Getting my Graffiti on in Buenos Aires

On our first afternoon in Buenos Aires Karen and me took a guided street art tour. It was really interesting and I actually learnt quite a lot too. The guide is a street artist himself and knows a lot of the people whose work we saw too.
This is mainly a photo commentary post, I separated it out from the rest of Buenos Aires otherwise it would have taken over the entire post 🙂
So what is actually classed as street art, rather than graffiti or just plain vandalism?
Graffiti is expressly word, written words, although highly stylised, whereas street art is pictorial. Graffiti is also commonly associated with street culture, hip hop and the skate scene. Many graffiti artists are self-taught and it’s basically a form of vandalism. This has become associated with gangs etc. in some places also. Street art is usually more planned, people identify a space and plan a piece of work, which is then completed or installed. Street artists are also more likely, although don’t always, have some training including having been to art school.
In Argentina graffiti and street art are both illegal, the same as most countries. The difference is that this is not enforced in any kind of way by the authorities. The police do not stop people from painting walls and this has both pros and cons. There is a lot of empty wall space in Buenos Aires and therefore a lot of bad graffiti sticks around longer than in other places as it doesn’t get painted over quickly, if at all. However, this also preserves better pieces for longer. Also this allows people longer to complete woke and very large, complex and beautiful pieces of street art can be completed. There have also been correlations between street art being completed on buildings in poorer or bad areas and them then improving.
Part of the culture of street art is its ever changing nature. People overprint poorer quality pieces, or in competition. Also works tend to degrade over time due to the quality of paint. Whilst some spray paints used have guarantees of up to ten years this may not apply to outdoor use. Also not all artists use spray cans, as you will see below.
The first piece that we saw was commissioned by the council. A famous architect passed away in 2013, unfortunately I cannot remember his name though. The work was commissioned in memory of this architect by Martin Ron, a famous street artists from Buenos Aires.
It didn’t turn out quite how the council had planned however. The council didn’t fully pay Martin Ron and therefore they gave up their right to have a say in the design (there is an informal code associated with this explained below). Therefore he painted what he wanted.
The resulting piece is about the individual’s reaction to hearing music and covers three walls of the ends of apartment buildings.
Different aspects of music, sound and the senses are shown.
The sculpted boy listens using an ear trumpet, the cord attached connects to an ear bud in the ear of the man’s head on the other wall.
The parrots represent censorship and are placed in the area of his penis, as a local loach complained about having it shown on the wall. They are also on the ear trumpet to represent censorship of certain music and language.
The man is listening to music and has another censorship parrot on his tongue, which again represents censorship dur to complaints from two local people.
At one end of the skateboard is a DJ.
In the bottom corner is a small child on a skateboard. A local child sat and watched Martin Ron paint every day for the two weeks it took to complete the piece. He would ask lots of questions and Martin Ron would ask him what he imagined and what should go into the piece. At the end he painted the child on the wall.
Close up of skateboard wheel, this is almost as tall as I am, to give you an idea of scale.
Not entirely sure how the wasp and hand fit in with music…. But there you go… You can also see the only concession to the original commission, a portrait of the architect sat on the end of the skateboard.
Close up of the architect.
Next we walked over got the neighbouring block, where there is a piece by one of the world’s most famous street artists of the moment, Blu. Blu has been around as long as the better known Banksy, but is less widely known as he doesn’t sell any of his work. He is originally from Bologna in Italy and he uses only household paints. He uses poles to reach his paintbrush to higher areas, unlike some artists who use scaffolding or cherry pickers.
The council has actually since repaired the rest of the wall surrounding. The piece.
On of the characteristics of Blu’s work is that he incorporates features of the wall into his pieces, such as use of the oval shaped window as the eye.
Just walking around you can see painting on many local houses. As mentioned above there is an informal system with street art. When an artist’s identifies a wall they would like to paint they approach the owner to ask for permission, which is respected if denied. If the owner agrees then the street artists will agree if the owner will pay a fee or not. If the owner does not pay a fee then the artist has free reign to paint whatever they like. This is usually the case as the owners do not have much money. However some owners may effectively tip the artist at the end. If the owners lay a fee then they have a say in the design of the work that is painted.
The next piece that we saw was completed on the wall of a local house. It is a caricature of four friends, all artists.
This is an example of the artist painting whatever he liked.
As mentioned at the top graffiti is separate from street art. Within graffiti there are different types.
The first type is tagging, this consists of just spraying a word, name or symbol. Tagging is how most people start out. Tagging is also used to test whether a wall is fair game for painting or not.
People will tag a wall, if the owner then washes the wall this is a sign that the wall is off limits and this is respected and people will not paint there. If the tag remains then people will come in and use the wall for further graffiti and potentially street art pieces. Fine unless you happen to be in vacation!
An example of tagging.
