Love it or hate it, you can’t fail to be impressed by the sheer scale of the street art found on the outside walls of entire buildings around Lisbon. The city has become one of the major cities in which to see a variety of critically acclaimed street art; there are even organized street art tours around the city. One of the most famous areas in which to see street art is Avenida Fontes Pereira de Melo, near the Picoas metro station. Here you can see three derelict buildings which are part of the Cronos project, in which international artists from countries including Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, Brazil and Switzerland have been invited to paint the buildings. The three buildings have striking images, some of which convey social and political messages. The most thought-provoking is the image of a king sucking on a straw and holding a globe which has the straw stuck into the middle of South America. On his crown are the logos of all the oil companies. This work of art was done by Blu, an Italian artist, in response to the 2010 oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. It was listed as one of ‘The 10 best street art works’ by the Guardian newspaper in 2011. On the other side of the wall is a large image of a person whose head and face is covered by a striking red scarf and who is gripping a small figure in their left hand and holding something that appears to be controlling puppet strings attached to the small figure in the other hand. This was done by Os Gêmeos, twin brothers Otávio and Gustavo Pandolfo from Brazil. On the next building is a work by Sam3 from Spain, called La Noche. It show a large shadowy figure against the night sky. On the third building is a huge crocodile painted by Ericailcane from Italy. There is also a painting of a bird by British artist Lucy McLauchlan and one of a cat by Thoma Vuille from Switzerland. The artists have all used the existing features of the building to good effect, such as the three windows on the top of the building being incorporated into the king’s crown and the bricked-up windows being used to depict the night sky in La Noche. While these artworks add colour and interest to what are otherwise abandoned buildings, it does raise the question of why so many buildings are empty and what will happen to them in the future.
In the Mouraria and Alfama districts there are more examples of street art. On Beco das Farinhas there are reproductions printed on the walls of photographs of people who live in the district, taken by photographer Camilla Watson. There is also a striking mural by an artist whose name I didn’t discover. It shows a man taking a photo with his phone on a selfie stick while an older woman sprays him with red paint that she has taken out of her handbag. I wonder if this is a painting by one of the members of the Lata65 project, which encourages women over 65 to paint on walls of buildings which are supplied by the city council for that purpose. From the top of St George’s Castle (Castelo de São Jorge) I couldn’t help but notice the enormous blue man surrounded with smaller objects painted on the side of a building. Again, the scale and detailed impressed me. In Páteo Dom Fradique, a small square near St George’s Castle I stumbled across an art installation of a cube made up entirely of flowers suspended above the ground created by a Chinese artist, Yang Guang Nan Ai. It seemed a little incongruous in that setting, but on further investigation I discovered that the installation was being displayed by the Palácio Belmonte, a hotel in the square which hosts cultural events connected with music and contemporary art.
In the Bohemian Bairro Alto there is a lot of street art on the walls of the narrow streets, such as the piece I spotted on the wall of a residential building, with someone’s washing hanging above it. Even the public transport in Lisbon has been decorated (or defaced, depending on your point of view) with graffiti, such as the Ascenor da Bica on Calçada do Combro.
The long, steep climb up Calçada da Glória (from Praça dos Restauradores to the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara) is made less onerous by the Galeria de Arte Urbana, whose works of street art are on display. We were even lucky enough to see some artists at work. The works are temporary and are often topical. When we visited in May 2017 there was a tribute to the respected folk singer, José (Zeca) Afonso, created for Freedom Day (25th April) to celebrate 30 years of the José Afonso Association, with works by Dalaima Street Art, Telmo Alcobia and Youthone.
In Belém I came across this wonderful image of a dog painted by Bordalo II on the side of a building located near the Museu de Arte Moderna e Contemporânea. I was particularly impressed at how he had incorporated the balcony into the painting.
These were just a few areas of Lisbon where I came across memorable street art without looking for it. I know that there is a lot more around the city and hope to find out more in the future.