Graffiti artists paid to brighten up Spain
Some municipalities in Spain are hiring graffiteros to cover the urban scene with their colourful creations.PARACUELLOS / ALMERIA -- Have municipal governments given up, knuckling under to the plague of graffiti?
Graffitists used to be arrested if caught and slapped with fines, which have been jacked up drastically by the regional government of Madrid.
Yet now some municipalities are actually hiring graffiteros to cover walls with their colourful productions.
The downside, for the graffitero, is a certain degree of self-censorship and tameness in the content of what you paint on the wall.
The graffiti culture is an essentially rebellious one, and many graffiteros would refuse to prostitute their talent by painting pictures of Popeye or Mickey Mouse on kindergarten walls.
But, at the age of 18, Raul Gualix takes a more pragmatic view: "They pay me to do it, and besides I can practice without pressure, using my sprays on a wall to best advantage," he explains, while he points to some of his drawings.
Some weeks ago the town council of Paracuellos del Jarama, a small town to the east of Madrid's Barajas airport, commissioned him to decorate the walls in several local kindergartens.
He admits that he has no total freedom on what to draw as it is commission work.
"Since it's a school, they called for pictures the kids would recognise."
For his more personal drawings, Raul looks for walls in abandoned factories - "but always legal," he points out.
Underground is a key word in the graffiti culture. And when an underground art comes into contact with officialdom, it tends to become denatured, losing its rebellious and forbidden character.
But Raul remains pragmatic: "There aren't many opportunities to fill a whole space with your work, put your name on it and show people what you can do."
This opportunity comes from Sergio Krstic, a member of Paracuellos council. On a walk one morning Krstic saw a graffiti that wasn't there before: "Among all the scrawls and scribbles this one seemed to have some rhyme and reason to it, and I thought there ought to be spaces for these paintings," he says.
So he organised a contest to choose someone to decorate the walls of several kindergartens and a school. Many graffiteros were interested, but few actually showed up. "They are like bikers - closed groups who distrust everything official," explains Krstic.
Then Raul appeared. He has been painting graffiti since he was 15. First he puts his signature on the wall, then starts developing the drawing. There is some risk in the game, he admits. "Painting on a train car or a bridge, you risk getting caught, and some people do it just for that reason. That's not my case."
Meanwhile, in the southern city of Almeria, many locals and visitors are now having photos of themselves taken in front of the wall paintings that adorn numerous places in the city, in preference to traditional tourist backdrops such as the Alcazaba (castle).
This, at least, is the opinion of the head of the Public Works department, Francisco Amizian. His department has signed an agreement with an electric company to decorate the numerous transformer stations throughout the city.
"We tried it on three transformers and they not only looked more cheerful, but people respected them more - there were less posters and for-sale advertisements stuck to them, and less casual graffiti," he says.
The decoration of 25 transformers has been entrusted to Daniel Fernandez, a local arts school graduate whose work is vibrant with realism and vivid colour.
"To take one of these hulks covered with mouldering posters and scrawls, and turn it into something that decorates the urban environment is a challenge. I really enjoy it. It's a way of taking art to the street, for people who don't go to museums and exhibitions."
Daniel always obtains permission for his works. "I can't stand working under pressure," he explains.
His largest work occupies 320 square metres of wall on the back of a supermarket, for which he used 600 spray cans. But his average job is more like 20 square metres, the surface area of the transformers - in which uses about 35 cans, and charges EUR 1,200.
text: El Pais / Javier Del Moral / M J Lopez / Expatica 2008
photo credits: Teleyinex, Son of Groucho and J>Ro