Madrid, as of late: Fotopost

25 01 2012

Plaza Santa Ana photo expo in the afternoon sun.

Dada on c/ Bernardo López.

Partial inhabitant of barrio Conde Duque.

One of the city’s variety of authors.

GUEST POST – Public Art in Madrid, Part One: The Painted

24 10 2011

A guest post of mine has just gone up on the blog of, a site dedicated to helping travelers connect with each other around the globe; I designed it to go hand-in-hand with yesterday’s post on Madrid’s public art scene, only this time focusing on painted works rather than mixed media.

No one neighborhood can lay claim to expressive exclusivity, but the northern barrio of Malasaña is an excellent place to take its pulse. After oppressive dictator Franco‘s death in 1975, these labyrinthine streets breathed deep at last, giving rise to the counter-cultural shift known as la movida madrileña. The surge of radical movement in art, music, and fashion permanently established this area’s alternative identity, which is immediately observable in the plethora of kaleidoscopic murals on its walls...

Read more: Must-See: Public Art of Madrid, Spain at

Public Art in Madrid, Part Two: Mixed Media

23 10 2011

Madrid isn’t internationally renowned for its public art scene, but there’s a certain creative spontaneity wafting through its corridors that keeps me hot on the scent of evolving expression. The second half of this two-part photo series focuses on Madrid’s colorful imagination as expressed through alternative mediums, such as paste-ups, scratch art, photography, and accidental beauty. The first half can be found over at the blog of, where I did a guest post regarding some of my favorite painted discoveries throughout the city.


Paste-ups are a versatile street art strategy, allowing for off-site assembly and quick placement. Designs are previously printed, drawn, or constructed on thin sheets of paper, then affixed to the designated surface using a mixture of cornflour and water, similar in composition to walpaper paste. It’s the same stuff you see workers using to put up advertisements around town, repurposed in the name of public art. This shawled figure and her bird guard over calle Lavapiés.


This small piece’s retro-cartoon flair is complemented by the tattered out-of-use door in barrio La Latina.


Paste-ups tend to be way-up, keeping their vulnerable edges away from grabby fingers. As such, they frequently perch high and dry for lengthy periods of time.


However, sometimes even the most high and mighty take a nosedive.


Stencils are another frequent strategy to rapidly transfer art into the public sphere. For whatever reason, most stencil work I see in Madrid tends to be radically political in nature; this battleaxe wielding woman proclaims “Critical Cunt” (a word which is a million times milder in Spanish, by the way).


Someone’s indignation that “Japan kidnaps children” is foiled by Iñaki’s sharpie’d response that he kidnaps Italian girls.


These scuffed frames in southern La Latina are unique as far as I know, a striking series of modern antiquity. Each one holds a yellowing print showcasing aspects of Olde Europe.


Disregarding the rainbow “cerrajero” (locksmith) melange seemingly coating each and every metal pole in the city, stickers are a common, low-risk strategy used to quickly spread an artist’s style. The duck head is absolutely everywhere; I’m pretty sure I even spotted it during my recent foray to Berlin.


This series of four is the only instance I’ve come across of printed photographs as street expression. Based on my experience in the darkroom, I doubt they weather moisture too gallantly; not too sure that they’ll fare well through the winter.


Scratching away bits from swaths of solid color to reveal image in negative is a way to achieve striking, detailed results. The concept is the same as those multi-hued sheets of paper covered in black wax that you doodled on as a kid; in the hands of an expert, this kind of quietly stunning work is the result.


Scratch artists often choose human faces as subject, coaxing unbelievably realistic textures out of nothing at all.


Combining techniques here beckons a shy woman’s visage to peer out from surrounding chaos.


Not sure what the original approach was here, but I like it. An eye, tucked in a Lavapiés nook, that doesn’t seem to care whether it sees anything or not.


This ghostly guy is carved into a concrete façade in a Malasaña street crawling with botellón-happy revelers at night. Seems like he’s ripe for some color; I’d watch this one for sudden updates.


