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Barcelona is a city that has long been celebrated in artistic circles for its Gaudi architecture, its Joan Miró sculptures, and its world-renowned Picasso museum. However, in more recent times the city has developed itself into a world-leading center for graffiti and street art. Globally recognizable characters such as Pez and Xupet Negre draw in both the connoisseurs and the curious, while the next generation of artists continue to fly the Barcelona flag abroad. Barcelona-based spray painters, sculptors, stencilists and muralists are now decorating urban spaces from Shanghai to Amsterdam, having honed their respective crafts on the familiar neighborhoods of Gòtic and Raval. Here are seven that you need to look out for on any visit to this inspirational city.
El Pez, the world-renowned graffiti artist from the Barcelona suburb of Sant Adriá, has practiced his trade on the streets of his hometown since 1999. Now a global figure, his trademark smiling fish figure (pez means fish in Spanish) can be found adorning urban spaces as far afield as London, Miami and Bogotá. These instantly recognizable grinning characters were created by Pez as a means of transmitting positive vibes to all those who see his work, and the artist often scribes ‘Happy Style’ beside his pieces as a nod to the unique moniker that he gave to his approach. Through his ‘Happy Style’ Pez is (unlike other more serious graffiti artists) simply trying to portray his own love of painting and creativity, rather than any pervasive political or societal critique. And it is the fun-loving, carefree aspect of his work that has led him to earning global acclaim and, in 2010, a feature in the Oscar-nominated Banksy film, Exit Through The Gift Shop.
El Xupet Negre, which means ‘The Black Pacifier’ in Catalan, is another of Barcelona’s most famous street artists. He came up with his distinctive logo in 1989, and it has been found drawn, painted and pasted all over the city, attracting widespread interest and curiosity since he delved into the world of street art in 1991. Xupet Negre’s fame increased throughout the 1990s and, like many of his contemporaries, he soon progressed from a world of illicit tagging and late-night creative escapades to the production of commissioned pieces and ‘live’ painting performances at galleries and festivals worldwide. Although Xupet Negre has been less active since the mid-2000s, he remains a hugely influential figure in Barcelona’s rise to becoming one of the world’s best-known street art hot spots.
Chanoir, as a non-Barcelona native, represents the draw that the city has on the international creative community. Born in Bogotá, raised and educated in Paris, and now a resident of Barcelona, Chanoir is able to channel the influence of three of the world’s most noteworthy centers of street art into his striking work. Much like Pez and Xupet Negre, Chanoir’s pieces are what he describes as ‘apolitical’ – his trademark feline character ‘Cha’ is openly flaunted as a figure of fun and amusement, rather than as a tool to promote any higher goals. The Barcelona street art collective of which he is a member, the 1980 Crew, all draw their inspiration from the cartoons they grew up watching during the 1980s, and their experimental murals are designed to be both accessible and enjoyable as pieces of art. Chanoir’s work has recently been used commercially by the likes of Samsung and Disney, and he has held exhibitions in Los Angeles, Costa Rica, Beijing and Rome.
A Pez collaborator and an artist quickly growing in stature, Kenor is a Barcelona street artist with a very distinctive style. His bright, angular geometric patterns in striking colors stop the passersby, and they have drawn commissions from Scandinavia, North America, Belgium and beyond. In October 2015, Kenor created a glorious 16-story-high (51m) mural on the side of a building in Kiev. This work was allegedly designed to act as a rejection of the ubiquitous Soviet-style grey concrete constructions in the region, amid the ongoing political turmoil and civil unrest. Kenor attributes the style of his work to the influence of his beloved techno music and, much like many of his fellow street artists, he also exhibits studio work and participates in live performances and events internationally.
