Barcelona Street Art: A Free 24 Hour Open Art Gallery
The Barcelona street art scene has been active for 30 years. Thanks to its diversity Barcelona street art distinguishes itself from other cities around the world. During recent years street art has become more popular, which has resulted in more art on the streets, a commercial focus and more legal walls around town. According to the street artist Debens, it was hard for artists in the 90s to find places to make street art because of strict conditions. But such authority also had a positive impact on the street artists in the beginning since it produced a “rebel spirit that is very important for them to create”, Debens states.
Barcelona (ACN).- The Barcelona street art scene has been active for 30 years. Thanks to its diversity Barcelona street art distinguishes itself from other cities around the world. During recent years street art has become more popular, which has resulted in more art on the streets, a commercial focus and more legal walls around town. According to the street artist Debens, it was hard for artists in the 90s to find places to make street art because of strict conditions. But such authority also had a positive impact on the street artists in the beginning since it produced a “rebel spirit that is very important for them to create”, Debens states.
Street art or graffiti arrived in Barcelona in 1987 with the Trepax Collective and logo artist El Xupet Negre as some of the first to paint on the city walls. An important moment was the foundation of the spray paint-company Montana Colors in 1994. This new provider of paint offered a big variety of colors for a reasonable price. “In the beginning a van from Germany came with five guys who wanted to buy the entire store and export it home”, El Xupet Negre told CNA to explain the popularity of the Montana spray cans. The wide range of colors made it possible to make more complex graffiti with several layers, and the “street art” phenomenon was, according to El Xupet Negre, born.
A city of diversity
Today, Debens thinks that street art has become more dignified than it was in the early days, and with that, it has become normalized. This made it easier to find places to paint, because of the many “legal walls” all over the city.
Comparing the street art scene in Barcelona to those in other big cities across the world, Debens points out one big difference: “One of the most important differences from other cities is the diversity of styles amongst the street artists.” He says that this is because Barcelona has always been a modern city open to influences and attentive to global culture. This has attracted many different styles to the city and makes Barcelona a unique city for street art.
The street art family
“The Barcelona street art scene is like a family”, Debens says. By this he means that the artists in the Barcelona street art community work together, know and respect each other. He continues and explains that the respect for other artist involves other Barcelonian artists and not foreigners. “A wall made by a Barcelona artist can last for one or two weeks, but a foreigner’s painting can disappear in a few hours or even minutes”.
The main philosophy on the Barcelona street art scene is according to El Xupet Negre and Debens, that there are no rules in the streets. With this said El Xupet Negre says that there are some unwritten rules about when it is acceptable to paint over other artists’ pieces. These rules allow the artists to cover simple pieces with bigger and more complex pieces. Despite these unwritten rules, El Xupet Negre explained that a young artist kept putting his “tag” on his wall pieces. “I had to pay him three spray cans to stop” he said laughing.
Art or vandalism?
El Xupet Negre makes a distinction between graffiti and street art. Graffiti is often carried out on illegal surfaces, and therefore needs to be done fast and during the night. This results in a simple motive or text with few colors. Street art on the other hand is more complex, with a bigger motive with more details and colors. Street art is made on legal walls or in areas where the police will not show up and fine the street artists. This way the artists have plenty of time to paint, and they can do it during the day so they can see what they are painting.
El Xupet Negre enjoys both street art and graffiti, but he does not like when people to vandalize using graffiti. Some people scratch political messages on the windows of shops and on public transport, but this is not art.
Social revolution, artistic evolution
What makes street art special is, according to Debens, “that it allows everyone to enjoy art and be close to art”. El Xupet Negre calls street art a social revolution and an artistic evolution. As he says, “you don’t need money to have art in front of your house”. Before street art, art was for people with money, as it was mostly found in museums or in private collections. But with graffiti and street art, this has changed.
Mike, who started Barcelona Street Style Tour, also thinks that the street art phenomenon gives artists a way to show their art to an audience who “might not necessarily be looking for it, but who also might appreciate it.”
Apart from being free of charge, there are other differences between art on the street and art in a gallery. Debens says, that one of the main differences between the two is that art on the streets is affected by the environment, because this becomes a part of the art piece.
Commercialism of street art
With street art becoming more popular, a commercial aspect of the art form has appeared. Street artists are now invited to paint on shops, bars and restaurants, schools and for events. This gives the street artists the opportunity to live of their art. El Xupet Negre has lived of his art for the last five years. He earns money by painting on walls and gates for people but he also sells paintings to people all over the world. El Xupet Negre says that people want to buy street art, because it is cheaper and more available, and will be worth more and more as years go by.
The street artists themselves are not the only ones to make money from this interest in street art. Many tour companies offer street art tours around the city, where the guide explains about the art and the artists. The first tour company to do this was Barcelona Street Style Tour. Mike says that he “had been on street art tours before in other cities and found them fascinating” When he saw the street art scene and graffiti scene in Barcelona and discovered that there was no one who offered street art tours, he decided to do so. Over the years, more tour companies have added a street art tour to their lists of offered tours.
Mike says that even though there is a hype surrounding street art and that many people are interested to learn more about it, street art still has very little impact on tourism in Barcelona. He calls the street art tour a “niche tour” and says that between one and 15 people might show up for a tour. In fall, winter and spring, sometimes no one shows up.
Street art spots
According to street art guide Mike, street art and graffiti is everywhere in Barcelona. “One just needs to look around”, he says. El Xupet Negre agrees with Mike and says that street art has a major presence in the city.
If you come to Barcelona and wish to see Barcelona street art, El Xupet Negre recommends that you look around in the city center or go on a graffiti tour, because the guides know where to find the street art. Besides this you should go to the graffiti spots which are places with legal walls. Some of these spots are Carrer de la Selva Mar, in the Poble Nou-area, and the Jardins de les Tres Xemeneies, in the El Raval-area. In these graffiti spots you can find pieces from artists like Seta, Konair, Debens and of course El Xupet Negre.