Although Barcelona is a great city it’s an anomaly for street art and graffiti. Prior to 2005 local, national and international artists produced high quality street art throughout the city, recognized all over the World. Around 2004 however, Barcelona city began a ‘whitewash’ campaign, wiping amazing street art from the city’s skin. When I last went to Barcelona in 2011 I was amazed at how few places there were with graffiti near the city centre. What happened to all the artists? Did they just put down their spraycans and rollers? Of course not!
Even though the centre of the city remains largely unpainted, the outskirts of Barcelona are superbly decorated, including towns like Viladecans, Mataro and Granollers. That is the environment where GR170 (Grito) paints. A member of Mixed Media crew (along with Aryz, Rostro, Poseydon, Kikx, RGTD), GR170 has been painting since 2001 and excels at painting often child-like characters on a massive scale. We ask Grito about his art and his experiences before and after Barcelona’s whitewash campaign.
Check out the Grito slideshow below…
I started painting on walls after graffiti boomed in Barcelona around 2000. I don’t live in central Barcelona so when I traveled into the city centre I would look out of the train window at the new graffiti along the way. When my classes were boring I would walk around central Barcelona and take in the painted walls. Barcelona was amazing then: people were making amazing art.
I started hanging out with some friends who were painting and learned slowly. Some of those friends are now in Mixed Media, which formed around 2006/07. When I started painting I wasn’t interested in classic graffiti, I was more interested in drawings. I started drawing simple icons around the city like hands and fish. I did some tags of a face with an open mouth. I liked the idea and that gave me my name Grito (Spanish for ‘shout’ or ‘cry out’); the open mouthed icon evolved into where I am today.
The Zero Tolerance Policy in Barcelona
Since the Zero Tolerance Policy came into force there are no more murals in central Barcelona. That didn’t mean the graffiti scene died! Writers adapted; I started to paint faster. Bombing in the city centre grew. As for large-scale productions, writers have to go to the outskirts of the city. I live 30km from central Barcelona. Here among the open fields and forests there are plenty of quiet spots to paint without fear of being fined. The financial crisis supported us! Every day we find more abandoned factories. I’m most interested in special sites with high walls that are difficult to get to.
Barcelona is not that big so people easily get to know other people who paint. The scene is small and people bad-mouth each other. I think today the techniques and styles are not learned in the street. I think the internet had done a lot to popularise graffiti and people are oversaturated with information.
Grito and Mixed Media Today
I don’t know why I paint what I paint; I just do it because I enjoy it. Sometimes I paint things for a reason – something happened and I want to paint about. But mostly, I enjoy painting simple characters. I like things to be simple and fun; I like it when a smiling face conveys a more of a temper than a hundred skulls and snakes!
Most of your huge murals are painted illegally. What risks do you take with respect to the law?
When I want to paint a large wall I look for a quiet place. Abandoned factories, bridges, and highway or railroad tracks – places where you sense that nobody will go because nobody cares. It is illegal but normally I can paint there. Typically if the police catch you they don’t give you big fines; they just kick you out of the site. You just have to come back and finish the next day!
Sometimes I paint walls where I know the police will come before long. I just have to paint faster than the time it takes for them to get here! From time to time it’s OK if people see you painting amongst the rats! I love to paint; there will never be a day I get bored of it.
I like sculpture too but it takes a long time to make a piece. Canvases are fine but I prefer to work in the streets. I find it harder to work in the closed studio. I like to make t-shirts and prints and when there are interesting projects I get involved quickly. In the end it comes down to drawing things: I have fun doing it, no matter where.
Today I do freelance design work and different graphics projects. I try to work the minimum possible so I can live life to the fullest! I pay my bills quickly and get time to paint what I like. Painting is not expensive for us (i.e. Mixed Media) because our murals are always made with recycled paint. We are 100% independent – Mixed Media Rotten Paint (crew)!
Mixed Media isn’t a crew created to make murals together. We go out and paint together but usually everyone does their own thing. Of course, it’s always better to paint with friends! I like to paint with active people, it gives me more energy. After painting the sandwich always tastes better! One of the best things about graffiti is that you meet a lot of people and it opens a lot of doors. I’m happy with the people I’ve met over the years.
In 2012 I have been working hard on crap projects to help me pay the rent and bills. Now I can start concentrating on doing the things I like. I have a few ideas and I’m going to start painting some walls I found under a freeway. When you’re not a virtuoso artist you gradually evolve each time you paint on a wall, you just have to be willing!
I think there are a lot of people doing amazing things, in fact there has probably always been. Today the internet makes it easier to realize that. I’m interested in everything that is technically good and innovative, as long as it hasn’t been sensationalized.