There’s an elephant outside my door. He’s there everyday I step into the milieu of people, greeting me with a brazen stare. Over time I’ve started to recognise his herd about town and greet his brother Rhino in San Telmo or Palermo.
On the streets of Buenos Aires you can begin to recognise the works and styles of certain street artists, in their colour and design. Bright characters, arresting political images, vivid colours, sex, fun and magic bring energy to community spaces in the city. Artists draw connections between place and image for the public. The streets become their own exhibition and people are attracted to what strikes them.
The dramatic history of Argentine politics has had a hand in shaping the street art of Buenos Aires. The first street art began in the ‘90s. With an established democracy people were free to express themselves and looked to new ways to do so, informed by their surroundings and experiences.
With the economic crash in 2001, street artists started to create playful, positive images on the street. Their ideas were a way to connect with the public without restrictions and hopefully bring a smile to people’s faces.
Marina Charles and Jo Sharff have set up a tour of street art in the city. Visiting the public spaces, galleries, shops and studios, they showcase the work of the street art community and explain what makes the creative scene here unique.
Meeting in Palermo the tour set off, ambling through the streets on a sunny autumn afternoon. Our first stop was at an artist’s home and studio. Tec, an artist from Rosario, is part of the Buenos Aires collective FASE. Having toured throughout the world, the collective is a dynamic part of the street art community.
The exterior of Tec’s house is painted bright pink with characters dominating the walls. “People often stop and ring the doorbell, thinking it is a shop,” he tells us. Not that it seems to bother him! Instead, Tec says he’s happy that the striking exterior of his house arouses curiosity in people.
Continuing through the neighbourhood we come across large walls with the works of many street artists. Seeing their work side by side on such a large scale, there are a clear variety of styles, such as that of the grafiteros and the muñecissmo approach.
The grafiteros have a traditional tagging style and usually work with aerosols, street artist Nerf works in this mode. Artists working in the muñecissmo approach have a playful element to their work, executed in bright latex paints. The term comes from the word muñeca, meaning a doll, as little doll like characters can be seen throughout their work. Pum Pum, one of the few female street artists in Buenos Aires, works in this style.
Many artists also use large stencils and media prints. The porteño duo, Vomito Attack work with cuttings from magazines, newspapers and stencils. They began creating art in response to the September 11 attacks, during the Argentine economic crash in 2001. Their images are often political and intense. Not afraid of making a statement, the pair hosted a presentation in Harvard in 2004 dressed in the shocking orange boiler suits synonymous with Guantánamo detention centre.
Their distinctive work is recognisable for its colourful and provocative retort to the establishment. They have recently been commissioned to paint the exterior of Tegui restaurant in Palermo.
Franco Fasoli is a 27-year-old street artist from Buenos Aires. He makes money working on set design in an artist’s workshop and continues to paint in his studio and on the streets. He shared some of his experiences of working in these different environments with the group.
“The difference when working on the street is that you aren’t limited by a canvas, you are only limited by the public space,” he tells us. “In the street there are all kinds of people, street art is public and so the language is public.”
Jazz’s work is recognisable for its mix of media. As a classically trained artist, he’s comfortable working in both paints and aerosols. This gives his work a flowing dream like quality.
“Buenos Aires is a crazy city with a lot of movement. I want to change the view for the people. I don’t want to present them with stress and aggression, I have respect for the city and the people”, he adds.
I ask what he thinks about street art moving into galleries, which can be understood as the institutionalisation of an art form, which defined itself by working outside those institutions. “I try to do things the wrong way. I don’t care about the strict graffiti movement,” he tells us. “If I am a street artist showing my studio work in a gallery it shouldn’t be a problem,” he says with a smile.
The tour ends with drinks in a street art themed bar in Palermo called Hollywood in Cambodia. The bar began as a non-conventional art gallery curated by members of the street art scene. After a long walk and lots of information it’s a refreshing stop giving us a chance to catch up and talk about what we’ve seen.
Although the tour is a lengthy afternoon spent on your feet visiting public spaces, galleries and shops, it is a chance to see street art a passer by might not find so easily. Jo and Marina are enthusiastic about showing participants what they want to see, and the opportunity to meet the artists opens your eyes to the richness of the expanding community that exists in the city.
Tours cost $70 and are run on Wednesdays and Fridays, lasting three hours. The tours can also be taken privately with prices starting at US$30 per hour. Jo or Marina can be contacted at Graffiti Mundo on 15 3683 3219/15 3309 7462 or through their website at www.graffitimundo.com