Some of Madrid’s advertisements traipse all over the line between the tainted world of commercialism and pure imagination. These two are hidden down an alley in that no-man’s-land of wholesale shops between La Latina and Tirso de Molina. The style totally kicks; the alley totally stinks. Madrid is due for some serious rain, and soon.


Occasionally the ads need just a little push in the right direction. This begoggled beauty is near Antón Martín.


Seen here are further stickers, plus a pair of parodic public service announcements. Madrid’s been running ads for some months now proclaiming, “Respetemos y apoyemos a nuestros profesores” (Let’s respect and support our teachers), evidently in response to an investigation that revealed that professors were regularly insulted in 74% of high schools, taking it as far as physical aggression in 13%. Yikes and yikes.

Recent educational reforms have meant budget cuts across the board, resulting in mass firings and subsequent enormous class sizes (among other things, but that’s perhaps for a seperate post). A good green-shirted portion of the city’s up in arms in a tidal wave response, including the above-pictured parody: “Despidamos y humillemos a nuestros profesores” (Let’s fire and humiliate our teachers).


Is accidental art a genre? How might it interact with found art? At what point does it become “art”? Does it have more value in being so recognized?

Good questions. Don’t know. Don’t think the sexy dog knows.

For more, take a gander at Part One of the Public Art in Madrid series, a guest post I did for, wherein I explore Madrid’s public spaces awash in the more traditional expressive medium of paint.

Berlin: In Which I Venture North

22 09 2011

Just as August approaches its close, a golden invitation wings its characteristically unexpected way into my life. Dear friend Pennie, with whom I spent many months adventuring in Bangkok over a year ago, has plans to attend a global education conference based in Berlin. Might I like to come see the city?

It was back in wintry January that the idea of Berlin as a sweet summer destination entered my pretty lil’ head; however, as they are wont to do, far-in-advance plans became beautifully sidetracked by spring surprises. The Pennie-prompting is all the push I need to book my flights.

My experience thus far with European capitals: Rome, Paris, Amsterdam, and my beloved Madrid. Berlin looks nothing like any of these. Particularly in comparison to the Spanish center, the city feels spacious, each and every path including a wide bike lane. There are intersections where bicycles dominate, and pedestrians and cars alike show enormous respect for the sanctity of the reserved space. The public transportation system here is excellent, sublime in its clockwork connections between trams, buses, and both above- and below-ground metro, but there is an enormous sense of freedom in mobility by bike, one which I most notably experience in a 3:00 AM wild ride back to an awaiting bed.

The bikes are ubiquitous, and often beautifully personalized.

Eyes open, the city is replete with treasure.

Berlin is an undeniable street art mecca; the immediate impression that every available surface has been coated in color and form is soon corrected when it appears to double 24 hours later. There are some seriously stunning pieces here, several impressive in sheer several-story size, others innovative in elaborate design and execution. There is plenty of paint, but also loads of paste-ups and chip art (wherein an image is constructed in negative, painstakingly chipping flecks away from whatever coats a surface); an informal walking tour I take informs that many pieces are done by artists who specifically pass through the city aiming to leave their signature style on its streets.

Obviously, expression isn’t limited to spray painted wall bombings; wallpapered posters everywhere proclaim a plethora of exhibitions inhabiting the most unassuming corners of city blocks. I pass through one taking up residence in what appears to be a dilapidated tenement of some variety, advertised as Die Revolution Im Dienste Der Poesie (Revolution in the Name of Poetry). The mixed-media collection revolves around the theme in its title, coupled with a load of historical context presented in a “newspaper” available at the door. Of course, being in German, this escapes me entirely, and I’m contented checking out the details of a revolutionist’s take on a still life.

Infamous five-story art squat Tacheles raises queries regarding creative legitimacy, as it represents at once the city’s libertine expression of youth and a prime piece of real estate. The place is visually resplendent in its freewheeling glory (naturally I’m informed that “it was better five years ago”) and acrid in its stairwell scent; seems the big bad government has recently shut off the water in a push to convert the space to something more commercially suited for the downtown zoning.

