Don’t get me wrong, I hate to see a scribbled graffiti tag defacing an attractive building as much as anyone. But I do love to see great street-art on my travels, it’s a gift to the photographer and brightens up many a run-down city neighbourhood. I’ve noticed that street-art often springs up in areas that are due for regeneration and in fact is often a catalyst or symbol of that regeneration. Here’s a run-down of some of the great street-art I’ve found on my travels around Europe.
Starting with my home town of Bristol, the best place to see street-art is the neighbourhood of Stokes Croft, close to the city centre. This is an area where the residents are fighting to retain the arty, bohemian feel of the neighbourhood and stop it being over-run with expensive flats. Leading the use of street-art in the regeneration of the area is the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft, which gives details on it’s website of the street-canvases open to artists. Bristol is also the home town of Banksy, the international street-artist who has hit the big time and you can still see a few of his works around the city.
When I visited Valencia in spring 2008, I loved all the street-art in the Barrio Carmen neighbourhood. This is an old part of town with narrow streets and is also the centre of the night-life in Valencia. By day you’ll find quiet squares and funky designer shops, but by night the place comes alive with bars and nightclubs and the party goes on until dawn.
All around the area, old buildings are being replaced by new apartment blocks and on the builder’s hoardings you can see plenty of interesting, if temporary street-art. It was also the only place I’ve come across religious street-art in a homage to the local patron saint of that area of town.
If you’re in eastern Sardinia, you must not miss the mountain village of Orgosolo, once the haunt of bandits and kidnappers. Now you’re perfectly safe, as the village has become an open-air art gallery, attracting visitors who come to wander round the village to look at the street-art. The trend was started by the art teacher at the local school, Francesco del Casino, a talented artist from Siena who is influenced by Picasso, and over the years many other artists have added their work around the village. Many of the murals are on themes of social injustice and protest, harking back to the days when this area of Sardinia felt forgotten and neglected by the central government.
I’m looking forward to a visit to Berlin in Spring 2009 where a large section of the Berlin wall has now been transformed into the East Side gallery. Berlin’s artistic reputation stemmed in part from the communist days, when young Germans had a choice of either doing military service, or going to live in Berlin for a year, as no-one wanted to be there on the doorstep of the eastern bloc. Many artists who didn’t fancy a spell in the military took the latter choice and when the wall came down the East side gallery became a colourful symbol of new hope for the future.