Graffiti & Muralism in the heart of Vitoria-Gasteiz, medieval city of the Spanish Basque Country29 November 2021
When I set out to hunt for street art, or should I say muralism, in the small medieval city of Vitoria-Gasteiz, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew that this city, which is the capital of the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country, had launched a vast public art project in 2007. Its mission was to strengthen social cohesion by uniting its inhabitants through a common and participatory project!
I had not understood before my arrival that in fact a great number of inhabitants had taken in hand brushes and paint bombs to embellish their city! Here we forget the great names of Street Art, but we don’t forget the excessiveness and gigantism of the frescoes! Orchestrated by Christine & Veronica Weirckmeister via the IMVG association, this Itinerary, which is similar to muralism, was a real research project. The frescoes were created in consultation with the population. The result is a monumental and highly coloured fresco.
As you approach the city, it is very difficult to imagine that you are approaching a medieval city. Huge blocks of flats, in the style of those planted in the 1970s, spread out over a large number of streets in the Zaramaga district. And here I start to see some beautiful blazes and graffiti! So, before starting this discovery of the muralism of Vitoria-Gasteiz, I get out of the car because the spectacle is worth seeing up close!
Graffiti festival in the Zaramaga district of Vitoria-Gasteiz
The purists who believe that “Street Art must be illegal or not” will be delighted. Here, the base of the buildings are all covered with exceptional works! Honestly, I didn’t know where to turn! A festival of colours, styles and worlds! My eyes were wide open, my brain in turmoil. To find such a spot of Street Art with such a big concentration of works when you least expect it is a bit like discovering Ali-baba’s cave… So I’ll stop blabbering and share with you this “treasure” 😉
In this festival of graffiti, something jumped out at me and took me back to my Mexican trip where the shop fronts represent their activities or the people who run the businesses. In South America the works are very naive and often done directly by the merchants and their friends. Here in Vitoria-Gasteiz, I had the same feeling. I don’t know if the migrant population of the neighbourhood comes from South America, but it is very likely that there has been a small influence from this Hispanic region on the other continent.
After walking around the neighbourhood and doing 360 degrees around each building, I manage to spot some signatures and decipher a few Blazes that come up throughout the works. Their names are Kapone, Bendito Rage, Santi Frukino, l.Sprit, Sebas Velasco, Musa, Bonim, Omak and Besdo Garcia, and they hold the upper hand in this Zaramaga neighbourhood! Every wall has at least one of their signatures! 4 of them are part of the Take This Crew. If you look carefully at the graffiti you will often see the annotation #takethis! As I had a crush on Kapone‘s work, I will stay in this area for a while before showing you the gigantic murals of Vitoria-Gasteiz.
Kapone, the creative graffiti artist with a thousand characters!
Characters are an integral part of Street Art culture, and some artists make them their only signature and even build their entire career with a single character!
With Kapone, it’s different, this graffiti artist from Valladolid who lives in Vitoria-Gasteiz shows an overflowing creativity! Honestly, how can you not smile when looking at one of his characters who often criticizes a feature of our society with humor. I let you judge by yourself 😉
Plus je découvre les « characters » de Kapone, plus je comprends qu’il a un très très bon niveau technique ; preuve en est cette œuvre magique, sous forme de carte à jouer, réalisée en 2010. Très sincèrement je ne comprends pas pourquoi cet artiste n’est pas plus connu ! Avec une telle dose de créativité il devrait avoir plus de fans que l’artiste espagnol Pez qui duplique son drôle de poisson depuis des années. À croire que les rues de Barcelone portent plus vers la célébrité que celles de Vitoria-Gasteiz, une petite ville de la taille de Montpellier en France. Si comme moi le travail de Kapone vous plait ; faites exploser son compteur Instagram ! Il le mérite 😉
Muralism in Vitoria-Gasteiz means gigantism!
As soon as I found the first works, my legs quickly realised that I would have to climb a lot of stairs to discover them all! The frescoes in Vitoria-Gasteiz are often located on gable walls that open onto endless staircases. The historic centre of Vitoria-Gasteiz is shaped like an almond and the streets are circular around its core. What is less obvious on a map is that the core of the almond is located on top of a hill! But after a few hundred steps, I found the trick of the century: take the escalators! Yes, so much modernism in a medieval city seems unbelievable! The strength of this historic city is also that it is accessible to the elderly and those with reduced mobility! Spain is ahead of France, let’s face it!
When I tell you that we are on the verge of gigantism, I am not joking! In terms of muralism, Vitoria-Gasteiz has nothing to envy to the muralism of the Diego Rivera era in Mexico! I don’t think any of the works in the city are less than 2.200 square feet! Some are painted with brushes, others with spray cans and there are also mosaics! A patchwork of techniques and colours is offered to our eyes!
The frescoes in this city are amazing, humanistic and multi-generational, depicting all age groups of the population. And they do not hesitate to point out the inequalities between men and women as in the mural below. They are a ray of hope for parity and for the future. There is a real sense of the avant-garde in this city!
The muralism of Vitoria-Gasteiz is oriented towards a tolerant and inclusive future. The children who are the future of the city are of diverse origins and a fresco was even created to thank a public school in the city! There is a real social will that emerges from these frescoes and a strong desire to “live together”.
To be honest, it is quite amazing, even anachronistic, to see such great achievements in a medieval city… It is even more amazing to know that hundreds of inhabitants got together and created these monumental works. The city is certainly turned towards the future but it does not forget its medieval past and also pays tribute to the migrants who accompanied its construction.
After much procrastination in the streets of Vitoria-Gasteiz, I noticed in a dead end, on top of a roof, on the windows of a shopkeeper, other works that punctuated this discovery. Painting is everywhere in the city, in the heart of the medieval city, we find some graffiti by Kapone and his acolytes, but also works claiming independence or other more figurative works in a small courtyard wedged between two small buildings. I have tried to make a small selection for you so that you understand visually that if you venture onto the slopes of this medieval city, you will have to keep your eyes open!
What about the muralism of Vitoria-Gasteiz?
It is very difficult to tell you what I felt in this city! Behind these huge frescoes there is a great human adventure and even if the big names of Street Art are not present in the city, we quickly forget it! We feel a total discrepancy between the medieval side of the city and these modern frescoes, not to mention the escalators that give a surreal touch to the adventure! And I’m not talking about the suburbs which seem to me all coloured like Zaramaga. Paint is everywhere and seems to be an integral part of the city’s identity! Sincerely, it was a very nice discovery for me. If you feel like going there, you should know that the online map of the giant frescos is interactive and works very well. That this medieval city, very quiet during the week, receives all the inhabitants of Bilbao who come to try the very good gastronomic restaurants at the weekend. Not to mention the very pretty “Plaza de España” where there is always a place in the sun to nibble on some tapas!
After discovering Bayonne in the French Basque Country and its magnificent works, and then Dax in the Landes, I thought that Vitoria-Gasteiz would be my last discovery in this great South West. But in fact I was given some tips so we will meet again for another discovery in this same region in the coming months!
I’m off to new Street Art adventures!
Take Care & See you soon