By Travel Writer Tracey Ellis
How Painted City Walls are Making their Mark in Modern Urban Landscapes
See the city as a living open air gallery, with character and history hidden within different urban canvases, waiting to be explored...
When you’re visiting a city, how much do you take in your surroundings? It’s not hard to notice beautiful buildings and famous landmarks that our guidebooks tell us we ‘must see’, but that often means we miss out on the cultural essence that can exist below the surface of a city, within its lesser known urban spaces.
Beyond architecture and street maps, it can be fascinating to behold a city’s underground subculture instead of treading the beaten path. Without delving into dark and dangerous places, often it is simply the street art scene where you’ll find the grittier side of a city, but also the more interesting, subversive, and creative slants you might not normally observe.
Yet, not every city is full of beauty. As a metropolis evolves through the years it undergoes many transformations, and not all of them are pretty. When economy begins to suffer, it can suck the life out of towns and cities resulting in dilapidated areas, neglected buildings, and forgotten spaces.
To combat this, more and more artists are reclaiming cities and making them their own with individual artistic expression. Street art is a way for artists to leave an imprint on their community or neighbourhood, free from conformity, to show the character of a place using the unique creative outlets a city has to offer.
Deserted suburban train tunnels, abandoned office buildings, polluted city walls, even old tram cars - all provide enormous blank murals for urban artists creating bold street art. This ‘graffiti revolution’ is giving many cities a much needed makeover with uplifting and colourful masterpieces being created and scattered throughout gritty aspects, brightening up dark, otherwise overlooked corners of a city.
And with many local councils organising art projects within their communities in an effort to revitalise some more run-down urban areas, street art is becoming more respected every day. What was once considered a rebellious act of vandalism has now been reinvented as a higher art form, with true artists skilfully adding character and beauty to cities, towns, and villages.
Take Lisbon, a city who, instead of letting the business district crumble to pieces, came together and created the “Crono Project” to add vibrancy to it’s derelict buildings. Created in 2010, founder Pedro Soares Neves describes the Crono Project as an ‘urban creativity’ experiment where, with the cooperation of the local council, a number of artists are commissioned to paint forgotten spaces, bringing them back to life with freethinking creativity.
Of course the disfiguring of ancient buildings is usually frowned upon, but here we are talking about thoughtful artists who only want to ‘clean up’ an area, creating high quality art so it becomes an asset to the city rather than a scourge. Initiatives like this have pushed the evolution of graffiti to a vibrant urban art form with more true works of art painted on city walls, doors, and pavements, rather than merely the creative work of rebels with a cause.
For example, entire streets are alive with colour in Rio De Janeiro, where street art is used to liven up crime-ridden neighbourhoods. With a simple splash of paint some communities have transformed into better quality areas with less danger, more opportunities, and more visitors, thereby helping the economy overall.
Miami’s warehouse district was transformed into an artsy, vibrant neighbourhood in 2006 when Tony Goldman bought properties in the area in an effort to ‘create a place where people could gravitate to and explore’. Since it’s birth, Wynwood Walls has hosted over 50 artists representing 16 countries covering over 80,000 square feet of walls, bringing world class art to the community.
“Wynwood’s large stock of warehouse buildings, all with no windows, would be my giant canvases to bring to them the greatest street art ever seen in one place.” – Tony Goldman
A few years ago, the historic quarter of Funchal, Madeira, was disintegrating as shops began to close up and move on to bigger shopping malls, leaving the old part of the town partially deserted. Some innovative artists decided to paint the doors of abandoned buildings and soon the ‘Art of Open Doors” project was born. The idea was to create an area that invites people walking along the street to experience a deeper reflection of the town’s history and culture.
“Not only is there more colour and energy but also visitors are slowing down and looking around more. The street is not just a thoroughfare or the location of somewhere to eat – it is now something to enjoy and savour in its own right.” – Michael Turtle, Travel Writer
Without art, city-dwellers can feel like they’re in a concrete jungle, where it can be bleak and oppressive. But with a splash of street art suddenly it becomes uplifting, an attraction in the city with it’s own personal stamp of character.
With many graffiti artists beginning to exhibit in galleries, it’s obvious that street art is evolving. But of course to maintain a city’s vibrancy, their art really needs to stay on the streets, and what better way to keep a community’s history alive than to connect with urban spaces, to bring out the spirits in the walls, alleys, and cobbles, and to help illuminate and enlighten the world in which we live.
Urban Art Tours:
Heading to any of these cities this summer? Go on an urban adventure with these Street Art Tours for some outdoor art enlightenment.
See hidden spots of urban with Alltournative Tours of Amsterdam. They offer a few different Street Art experiences including a bike tour, subway tour and one with a focus on larger urban artwork where you see examples of commissioned street art, including murals by Piet Parra, the London Police and R.U.A.
On the Street Art & Alternative Tour, learn about Amsterdam’s past and present sub-cultures and visit independent galleries, trendy shops, and the graffiti hall of fame.
Visit the colourful Jewish quarter of Budapest and see the artistic firewalls that make this city a hot spot on the European urban art trail. A neighbourhood once populated with decaying and crumbling houses has been taken over by Urban art group NeoPaint Works who were commissioned to ‘brighten up the district’. Most famous pieces on this tour include the Hungarian invention of the Rubik’s cube and the Polish-Hungarian Friendship Tree.
Kiev has recently become one of the world centers of street art. See how ordinary buildings in Kiev turn into creative artworks by talented Ukrainian artists as well as world-famous foreign artists.
A 3-hour walking tour in central Kiev will walk you through the historical centre and beyond where you will spot up to 15 creative murals and the history behind them. Not to miss; stunning picture of Ukrainian poet Lesya Ukrainka by Guido Van Helten, inspired by her poem “Lilies of the Valley”.
Zagreb is another city with an up-and-coming alternative art scene best found on the streets, with cultural institutions commissioning urban artists to brighten up their city. Along with touring the backstreets, the excursion takes visitors to the Lapo Lapo Gallery and The Art Park, both projects of local street art artists. On this tour you can watch live mural painting or try leaving your own colourful mark on the city at The Art Park.
Camden Street Art Tours give great insight into this part of London that’s not usually seen by tourists, or even locals. They also offer a 2-hour graffiti workshop (in a safe environment) for those who want to learn the basics. www.camdenstreetarttours.com.
See artists like Banksy, Eine & Stik in East London’s vibrant street art scene with Street Art London Tours https://streetartlondon.co.uk/tours/. More than just a basic tour, this group is closely connected to many artists and regularly work with them on art projects.