Global Graffiti Tour Series: Iceland’s Tags, Throw Ups & Full-Blown Murals

View Gallery 30 Photos
190486
190487
190491
190492
190493
190494
190495
190496
190497
190498
190499
190500
190501
190502
190503
190504
190505
190506
190507
190508
190509
190510
190511
190512
190513
190514
190515
190516
190517
190518

Welcome to Hillary’s Global Graffiti Tour!

This is a multi-series in which I will take you around the world, showing you personal pictures of some of the amazing street art that can be found on today’s urban walls. With the city as a canvas, artists have made gardens of color out of the industrial and life among the inert. There is a huge variety of things an artist can create; distinctions and opinions vary, depending on whom you ask. Some say it is all vandalism. Some say it is art, pure and simple.

Whatever your opinion may be, it is undeniable that painted walls are a fixture of modern urban living. In my opinion, graffiti, from tags to murals, is part of the living heartbeat of a city. It is just one of the ways that people are able to communicate about culture, community, and politics. My intention is to show you more than just a series of pretty pictures, but have the articles function like microphones: amplifying voices to a wider audience.

SEE ALSO: Headed To Iceland? Here Is How You Become A Geological Genius!

The first stop on my tour is Iceland. I was lucky enough to spend about ten days there this past summer. Known in part for dark winters where the sun never rises, I expected to find beautiful landscapes but drab urban spaces. My assumptions were totally incorrect. Reykjavik is vibrant; it burst with life and color. While I found amazing artwork all over Iceland, the work I saw in the capital city was particularly impressive. Reykjavik had it all, from tags to throw-ups to full-blown murals. I couldn’t help but wonder what circumstances could lead to such a vast profusion of art.

Iceland’s relationship with street art is very interesting. Technically, there is a zero tolerance policy. I find this odd considering the prolific nature of Reykjavik’s street artists. According to my research, there seems to be a sort of unspoken understanding that police will only pursue artists if the property owner complains. Considering the vast number of professional-grade work I saw, I get the feeling that Reykjavik artists and property owners often reach an understanding when it comes to public art. It seems like there are more people commissioning pieces than reporting vandalism.

It is important to make a distinction about the blanket term of “street art” that I have been using so far. Most people draw a line between graffiti and murals. Graffiti is the genesis, old as time yet popularized in the 1970s and 1980s in New York City – particularly in the Bronx. It was during this time that graffiti artists, calling themselves “writers,” began tagging subway trains. Called “bombing,” these early writers would spray a pseudonym, like Seen or Taki 183, on the side of the cars. The trains would act as a moving billboard, broadcasting their name to anyone else who spoke and understood the language graffiti. Writers aspired to go “all city” bombing a train on every subway line. In this way, urban kids and teenagers growing up in what was then considered an extremely corrupt, divided and nearly bankrupt city, were able to take agency and make their mark.

By the mid to late 1980s, New York City began to crack down on graffiti artists. Newly elected mayor Rudy Giuliani enacted a zero tolerance policy as part of a new “broken windows” theory of law and order. This theory states that, just as a window with a small crack is more likely to develop larger cracks and break, so too will occur with cities. By cracking down on low level offenders, namely graffiti artists, crime would be less likely to develop into more serious offenses. This crack down ended train bombing, but began a new phase in which graffiti vandals morphed into recognizable artists. Though their preferred canvas of train cars was initially taken away, art galleries eventually stepped in providing a new legal platform for the art form to thrive. It is at this point that street art was released from the streets and to the masses. A few artists, such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Banksy, gained international fame, broadcasting more cerebral, political, and abstract messages than early writers. Eventually, property owners and city governments began commissioning artwork, leading to the modern day mural.

Back in Iceland, the graffiti haven of Hjartagarðurinn (Heart Park) in Reykjavik is a perfect example of this progression of street art. The park was already gone by the time I got to Iceland, but its influence remains. Originally, it was an abandoned lot in downtown Reykjavik, full of broken glass and unsafe for children. Three local street artists, Tómas Magnússon, Tanya Pollock and Örn Tönsberg, banded together and consulted with the community to create a communal space. It had some of the most photographed street art in Iceland. Here are a few samples I have sourced from travelers lucky enough to see the park before it was taken down:

heart-park-iceland-copy

heart-park-iceland-1-copy

heart-park-iceland-2-copy

heart-park-iceland-3-copy

heart-park-iceland-4-copy

Photos: Heart Park

Besides artwork, it also had a small skate park and plans were in place to create a community garden. Despite protests from the community, Heart Park was leveled to make room for a new hotel to accommodate Iceland’s meteoric rise in tourists.

