Venders called out prices for calamari, clams, and fresh fish, as locals scoped out the selection in the old port district of Valparaiso, Chile. This is what they’ve been doing for hundreds of years. Like a play, they acted out their daily rituals in the alleyways of the city. But in recent years, their backdrop has changed. Larger than life psychedelic graffiti covered the walls of Valpo creating an unlikely combination of old-school porteños playing out their daily life amongst unending vibrant street art.
“You walk down the street and you see graffiti you respect, and you think, wow, it’s not in a magazine or on the Internet. It’s Live!”, Teo explained with excitement. He’s a young graffiti artist with an appetite to create. “When you see a blank wall it’s like a bomb in your eye. The wall falls in love with you, you have to fall in love the wall, the wall seduces you.” When Teo, who paints with the collective “Vida In Gravita”, finds his spot, it doesn’t matter if he has time to sleep or eat. He gives it his all until he has a powerful piece to present to the world. But Teo doesn’t want fame. “Fame is instantaneous. It’s a false friend. I don’t want to fall into an egocentric game or have my work in art galleries”, he insisted. The beautiful thing about street art is that it belongs to no one. It’s not a possession hidden in house or mueseum, but an organic growth spreading throughout the city, for all eyes to see.
Valparaiso was known as the “Jewel of the Pacific”, an important stop for ships on their long journey around cape horn, booming in the years of the California gold rush. But when Roosevelt finally carved his way through Panama and connected the two great oceans, Valpo, was no longer needed. It fell into a deep sleep, a forgotten port, decaying into the Pacific. In recent years it has made a come back. It was named a UNESCO World Hertiage Site in 2003 and tourists flock to the port for its raw unpolished atmosphere and bohemian lifestyle. Along with the recent boom, graffiti art has leaped out of the minds of the young like an untamed tiger, devouring the city walls.
According to “Charquipunk”, one of the first artists to begin the movement in Valpo, it all began in 2000. Artists from Santiago began experimenting in the hills of the port. It is a sprayers paradise, with infinite alleys, stairways, and slopes, allowing viewers to see the art from many different viewpoints, as opposed to a flat city. Soon local artists, like “Inti”, “Larobotdemadera”, and “Caos”, began to jump in the game and create art that was different, not strictly hip-hop letters, but something new. As the art took over, and the city became a legend, artists from all over the world began to show up to leave their mark in Valparaiso.
Many of the locals have embraced this movement. “The people want to know me, as a person, as an artist,” Teo told me with joy. “They say, ‘hey, come paint my house.’ It’s magic. There’s no place like it.” The fisherman selling in the old port had a different opinion. To them the graffiti on the wall stank like a rotten fish. “It’s illegal,” they told me, “these people should be put in jail.” But as sure as the fishermen will gather in the alley every morning, graffiti artists will continues painting the cityscape of Valparaiso.
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