Old but gold: Street art in Barcelona

Article and photos by Kimberly van Dijk

Barcelona is known for its artistic delights. If you think of Barcelona, you think immediately about Gaudí and his architecture, Joan Miró and his sculptures and Picasso and his renowned paintings. But there is so much more to be seen. In the little hidden streets of El Born and El Gothic – the two oldest neighbourhoods of Barcelona – a world of street art opens up. Despite the fact that these neighbourhoods are located next to each other and have arisen around the same time, they are very different. The story, appearance and artwork are almost opposite.

Mike showing the most impressive street art in downtown Barcelona. Photo: Kimberly van Dijk

The Barcelona Street Style Tour, run by Mike (41) and Hakeem (36), takes its guests in and out of the city’s streets and alleys in various districts of this grand city. “We offer bike and walking tours were guests will be informed about the emergence of street art movement in Barcelona. You can enjoy a truly authentic part of Barcelona, free of charge. We set up this donation-based tour to show another less exposed side of Barcelona to visitors. And by offering this tour every day, twice a day, we also find new works every day. We are sometimes as surprised as our guests, what makes it a lot of fun”, says Hakeem.

Back in time
After the dictator of Spain, Francisco Franco, died in 1975, Juan Carlos I became king of Spain and began to restore democracy. Due to these changes, Spain became a free country again and many artists came to Barcelona and began to colour the walls of the city. Between 1999 and 2005 Barcelona was seen as the city of street art. This continued on for a long time until in 2005 the anti-graffiti law was drafted. After a few years, a number of public places were opened where street art is permitted. Today, artists still come to Barcelona to create or view works of art.

El Gothic: Barcelona Street Style
We start the walking tour in El Gothic, hometown of the Barcelona Street Style. “This style stands for vibrant bright colours that really stand out”, says Mike. And this is immediately visible when entering this old neighbourhood. The streets are quite wide, giving it an open, accessible and inviting appearance. And you are immediately surrounded by the most colourful works. But one thing stands out: there are virtually no art works on the walls. “For both El Gothic and El Born, if a work appears on a wall, it is repainted in less than 30 minutes. So the artists had to think of something else. That is how they spray on shop shutters, which is also visible. Then it becomes the shop owner’s responsibility to remove this. But as you can see, almost no owner does this because it costs a lot of work and money. As a result, so many works can be seen in these neighbourhoods”, says Mike.

Before, El Gothic was a poor neighbourhood, with a lot of unemployment, no future and a lot of prostitution and criminality. Street art has played a major role in improving it. “The street art community includes people who do not want to worry too much about political problems. They prefer to denounce social problems such as decorating the houses of the less fortunate”, according to Mike.

El Born: a more critical look
After finishing the tour in the first neighbourhood, El Gothic, you will enter El Born which has a total different vibe. The streets and alleys are very narrow and the buildings are higher. The pieces on the wall are much less colourful and much more based on critical views on, for example, multinationals. In contrast to the positive vibe of El Gothic, El Born is pretty grey. “The artists that are active in this neighbourhood, are having a more critical look at society. They are using their works to express their aversion instead of making the city more colourful. The whole purpose of the works is different”, says Mike.

Both neighbourhoods have their own artists, genres and styles of work. But both are definitely recommended to visit and total opposites, which clearly reflects the main message of street art: no rules, do what you want and brighting up someone else’s life. Whether this is with colourful murals or critical texts and images.

El Gothic – colourful, playful and bubbly

Despite the poverty past of the inner city Barcelona district El Gothic, where many homeless roam the streets, the street art community ensures that the neighbourhood gets a second chance. Colourful and stimulating art on the walls gives this neighbourhood an open and colourful look.

Self-portrait of an artist who expresses his frustrations
You need us more than we need you – referring to the extinction of the bees like an environmental protest
Graffity sucks like deepthroat – placed to express frustrations against the police who arrest graffiti artists.
Posters for the voting hanging down like street art, surrounded by other works
Frustrations against a hotel that they want to build that would tear apart the neighbourhood
Refugees are brought by aircraft
McDonalds versus KFC
Apple versus Microsoft
Facebook versus Instagram
The world was taken over by multinationals
The place that Facebook occupies in someone’s life

El Born – critical, gray and narrow

The street art in El Born is not as colourful as you would think. In this district, you see a lot of criticism on society and multinationals. Here too, more attention is paid to political works than in other districts where street art is present.

Homeless man brings his belongings to his temporary residence
Artists have coloured the walls behind the home of a homeless person with graffiti
Viajando al mañana – keep your head up, tomorrow will be better
Hasta el infinito y allá – to infinity and beyond. Next to it, there is a poster that was hung by two men who are in jail now by hanging it up. This is because it is not tolerated to publicly express your choice
Amor ames de nada real ante todo – street of the last kiss. In this street prisoners got their last kiss from loved ones before they were killed during the civil war
BL2A blows a kiss to every passenger
Kids are holding the future
Forgetting and forgiving
A poster regarding to the referendum teared apart
Caricature according to the referendum
Posters to raise awareness for refugees and the poorer