Street Art in Porto is 100% Portuguese and it’s refreshing!17 April 2023
Street art in Porto is not the city’s main attraction. One goes there rather to stroll in its steep and narrow streets, to discover the thousands of azulejos which decorate the facades of the churches, to visit magnificent places with Art Deco architecture and of course to taste a small Porto (be careful, alcohol abuse is dangerous for your health). But here I was spending three days in Porto and couldn’t help trying to discover what the city could offer us in terms of Urban Art, especially since its policy is rather open to graffiti artists and since 2013 some monumental works had even been made on commission! With extremely capricious weather and permanent downpours, my research was limited to the city centre! My greatest surprise was to discover that in this beautiful city the artists were almost all Portuguese and that no one had given in to the temptation to have big international names in urban art… But in fact; the Portuguese have some “big names” and not the least!
The big names in Portuguese street art offer some majestic works!
We are so used to seeing the big names in urban art in every city in the world that we sometimes forget where the artists come from. And yet, in order to create their works, they often draw on their own experiences and the culture of the country where they grew up. So when I stumbled across a work by Vhils on the banks of the Douro, I was not surprised to discover this face sculpted with a jackhammer. Vhils has produced many works in his home country. We are also fortunate to have many in France and he is one of those great names who travel the world.
A few hundred metres further on, I am struck by the portrait of an old woman called Mira. This fresco was done in 2019, with a stencil, by Daniel Eime and one has the strange feeling that this woman has always been there in the popular and charming district of the Ribeira. She is the guardian of the place and part of the landscape of Porto.
In a city in complete transformation, and I don’t mince my words because the works that the Parisians complain about are only details compared to what happens in Porto… so in this city, one has the strange sensation that these faces are the guardians of the temple… That they watch over the old-fashioned charm of Porto so that it doesn’t disappear under the blows of the shovels, concrete mixers and other abominably noisy machines! The same goes for this old man who welcomes tourists at the end of the majestic Dom-Luís Bridge, designed by Theophile Seyrig, a disciple of Eiffel. A bridge that is as immense – 400 metres long – as it is dizzying – 60 metres high – and which ends with this comforting hand that inexorably fades with time.
Frederico Draw, who made this man as a representation of Portuguese hospitality, is not the best known of Portuguese artists, but the current project he is carrying out with his partner Contra, called Projetruido, is evolving and crossing borders.
I also decide to cross a frontier which is that of this huge bridge… And I must admit that before arriving in Vila Nova de Gaia where the restored wine cellars of Porto are located, I don’t have much to do… The district is not very interesting except for the magical view it offers on Porto and of course a sublime work by Bordalo II who with waste materials manages to reconstitute a sculptural fauna. Another international artist who we tend to forget is actually Portuguese!
As my stay is punctuated by heavy rain, I leave this side of the riverbank to go to the city centre of Porto and wander around the plaça de Trindad, where I know I can take shelter when the next rainfall comes. What a good idea! At the back of the metro station of the same name, large XXL works welcome me!
The first one I looked at was a work by Mr Dheo, a self-taught Portuguese artist who started studying lettering at the age of 15. He soon began to paint in the street and his passion, combined with the encounters he made while painting, pushed him to continue his path on the walls of cities around the world. Today his style could be compared to photorealism. He magnifies the details as in this work with the rim of the glasses or the realism of the beard of his character.
On the other side of this huge station; it is the very poetic work of Tamara Alves that holds my attention… My favourite in Porto… Simply because the artist wished to evoke unity, freedom and fraternity in an embrace full of softness… Her flowers symbolise our inner evolution which we must take care of together. The magnolia in bloom on this square brought an extra touch of velvet to this delicate work…
As I said in the preamble of this article, Street Art in Porto is almost 100% Portuguese and the city doesn’t erase the numerous artists who colour the walls… So I wanted to introduce you to the ones who punctuated my discovery of Porto… Graffiti artists or confirmed artists; they enchanted my wanderings in the small streets and steep staircases, and I hope you’ll enjoy discovering them too 😉
Nuno Costah : soft, wiry characters at the corner of every street!
As soon as I arrived in Porto, I had only one desire, to walk in the district of Ribeira along the Douro… I thus undertook to go down towards the river by stairs that were a little dangerous, steep and slippery like soap… My feet being my main interest at that moment! I catch my breath, look up to see how far down I am and then my eyes land on a “character” as I like them… The character drawn with a confident gesture gives me a glimpse of the signature of this artist I have already heard of.
