What I love about travelling is that it’s such a great opportunity to learn something new. You can learn a lot about a city through its food, music, architecture, people and most certainly its art. One of my favourite parts of our trip to Barcelona was getting to go on a tour around the city discovering some of its most unique pieces of street art! When you visit a historic city like Barcelona, you may be inclined to look for the usual, the standard fair: museums, plazas, monuments and churches. We have a tendency to go with what we ‘know’ but it is also interesting to find the art and cultural of a city where people live, work and play. Art can be found in many different forms in a cosmopolitan city but one of the most contemporary forms of expression is graffiti or street art. Personally, I find that street art really gives a city personality. I saw a lot of it when I was in South America, especially in Colombia’s capital city, Bogota, where graffiti is much more accepted than in North America and the streets are full of colourful murals. Barcelona certainly has its own active street art/graffiti scene and it was really fun taking a walk around the city and learning so much about it with our tour guide from trip4real.com.
The tour, The History of Barcelona’s Graffiti Tradition, was guided by Cayetana who has a passion for the city’s art history and is able to not only give tours in English but Spanish and Catalan as well. Our group consisted of travel bloggers that had attended TBEX in Costa Brava. We came from various countries (Canada, US, Italy, Britain as well as expats now living in Europe). Though some of us really enjoyed street art others may not have been fans to begin with but our guide made the whole tour interesting for all of us. We all had different pieces that we found interesting and many, many pictures were taken. Our guide never rushed us along and was always prepared to take any questions. Our group was small and according to the web page, it is reserved for only 25 people at a time which makes it very easy to ask questions. Over the 2 hours that we spent with her, it became clear why her tour has a 4.9/5 star rating on the site.
The tour started in Plaça Nova, where our guide showed us some early graffiti dating back to the Spanish civil war. Graffiti can be both art and cultural expression as well as a political statements. There were images and slogans written on churches and monuments that date back over 200 years.
The political etching is very faded now but there is a good discussion to be had as to whether the message (or propaganda one could argue) should be painted over or if it should be left for future generations to bare witness. The same can be said of the street art that covers walls, doorways, window shutters and alley ways. You can find just about anything covered in art in Barcelona. It was very interesting to see how this type of art has influenced Barcelona for more than just the past few decades.
As we began our tour we were shown one large piece of art that is on the north side Plaça Nova in the Barri Gothi. It is on the front of the College of Architects for Catalonia building and is the only piece of public art by Picasso. Illustrating, Barcelona’s love of the public display of art throughout the city it has also commissioned a piece by Keith Haring and Joan Miro (see below).
Completed by the Norwegian artist Carl Nesjar in 1970, adhering to the original designs by Picasso, there are three friezes but the one we saw (above) includes symbols of Catalan culture: the giants and big heads, the castelles (human towers) and Sardana dancers.
— Trip4real (@trip4real) May 6, 2015
It was wonderful to be able to walk through Barcelona through colourful and lively streets and alleyways that we probably would have never reached otherwise. Many artists create their pieces in these little hideaways that most tourists would just walk past. At every stop, our guide told us the name of artist and medium the piece was created in and its significance. The tour will often be modified given the temporary nature of graffiti, so no group will ever have the same experience as another. The work below is a perfect example of how one artists changed the original to put their ‘stamp’ on it. In this case it was literal as the new artist pasted over one of the Whitney Houston faces with that of Bill Murray. So the medium changes from paint to paper. It is not unusual for works to be transformed or painted over. That is the fluidity and temporary-nature of street art.
Another example of street art was the use of these pop cans stuck together with a popular Disney song lyric from the Lion King. It was colourful and entertaining just hung on the side of a building. Encouraging you to be happy. Placed about 10 feet above our heads, you had to look UP to find it but there was no question it was there to make a statement.
Artists also used different types of mediums to create art. We saw pieces that used stencils, paper mache and tiles. Being the big, internationally known city that it is, Barcelona has seen a number of foreign artists come and place their mark on buildings like French artist Space Invader but also has a rich collection of local artists such as Pez and Zone. The more you learn, the more the tour becomes almost like a game of I Spy. It’s a lot of fun spotting reoccurring characters and logos like Pez’s smiling fish or Zone’s cartoonish bombs.
As our tour concluded your guide brought us to a new area that is exclusively sanction for street art. The mural above is a gigantic piece on the side of a public space where buskers and street performers come during festival season. We also watched as an artist worked on a giant piece that he was painting. He was painting on a flat surface but it was clear that others had begun to cover up someone else’s piece just to the right of his large piece. It was wonderful to see an artist work his magic and not be hiding in the night or running away from authorities as so many graffiti artists do throughout the world. Barcelona has chosen to embrace their artists and this tour celebrates (and educates).
Overall, it was a great tour. The guide was very knowledgeable, the content was very interesting and it’s kept my eyes open for hidden street art ever since. Be sure to bring a bottle of water and a snack or two since there is no stopping apart from the artwork.
We are very big Keith Haring fans so when we were brought to MACBA (Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art) we were thrilled to see this iconic piece TODOS JUNTOS PODEMOS PARAR EL SIDA (We Can All Together Stop AIDS). Measuring 235 x 3400 cm you can see that this is one epic piece of street art for all to see and enjoy – for free – here in Barcelona!
Lauren Ibbott is a second year University of Ottawa student, blogger and freelance writer. She frequently writes for DownshiftingPRO. Please follow her on Instagram @Lauren_Patii All opinions are her own. You can read more of her post below:
Lauren was a guest of Barcelona Tourism and Trip4Real.