Modern graffiti has come a long way since its emergence in the ’60s and ’70s on the virgin walls of Philadelphia and unadorned train carriages of New York City. Almost every large city on the planet now has a thriving scene and while the masses still gripe about tagging, they will happily drink from a Banksy mug or wax lyrical about the amazing piece by Blu they saw at the Tate Modern.
But graffiti doesn’t have to just be about making it in the big city or being part of the biggest scene – there are hotspots for street art everywhere that are carving their own way, with a renewed freshness and homegrown approach. We asked eight experts to share their experiences of traveling the world and seeing the best graffiti cities that are off the beaten path.
Jean-David Malat is a London-based art dealer, curator and street art specialist. “I was really impressed by Reykjavik’s graffiti art scene. I really didn’t expect that much expression in the streets. Walking around, you find the most interesting graffiti and street art. From rooftops to murals, there is creativity all around. I feel that the city has come far from the traditional ‘tag’ mentality and street art has truly emerged as an art form of its own. One would not expect so much originality given Iceland’s sheltered location but the power of art clearly has transcended geographies and climates here to give rise to colorful and fun artwork decorating Reykjavik’s streets.”
Porto Alegre, Brazil
Nina Pandolfo is a Brazilian street artist who started painting at three years old and was tagging walls by the tender age of 12. “I started graffiti in the 1990s in São Paulo. Ever since then, I have witnessed the rise of the graffiti scene all over Brazil. Everyone tends to focus on Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro but actually in the south of Brazil, in Porto Alegre, there are some stunning murals. In fact, artists set to be the new big names of graffiti have their works displayed all over the city already. There have even been graffiti events in the town and some museum shows where big names like Todd James and Barry McGee have exhibited. It’s the most exciting place for graffiti at the moment.”
Joe Epstein is the producer of LDNGraffiti, an ongoing photographic documentary of London’s graffiti and street art, and author of London Graffiti and Street Art. “I would suggest the city of Eindhoven in the Netherlands. I have been there quite a few times and have strong connections within the art scene. There are many contributing factors that make it a great city for graffiti and street art; the artists there are extremely skilled and have created quite a unique scene for themselves and the many international artists that visit the city. It’s home to some great galleries, murals and street art spots. They also work with local organizations on street art murals and community commissions.
“Street artists and graffiti writers collaborate hand-in-hand on massive walls and murals all around the city and have some long established legal spots. The culture of graffiti writing goes right back to the days of Style Wars and Spraycan Art so the local crews have a long tradition of getting up and doing it right.”
Si Mitchell is part of the Lost Souls Collective, which took part in the UK’s only music, art and extreme sport festival, NASS. “Birmingham is my favorite city to paint as it has so much amazing talent both hidden and exposed – plus it’s possibly the friendliest place to paint. Everyone I paint with is so amazing, too. With artists like Gent, Newso, Craig Earp, Voidone and Philph, you get such a diverse talent pool. Honestly, I love turning up and getting into painting there. There’s always a great reception and such a friendly group. I adore anytime I get asked to paint there; it’s a happy place and so diverse.”
Louis Masai is a London-based street artist who specializes in painting animals. “Last year I was invited to paint in Crans-Montana in Switzerland for Vision Art Festival, which is a one-of-a-kind encounter between nature and art in the amazing setting of the Valais Alps. The Vision Art Festival team aims to create an open-air museum in the mountains, spread over an incredible surface located between 1,500 and 3,000m above sea level. This is definitely not your average place to paint. Each year the curators invite about 15 new artists to add to the accumulating set of murals hiding amongst the late summer slopes, the same slopes that later in the year turn into an impressive glacier and one of the best snowboard and ski destinations in Europe. I painted two sides of a log cabin – a European mink and a dormouse, both listed as European endangered species.”
Mr Dheo is a Portuguese street artist. “I have to chosen my city, Porto. Not only because it’s where I grew up, live, and produced most of my early work, but also and mainly because it has a particular relation with the graffiti and street art scene. For 12 years we had a mayor that had a huge problem with it. We never had one single opportunity to paint in the city except if we went illegal. And most of the stuff we did was buffed afterwards. We were fighting back every time, in an ongoing war that never ended. Those who wanted to produce pieces or something more elaborate had to look for abandoned spots, which became incredible hidden galleries. Finally, in 2013, Rui Moreira was elected as the new mayor, and he introduced the new street art program that launched in a wall on the city center that me and Hazul painted.
“It’s slowly becoming a very attractive city when it comes to street art and fortunately they are giving opportunities to local artists. I guess Porto is quite unique about it, as people really admire and look out for local artists and their work, more than foreign artists. We feel that warmness and feedback and there’s nothing like painting home.”
Remi Rough is a London-born street artist and contemporary artist. “Saarbrücken isn’t the most famous of German cities but as well as a picturesque old town and city center it has an amazing graffiti and mural scene and is home to the Artwalk Festival, one of the best graffiti art galleries in Germany, and it even has an Urban Art biennale in the neighboring town of Volklinger.
“There is still a very healthy scene of young writers doing colorful pieces in and around the city which sits harmoniously alongside the more established artists and the giant murals that adorn the city by artists like Reso, Smash137, Fintan McGee and Aryz to name just a few.”
Ben Gamble is from Shout About London, the creative agency behind the graffiti-themed Rat Bar in London. “Having undergone something of a culture revival with the opening of the Turner Contemporary in 2011, and being the birthplace to outspoken artist Tracey Emin, it should come as no surprise that Margate is becoming the place to spot street art before it is quickly whitewashed.
“Still very much frowned upon along this part of the Kent coast, both emerging and experienced graffiti artists risk prosecution by spraying their mind on the otherwise bland buildings that line the ghost town of a high street. With some excellent pieces to be seen by London-based street artist Marc Craig with his bright, tribal-like artwork, and the scandal after the Taiyah Peebles Tribute artwork was whitewashed overnight, we reckon this sleepy seaside town is well overdue a facelift.”
- Words: Ollie Stallwood