Throughout my discovery of Porto, the artist Costah was there! Whatever the neighbourhood, there’s no point in looking for his works because they find you. A little girl, a bird here, a bird there,… a fresco in the colours of Ukraine… Hundreds of small and medium-sized works will catch your eye in this beautiful city.
It seems that Costah is considered as the king of Street Art in Porto! I can’t really verify it, but yes, this urban artist and tattooist is certainly one of those who has invested the most in the city and moreover with smiling characters and messages of hope… The king, I don’t know; but maybe the most sympathetic?
Old style graffiti touches throughout the city with Kilosgraffiti
Walking around the city, I expected to discover the stylised lettering of kilosgraffiti that lives in Porto. Instead, it was at night that I stumbled upon a rap hall of fame that made me feel like I was in Brooklyn and not Rua de Restauraçāo in Porto! There are portraits of Snoop Dog, 2PAC, Eminem, 50Cent, Ice Cube and Kanye West. For the record, Snoop Dog’s portrait was made in 2017 and Kilosgraffiti‘s fame crossed the Atlantic in a matter of seconds when the rapper and street art enthusiast reposted his portrait!
Whether in steep alleys, on the backs of churches, or on basketball courts; Kilosgraffiti‘s work can be found throughout the city. Eyes that scrutinize us or more committed works punctuate my walk. An artist who cannot be ignored in his city!
The faces of a French graffiti artist alongside the Portuguese!
When I discovered these faces in a steep street, they made me think of the work of Mister Achilles, a Greek artist I had discovered in Athens. But along the way I convinced myself that the graffiti artist must be Portuguese… Well, no! This is the work of a French graffiti artist who came to put his signature in the streets of Porto. Rebeb painted six “pop portraits” in the streets of the city and I have to tell you that it’s quite amazing because in Porto there are not many foreign artists. Next to the second portrait, you can see a work by the artist Hazul who literally painted the city!
The artist without whom Street Art in Porto would not have the same flavour: Hazul !
Honestly, this self-taught artist has really repainted the city! Forget the Azuleros, the walls are now adorned by Hazul! There is not a street that does not host one of his works. XXL walls, long geometrical frescoes, walled entrance doors… Everything is Hazul in this city!
His geometrical forms may seem merely decorative, but as we discover them, we find in his work a dreamlike dimension and even an almost religious symbolism. This artist has put his own language on the walls of Porto and brings a mystical dimension to the wanderings! A language and a colour palette that could be attributed to an ancestral people. If you go to Porto, you will recognise his works at a glance, his identity is so strong!
Myriads of discreet signatures in the streets of Porto
Surprisingly, there are many works, small, discreet, the signatures are sometimes redundant… And as you can see, Street Art in Porto is far from being anecdotal! The buildings at the end of their life are all tagged on the upper floors; which is quite surprising if you compare to other countries such as France, Spain or even England where it is systematically the bottom of the buildings that suffer the assault of the taggers. In Porto, you have to look up to see Blazes!
Some signatures come back often, like the one of the graffiti artist Mesk_85 who participated in a giant fresco in honour of Don Quixote with Mots & Fedor. We also find the slightly “caveman” character of The caver, the Blazes of Crew Pixo Not Dead,… and many other signatures that I can’t recognize! I’ve made a little jumble that should give you an idea of what you can discover and of course I’ve included the very famous blue cat of the Spanish artist Liqen.
Is Street Art in Porto really worth a visit?
I have to be honest with you! Even if Street Art is everywhere in Porto and the graffiti artists are not erased by an annoyed city hall… It is not strictly speaking a Street Art spot… I am not going to advise you to take a plane ticket, nor to set yourself on fire for this pretty destination. The most interesting thing about this city is the emphasis on local artists. As in Vitoria Gasteiz, Athens or Port de Bouc, there is an authenticity in the works that are impregnated with Portuguese culture…
No, the city has not taken the easy way out by calling on outside artists to enhance its street art, and that is a really good thing. In fact, the urban art in Porto is like the city itself; charming, old-fashioned and it can be enjoyed by chance like the magnificent azulejo walls that appear by magic.
Honestly I think that a ‘Lisbon road trip’ to Porto, if you like street art, is a very good option… But beware, Porto is changing at a rapid pace and its charm is likely to fade in favour of a certain modernity.
If you enjoyed this little visit of Porto, don’t hesitate to share it with your friends or on the networks, it always makes me happy 😉
As for me, I’m going back to a new adventure in a city I don’t know! See you soon!