurants and markets are roughly the size of my living room. For security sake they have metal shutters that come down in front of their door and window display. This has become home to vibrant and resourceful artwork.
Overall I have found that Barcelona’s street graffiti can be separated into two categories: image art and word art. The image based artwork ranges from windmills to beautiful women to polar bears to pandas to robots. Based on signs over the tiendas some of the artwork reflects what the store sells such as cosmetics, but many appear to just be the whimsy of the artist. Word art not only covered store shutters but building doors, mailboxes and trucks. Sometimes an entire word or signature would engulf the canvas and others had a hodgepodge of words piled on top of each other. Street graffiti has a self-sustained democracy, because it is genuinely considered art among graffitists. The largest pieces, generally image based, are left untouched while canvases with signatures and words are more likely to be covered up by other words. However, the resulting collage of words and paint produce an equally appealing work of art.
Within the democratic world of graffiti, certain artists have risen to mild amounts of fame in Barcelona and Spain. One of the most well known artists goes by the name “Pez” which means fish in Spanish. His most famous works incorporate not only his namesake, but demons, aliens, angels and giraffes. The signature wide grinning characters became so popular that he began traveling to other cities of his native country including Madrid, Pamplona, Las Palmas, Valencia, Bilbao and Sevilla. His artwork caught the eye of art galleries in Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin and Milan. In the early to mid 2000s Pez traveled to South American, and Asia with the K-Swiss painting tour. He currently works at art festivals and galleries internationally.
Because of its popularity, many stores commissioned artists to paint their store shutters. However, the city council of Barcelona sees graffiti differently. “The law regards graffiti as something that soils the public space, devalues our heritage and visually degrades the urban fabric,” (Guardian, 7/12/10). Shopkeepers who paid for their shutter art, ended up paying upwards of €600 in fines for “degrading urban fabric”.
But seriously what does that even mean?
Unlike the stuffy councilmen of Barcelona, I found street graffiti to be a lively and colorful way for the people to leave their mark in a bustling city where it is easy to get lost in its history, culture, and long winding streets.