Art is something I’ve never, ever been good at. I was still drawing suns, hills, rivers and stickmen at about 14, not because I had the mind of a 5 year-old, but because I knew I was shite so preferred to take the piss. Since then my aptitude for putting pencil to paper hasn’t evolved much, though my appreciation for truly, awesome art most definitely has. Especially Street Art.
I love street art and I love scouring new places for it. Each time I encounter a new piece– whether at home in Granada or while on my travels –I stop, stare, take a flurry of photos and then stare some more, before being dragged away by whichever bored friend happens to be with me. Granted, there is a plethora of diabolically unimaginative street art out there, but most of this can be attributed to ‘taggers’ and ‘throwies’– generally the ones who go out at night with their hoods up and so on. Dave of Global Culture Travel helpfully differentiates between these different types of graffiti– bombs, paste-ups, stencils, tags, throwies and writers –the latter being the most artistic form.
My number one priority for April’s #Take12Trips holiday in Lisbon was finding as much street art as possible, without the help of tour guides, knowledgeable as they probably are. I felt it would be the perfect way to explore the city at my own pace with a rough route in mind to coincide with these alleged street art hotspots.
It started badly.
Friend and I had previously stumbled upon and subsequently taken a picture of a blog post complete with a Google Map screenshot, edited to show exactly where these hotspots were. However, after 45 minutes of scrambling around backstreets, repeatedly proclaiming “We’re right on top of it!” and “It should just be right around….this corner!” to no avail, we began to lose faith. Blank stares from dozens of shopkeepers and hobblers-by didn’t help the situation either.
But then, a slice of luck; one chap seemed to actually know where we were on about, and assured us that we were within spitting distance of where we wanted to be. Doubtful, we pounded some more pavements heading upwards until we came to shady area near Parque Mayer. Nothing. “OH FOR F– oh wait, there it is.”
Yes. There it was– even better than I had hoped for –bright red, urban designs with what looked like a cartoon prostitute right at the centre of it. Why? Don’t care. It was awesome. Later research revealed that the lady in the centre of the image was not in fact a prostitute (oops) but a very famous Fado singer (Fado is a traditional and historic Portuguese music genre). Other renowned Fado singers are also depicted in the drawing, among symbols and other Fado references. The piece, called the Fado Vadio, was created by a small group of local artists and residents who got together to enhance the previously dull and dilapidated building. Safe to say they did a bang up job!
Our next stop was the GAU (Galeria de Arte Urbana) Wall, an area of Bairro Alto specially allocated for the display of Lisbon’s very best street artists’ work. This also took some hard graft to find, despite the seemingly unambiguous map we still clung to. We headed north, leaving Rossio Square behind us and passing Bairro Alto on our left before taking a left turn up a steep and narrow street called Calçada de Gloria. Five minutes later we stood openmouthed at yet more brilliant street art. Swathes of it. And there was even one artist at work, though, unfortunately, he didn’t seem to be in a chatty mood.
Rather than face the travail of clambering even further up the hill, we turned around and headed back from whence came. Crossing Av. Liberdade, we then took a right onto Largo da Anunciada, which turned into Calçada de Lavra –another street absolutely loaded with street art.
Venturing further north, this time along Rua San Jose, we stumbled upon an enormous piece, about 70ft tall, depicting what appeared to be a horse divorced from its skeleton. Utterly mad, but unbelievably good. Later research revealed that the artist behind the image is Lisbon-born ARYZ, who was apparently invited to bring his vivid imagination to life onto the wall of a disused building as part of the Montana Shop & Gallery Lisboa Anniversary in 2011.
What we had really hoped to find, however, was the work of Os Gemeos– Brazilian twins world-renowned for their street art –which we had seen various pictures of before arriving in Lisbon. Thankfully, a friend of a friend who lived in Lisbon already knew where to find it all, so she led the way along Rua Santa Marta until Av. Fontes Pereira de Melo, lo and behold, there it was!
There are about four or five pieces in this spot, which were commissioned as part of the Crono Project, an artistic venture involving street artists whose goal is to bring newfangled life to abandoned buildings, such as these. They are even more impressive up close. One, by Ericailane, shows a giant, crying crocodile and another, by Sam3, shows a large shadowy figure doing his best to squeeze through nighttime-painted windows. But the best, by Os Gemeos and probably the most photographed of them all, depicts a yellow-skinned character dressed in green, wearing a red patterned bandana, holding a catapult with a rather dull, suit-and-tie wearing figurine between the sticks ready to be propelled into orbit. The level of detail is mind-blowing.
The next day we found more street art, this time in the Alcântara neighbourhood where we were staying. Here, a long wall, called ‘April 25’, displays numerous social commentaries referencing the Carnation Revolution of 1974, which saw the toppling of the Estado Novo regime and eventual withdrawal of Portugal from African colonies– 40 years ago this week! It was at this point that I realised how telling street art can be of a city’s past; it was the most interesting thing I had learnt about Lisbon throughout the entire trip.
One image in particular stood out, if not for its life-like accuracy then for the incredibly original technique with which it was forged: chipping. As in, nothing has been added to the wall, just taken away. This is the unmistakable artistry of Lisbon’s Alexandre Farto, a.k.a. VHILS, who I featured in my 6 Amazing Urban Artists That Deserve Your Attention post a couple of months back.
What a way to end a hugely successful Lisbon DIY Street Art Tour!
Do you enjoy looking for street art when travelling? Which other cities are great for urban street art?