Learning from the lesson of losing Hjartagarðurinn, Reykjavik artists have since turned legal. One example of this is the partnership with Iceland Airwaves. This is one of the biggest music festivals in Iceland, but not the only one; I was there during the Reykjavik Jazz Festival). This music festival is founded and sponsored by Iceland Air and brings great musicians to the island every year. Under a new initiative called Wall Poetry, the festival partners with a street art collective called Urban Nation Berlin to commission artwork inspired by song lyrics. I was surprised to find some of my favorite murals in Reykjavik were created as part of this initiative. Here are a few of the more popular murals and the songs they were based on:

Laugavegur 66: D*FACE and Agent Fresco inspired by Laxdæla Saga
Laugavegur 66: D*FACE and Agent Fresco inspired by Laxdæla Saga

 

Hverfisgata 42: Ernest Zacharevic with Dikta, inspired by the song “We’ll meet again” by Dikta
Hverfisgata 42: Ernest Zacharevic with Dikta, inspired by the song “We’ll meet again” by Dikta

 

Skúlagata 4: Evoca 1 with Saun and Starr, inspired by the song “Gonna Make Time” by Saun and Starr
Skúlagata 4: Evoca 1 with Saun and Starr, inspired by the song “Gonna Make Time” by Saun and Starr

 

Hólmaslóð 2: Telmo Miel with Mercury Rev, inspired by the song “Moth Light” by Mercury Rev
Hólmaslóð 2: Telmo Miel with Mercury Rev, inspired by the song “Moth Light” by Mercury Rev

 

Corner of Vesturgata and Norðurstígur: DEIH XLF with Vök, inspired by the song “Waterfalll” by Vök
Corner of Vesturgata and Norðurstígur: DEIH XLF with Vök, inspired by the song “Waterfalll” by Vök

 

Laugavegur 23: Caratoes and Ylja, inspired by the song “Óður til móður” by Ylja
Laugavegur 23: Caratoes and Ylja, inspired by the song “Óður til móður” by Ylja

 

Laugavegur 35: Elle with Úlfur Úlfur, inspired by the song “Tuttugu og Eitthvað” by Úlfur Úlfur
Laugavegur 35: Elle with Úlfur Úlfur, inspired by the song “Tuttugu og Eitthvað” by Úlfur Úlfur
Photos: Wall Poetry

With access to legitimized ways to perform their art, there are several artists in Reykjavik who are beginning to gain a reputation. There are also foreign artists that have made their way to the city in order to leave their mark. Here is a short break down of some of the more well-known artists and the works that helped popularize their names:

Sara Riel – An Icelandic artist who studied in Berlin.

sara-riel-1-copy

Photo: CN Traveler

sara-riel-2-copy

Photo: CN Traveler

sara-riel-3-copy

Photo: CN Traveler

Guido van Helten – A visiting Australian artist. The first photo is a painting of the home owner’s grandfather, who built the structure, by request of the home owner.

guido-van-helten-1-copyPhoto: CN Traveler

guido-van-helten-2-copy

Photo: CN Traveler

guido-van-helten-3-copy

Photo: CN Traveler

guido-van-helten-4-copy

Photo: CN Traveler

Örn Tönsberg – Icelandic artist who also goes by the tag Selur1. He is famous for his paintings of animals and has a popular collaboration with Sara Riel next to a pre-school depicting a garden. He was also one of the original founders of Hjartagarðurinn.

sara-orn-1-copy

Photo: CN Traveler

o%cc%88rn-to%cc%88nsberg-1

Photo: Wow Air

o%cc%88rn-to%cc%88nsberg-2

Instagram/selur1

Raff – Also an Icelander, here depicting Iceland’s dependence on the sea and fishing.

raff-1-copy

Photo: Trover.com

Tómas Magnússon – Another founding member of Hjartagarðurinn who sometimes goes by the tag Tomio Newmilk.

Emerging artists and taggers are also prolific in the city. A few of the tags I made note of include Poor Ugly, Dmonz, HNP, Buss, Cmoke, Koolkids, Lofoot, and Ugly Brothers. For those of you that have been to Iceland, what tags have you seen? Did you see any work you really liked? Feel free to comment! For those of you that have not been and want some more information, there is now a book collection of Reykjavik street art! It is called Icepick: Icelandic Street Art by Thordis Claessen, available on Amazon Books.

Thanks so much for tuning in for my global graffiti tour. Next stop, Cairo!

 

Hillary Kurland

Contributor

Hillary is an adventurous traveler, who loves to skydive, explore inside pyramids and is a certified scuba diver. Her favorite travel destination is the one she's headed to next!

Jetset Times in your inbox

Sign-up for our newsletter

By signing up, you agree to our Privacy Policy and European users agree to the data transfer policy.