Mina Hamada is another Barcelona-based graffiti artist with international routes. She was born in Louisiana, USA, and grew up in Tokyo before moving to Barcelona in 2009, where she plays an instrumental part in the city’s burgeoning arts scene. Her work is bright and colorful, with abstract shapes and patterns swirling hypnotically across formerly dilapidated features of everyday cityscapes. In Barcelona, Mina met the Argentinian street artist Zosen, whose neon shades and cartoon-like figures combined perfectly with her own unique take on street art. Together, as Zosen y Mina, the Barcelona-based, Argentinian-Japanese partnership has been producing murals, prints, illustrations and canvasses across the globe – most recently in Peru and Argentina during a 2015 joint tour of South America.
Btoy is a Barcelona-born graffiti artist whose detailed stencil work has earned her international acclaim. She began her adult life by studying law for four years, before pursuing her passion for photography. This keen eye for photography has transcended into her street artistry. Btoy’s stunningly detailed stencils – often depicting female singers, activists and actresses – gain texture and depth from the decrepit surfaces on which she deliberately chooses to work. Having started her career with humble artistic experimentation on the streets of Raval in 2002, Btoy has now exhibited her work in installations and galleries in Morocco, Bosnia, Greece and Mexico. She is also a keen philanthropist, who offers her skills to children in the form of international educational projects and charitable work.
H101 is another internationally known graffiti artist who calls Barcelona his home. Starting out with political pieces in 2002, he has dedicated his life to a less controversial form of art for the last ten years and, despite actually hailing from Madrid, H101’s work can be found all over his adopted city. His pieces are instantly recognizable as they blend tribal, psychedelic forms with dramatic abstract shapes. He uses his flair and creativity to decorate shopfronts, shutters and other inanimate objects which would otherwise serve little purpose as drab, lifeless spaces. H101’s aim is to reinvent the abandoned, and nowhere is this more evident than in his recent collaboration with Kenor, where the two Barcelona-based artists adorned derelict Cold War satellites in Germany with striking, multi-colored murals. Commercial recognition came for H101 in the summer of 2015, when he was the central figure of an advert by the French clothing brand Kenzo, and he has also exhibited his work across Europe.
Aryz is quickly rising in prominence among street artists not only in Barcelona, but across the world. His huge murals decorate buildings from Granollers to San Francisco and from Puerto Rico to Ukraine. His distinctive style – dramatic, intricately designed human and animalistic forms – sets him apart from other artists, such as H101, whose works focus more on geometric shapes, for example. Using a combination of spray painting and brushwork, Aryz combines the stunningly realistic with more abstract, cartoon-like details to create emotionally charged works that are arresting to even the least interested of passers-by. Aside from these industrial scale masterpieces, Aryz also experiments with mixed media, including videos, and a variety of painting styles in his studio work, which has been exhibited in galleries as far afield as Los Angeles, California.
Debens is a Barcelona based street artist who first started to create work at the age of 14. In his early years, he often went against the grain in terms of the typical Barcelona graffiti and street art scene, producing pieces which combined geometric techniques with collages and parts of street furniture. He often incorporates the surroundings of his works into the completed pieces, modifying billboards, for example, to dramatic effect. Having studied Fine Art at the University of Barcelona, Debens is experimental with the ways in which he produces his work, often utilising aggressive, bold designs with dramatic, clashing colours. He has exhibited his art, in a variety of forms, across Spain and Europe, and he is insistent upon the relationship that his graffiti has with his studio work – each influencing the ideas, forms and concepts of the other.
Originally hailing from Badalona, a suburb of Barcelona, Sixeart has gone on to become one of the city’s most renowned street artists. Sergio Hidlago’s vibrant, abstract pieces add life and colour to cityscapes across mainland Europe and the Americas. He started to paint graffiti in his home city from the 1980s and, by 2008, he was exhibiting his work in the Tate Modern in London, drawing attention from the mainstream media in the process. His paintings and sculptures have won him admirers from across the globe and have been known to fetch five figure sums when sold, while his street art – cute and childlike but occasionally with a sinister edge – has earned him near celebrity status within artistic circles. Despite this, he still resides on the outskirts of Barcelona and is known to paint graffiti as often as possible.