Graffiti in Valparaiso, Chile reaches heights not seen in many other cities. Homeowners will pay several thousand dollars to have the facades of their homes painted by well-known and talented graffiti artists. The city even provides scaffolding to the artists for free.
A Brief History of Graffiti
Not all graffiti is created equal and not all street art is called graffiti. To learn more about graffiti while in Valparaiso, I twice took part in Graffiti and Street Art Tours. Between dining at the many fine restaurants, this is a great way to pass a morning or afternoon. Here is a link to their tour site:
It’s not Graffiti, it’s Pixação
Eddie, our graffiti tour guide, started out with the basics. Pixacao is jagged style lettering, generally done with black spray paint or rollers. Its beginnings can be traced to São Paulo, Brazil during the 1980’s. Writing on the sides of buildings in Sao Paulo was not new. The politicians had done it for years. Sao Paulo was being transformed into a modern metropolis at the expense of the working poor and large areas of the city were torn down to make room for modern high-rise buildings. This forced the inhabitants to relocate to the outskirts of town in less desirable areas. The resulting anger at their displacement, in conjunction with the coincidental popularity of heavy metal bands of the time, gave rise to this black jagged lettering. This lettering mimicked the unique fonts found on the covers of these albums. The style of pixacao lettering was a variation of that used by the heavy metal bands of the time like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, AC/DC and Metallica. Armed with spray paint cans and a new-found anger, the pixadores began to strike back at the city. The more beautiful the building and the more renown the architect, the more it was a desired target for the pixadores to express their anger at being booted to the periphery of the city.
Here is an example of one such style of pixacao. There are many different styles.
Pixacao is also a numbers game and about self promotion. Some pixadores will brag about having left their mark on every building in town. Or in NYC, they may try to mark every single subway train with their moniker. The black jagged writing on the second floor balcony of the photo below is pixacao. A more extreme form of pixacao is measured in height and daring. The higher and more dangerous place you can do your writing, the more respect you may get from your fellow pixadores.
The Valparaiso pixadore who wrote on the second floor balcony below likely won few, if any, accolades.
Tags vs. a Graffiti Throw-up
The tag is the simplest form of graffiti. It generally consists of the writer’s name or signature in a single color, exhibits little skill and is quick to apply. In the photo above just above the blue and aqua rounded lettering are two tags, one yellow and the other white. These two taggers must have had some respect for the writer of the blue graffiti, since they did not spray over the top of that work.
In the above photo, the rounded blue and aqua letters on the metal roll door is a throw-up or a throwie. The writer can do this same design repeatedly around the city. The throwie is characterized balloon-like rounded lettering in up to three colors.
Stencils of any famous person, like Marilyn Monroe or the Beatles, can be easily purchased on-line. The stencils come in various pieces or sections which are held up to the wall and sprayed, creating crisp lines and what looks like very artful work. However, they take only a few minutes to spray and involve little artistic skill.
Wildstyle is highly stylized and complex lettering which is hard for the untrained eye to decipher. Arrows in the letters are common, like in the first and last letter above. Can you figure out what the above word is? Hint: It is the name of an expensive electric sports car sold today.
Finally, the ‘Piece’
Graffiti referred to as a ‘piece’ is short for masterpiece and is really a fine work of art. The imagination of these talented artists boggles my mind. When taking a Photoshop course at a local college years ago I would spend six days trying to come up with an idea for the weekly assignment, allowing only one evening to create my project. How do these people think of these complex drawings?
The Spanish writing in the lower left says “Here is to those who have left.” Images of these people are pouring out in the thoughts of this person. That is not just any bug in the painting, it is a dung beetle. These beetles roll dung into a ball as food and as a brood chamber in which to lay eggs. When the larvae hatch they are surrounded by food, so the dung beetle is a symbol of creation and the cycle of life. There may also be some ‘trees of life’ depicted here as well.
When creating a masterpiece the artist will change spray can nozzle heads often to create a fine line or a broad line.
Pieces are always signed. The work above was done by two people corroborating on adjacent doors. Their names appear in the top right.
Grandma Waits and Waits
Clearly grandma has been waiting and waiting for a long time, twiddling her fingers and head in hand. The heart on the wall shows she is waiting for her love. Apparently she was not waiting for her playful grand kids walking in front of her.
Again, the artist signed the piece in the upper right.
The above piece was not sprayed on a cement wall but on a solid rock cliff. The stairs in the upper left leading to the residence give you an idea of its size. Lots of advanced shading is apparent in these figures.
More ‘Pieces,’ some Two and Three Stories Tall
When possible, I would try to include something of recognizable size in the photograph to let you know just how very large some of these pieces are.
The traditional Inca figure above is giving us some warnings about the march toward progress and the new ways, indicated by the fire in the smoke stack. This work is three stories tall and certainly required some scaffolding to complete.
Our guide Eddie told us there was a major flood in 1855 which is depicted in the piece above. This flood washed thorough a hillside cemetery, up-ending the coffins and their contents. You can see this is also three stories tall.
The artist above uses a lot of blending techniques. The colors in the face are said to represent the common colors of the sunsets in Valparaiso. On one night during our week there we did see such a sunset of blues, purples and yellows.
Notice the flames on the ends of the parrot’s wings, indicating the Phoenix rising up from the ashes. This artist always paints her figures with bright blue eyes.
Cats and Dogs get into the Act
There is just too much going on in the piece below. This guy has one wild imagination. As is my photographic style, I selected a small portion to focus on in my close-up photo below.
Notice the style of this artist and the next one below is to outline all of the characters in black lines.
To achieve the soft tones above, the spray can is held at a greater distance from the wall, as well as sprayed at an angle.
Tri-Pod, the Three Legged Dog
So What does the Rest of Valparaiso Look Like?
Our guide told us this was the very best view in Valparaiso. Likely not so much for its beauty as it is an accurate depiction of the typical residential area of steep hills and many steps. Notice the large graffiti of a cat on one of the homes.
Of course I needed to hike down to the house with the cat graffiti. Here is a close-up of the cat which can be seen in the lower left of the above scene. Notice the letters o-t-a-g, or cat in Spanish spelled backwards, gato.
This is the front door to a house we often passed by going to one of the many great lunch spots.
Too Many Steps, Too Many Hills
It was difficult to photograph this spot without tourists sitting on these steps taking selfies and blocking the words. I’m not sure, but I think selfies are here to stay…
After our first trip to the grocery store, navigating the many steps and steep hills, I did not know how we would ever be able to make a second trip without renting a burrow. Then, Oh Happy Day, we discovered the nearby funiculars. There were numerous of these in the city, three near our apartment, and cost about 15 cents to ride.
The following photo summarizes Valparaiso for me. It is sensory overload in many ways. Too much going on all around you, sights and sounds, amid plentiful fine restaurants.
Next we travel to Santiago, and more importantly, Peru.