The next form of graffiti is called a throw-up. This is because it has just been thrown-up into the wall without thought or planning, not because it looks like it’s been vomited up!
An example of a throw-up surrounded by tagging.
An example of both tagging and throw-up work above a piece of street art. This pieced was completed by a local artist in conjunction with several other people.
Whilst there we met another local street artists, who then put up a small stencilled piece on the neighbouring wall.
Using a guard to control the spray, first yellow and red.
Another stencil was used for the outlining details.
The completed piece 🙂
Next we headed through a quiet tree lined, residential area. Two brothers paint in this area and call themselves Primo. Their work is mainly representations of black people, who are largely underrepresented in Argentina due to their minority status.
The first piece that we saw was on the end wall of a music studio and was commissioned by the studio to replace a lower quality piece that was underneath before.
As the piece overprints an underlying work they used black latex paint as a base to fully cover the other work first.
This was one of my favourites as I love the colours.
Just around the corner we saw another Primo piece. The detail is amazing. Primo mainly use spray cans, with small amounts of brush work. I think this amazing the quality of the work. I’ve never used spray paints before and think it’s very skilled to produce an image like this.
I also really like how this piece incorporates and continues the natural, existing feature of the plant growing up the wall by the chin.
A few street along is a wall covered in several pieces that were completed as part of a street art festival. Martin Ron, Primo and a Brisbane artist, who unfortunately I cannot remember the name of, all painted the wall together side by side.
The first piece, by Martin Ron as completed using oil paints.
The next piece, one of my favourites, is the one done by the artist from Brisbane. He uses latex based paints which give a ‘drippy’ effect that I particularly like. I think it gives the work more of a painted look to it.
The fink a piece on the wall doesn’t tie into the others and was done by Primo.
Back by the train lines we saw a house covered in graffiti pieces rather than street art. It’s less visually appealing, but some of it is still pretty cool. I like the funky monkey.
On the same wall I also saw this 3D piece. Constructed as a concertina you can see a cow when viewed from one side….
And a burger when viewed from the other side 🙂
From there we walked to a small park which was the main location of the street art festival. Two large apartment blocks side onto the park and the walls have been covered with two large pieces of work.
The first on the right hand building, was my absolute favourite piece of the day. It was painted by a local street artist who uses household paint but also incorporates local materials into the paint to give it texture. Here he used bitumen to alter the paint, I really like the effect. He also uses paint brushes attached to poles in most of his work; however, here he was provided with a cherry picker.
The piece shows two bull-men bar knuckle boxing and is supposed to represent the superclassico. The superclassico is the name given to the football matches played between the two local teams, Boca Juniors and River Plata, which were originally a single team. The team members disagreed increasingly until they decided to split and they had a big match to decide who would keep the team colours. River Plata won and kept their red and white colours. Boca Juniors were stuck for colour choice, as La Boca is a neighbourhood based around the port the team decided to choose the colours of the next ship that arrived in the port. The first ship they saw came from Sweden and therefore they now have yellow and blue as their colours.
The graffiti underneath was dome by a collective group called B12, which consists of lots of people and actually upset a few people. This piece was completed at night, which is only usually done in Buenos Aires if their doing something naughty, given how relaxed the authorities are. They actually painted over work some by a group of younger artists who usually only paint trains.
The wall on the left was painted by the organiser of the festival, who hardly gave himself the biggest, most prominent wall space! He also painted himself, stylised as a gaucho, paint can in hand. It seems pretty egotistical really, but if you can then why not I guess….
The work along the base was done by the kids whose work was covered by B12 over to the right side in retaliation.
At the other side of the park is a large wall covered in graffiti by international street artists POP, GRO and Euro Trash.
The final length of the tour was along a long narrow street which asks onto a school. The wall so covered in street art and graffiti. Some of the work has been there for up to five years and therefore can be classed as a ‘burner’, including the tree and skull child below, which have only been partially covered over.
Just a bit further along was this flying man, I loved this one.
The last wall that we saw had the below piece in one corner. Graffiti and street art only took off in Argentina after the fall of the dictatorship, so fairly late compared to some countries. The original style was to use highly stylised curled lettering andradite figures, like below. But western influences then changed the development of the style. In some ways this is good as it shows that the country was Eco Ming better connected internationally, but in other ways it is a shame as it prevented a stronger local style becoming common and wider spread, as is the case with some other countries.
There was this little weenie guy… Which Karen particularly loved :-).
The last price of the tour was done by our tour guide. It is a stencilled tribute to his cousin, who was killed in a plane crash last year. The stencil cutting took over a hundred hours alone.
The tour finished in a local cafe, with a cup of Earl Grey tea and a chocolate brownie, whilst looking at this great piece that was commissioned to cover their main wall.
I would highly recommend this tour to anyone who goes to Buenos Aires, it was really nice and far ‘ore educational than I had ever expected hence this long post! I hope you enjoyed the pictures.

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