It’s probably evident in my tongue-in-cheek wording: I find the whole David-and-Goliath storytelling to be rather blown out of proportion. I too would like to see official support for free community art displays, but my gut tells me Tacheles continues to be successful because of its mythology.  The area doesn’t need another touristy pub there whatsoever, but the auctioning of the place would certainly turn a pretty penny – which ideally could be funneled into social programs. Berlin’s identity appears to be ever in flux, but I have no doubt that the displaced creative energy would pack its tools and pop up elsewhere.

This is only one tourist’s opinion. What’s your take?

Winter Break: Lost Photos Edition

16 02 2011

The famous white walls of Córdoba.

Lovely, and Typical.

Gambones, munched shell-and-all on the shore of el río Guadalquivir.

Contemplating eternity in the head of a fishie.

crunch crunch crunch

I love
the little bitty fishies

Partridge foie.

Late night spot of tea in Granada.

On the winding climb to La Alambra.

Also on the climb to La Alambra.

Flowers everywhere.

The way into heaven.

País Vasco/La Rioja: Brushstrokes and Spray Paint

18 12 2010

País Vasco/La Rioja Introduction here.

In this exquisite corner of the earth, the creative energy so playful within the realm of gastronomy unsurprisingly extends itself into official institutes of Capital-A Art as well.

Bilbao’s metal-petaled Guggenheim is a major architectural treat both inside and out. The many distinctive folds of the form make for fascinating chambers within, many of which house pieces specifically designed to fit the particular angles and curves of the building. Some of the rooms are intensely powerful – we walk away stunned from one photography exhibit in particular – but the overall quality of the place is a bit impish, a successfully sprightly counterpart to comparatively musty Serious Art Spaces elsewhere. It’s perhaps best modeled in Koons’ gigantic Puppy made entirely of flowering plants and standing fragrant guard at the entrance.

On Couchsurfer Muriel’s suggestion, we poke our heads into the Artium during our day in Vitoria, País Vasco’s somehow often-overlooked capital.

Inside, I am particularly called by this piece, which spans an entire wall. Sam, classical art aficionado, notes my fascination and inquires – what is it that I find successful about modernity?

I respond that it’s not modernity in itself that captures my attention, but rather presenting forms in innovative ways such that they cause me to consider what I already know in a new light. Sam’s uncomfortable with the lack of context in many contemporary works, because it often leaves the meaning unclear. For me, this is exactly what makes them so successful – when they work best, they invite the audience to develop its own relationship with the art in the moment of experience. To me, this piece summons thoughts on prayer, femininity and the female body, what it is to ask for something, dreams, the ways in which ideas are and are not connected to each other, and where thoughts go when we project them into the world, among other things. It isn’t that I come to any specific conclusions, but I cherish the creative time spent considering the prompt.

Detail from another successful piece for me; the entire work is at least four times this size. Leah comments that this is a faithful rendition of her brain.

I see open-ended commentary on architecture, and I’m reminded of the climactic scene in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and I consider a house made of sea and light.

As is likely evident by now, my personal favorite encounters with creativity are in public spaces, where it can be interwoven with the mundane and the daily (as opposed to officialized, institutionalized). Vitoria is replete with multi-story murals, rainbow paints and glittering tiles spanning the hilly streets. Many feature the multiple languages spoken in the region, English and Castellano phrases at play with Basque, all pockmarked with X’s and K’s and top-hatted A’s.

This, on the other hand. The other other hand. No, I don’t want to get my hands anywhere near that. Vitoria, why??

Both Muriel and I are seduced by Vitoria’s extremely well-designed publicity. I’m pretty sure this one’s calling for some variety of protest; isn’t it a thousand times more attractive than the red and white that papered Madrid pre-huelga?

And then there’s the straight-up graffiti, which I absolutely adore when it’s clever. This one (“Put spicy in your life“) is just off Calle Laurel in Logroño. I’m considering printing it out for display in my kitchen.

On a playground in Vitoria (“Stop complaining and act, asshole!“).

Yes, he does. In Donostia-San Sebastián.