San Miguel's Booming Street Art
Wandering about the Colonia de Guadelupe in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, a couple of years ago, I couldn’t help noticing its profusion of enchanting and sophisticated street art. Scattered about the neighborhood’s narrow, twisted cobblestoned streets were extensive painted walls in all colors of the rainbow. These cement or brick walls, some previously dilapidated, were being “visited” by hummingbirds, parrots, butterflies, ducks, flowers, flying fish, insects, bulls, teenagers, you name it. The variety and clear "signature" of the artists were impressive. Thus, while one wall featured an Aztec priest and stalks of Mexico's iconic corn, another featured a 21st century adolescent checking out his cellphone.
Returning a year later, I came across more inspiring painted walls each time I turned a corner. And then before me was another surprise: an oversized bicycle constructed of recycled metal Coke, Pepsi and Corona signs, a bike which will never be ridden. It remains attached by a few twisted ropes to a large potted plant on a sidewalk.
Street art gained popularity during the graffiti art boom of the early 1980s that saw artists such as the Haitian, Jean-Michel Basquiat painting NYC's subway walls and the enigmatic artist, Banksy painting London walls. Soon their political art was being thrust into the international art scene and purchased by collectors. On the other hand, by transforming public spaces into a virtual gallery and reaching out directly to the community, street artists make their creative statements a far less exclusive form of art.
Indeed, Mexico has a rich history of murals. The extensive wall paintings of now world-renowned artists such as Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco ( just below) and David Alfaro Siquieros became a "signature piece" of 20th century Mexican art. Born during the 1920's bloody Revolution, their vastly different styles expressed a cultural, political, social message in public buildings. (One famous example was the controversy over Diego Rivera's mural in the Rockefeller Center which depicted, much to the chagrin of David Rockefeller, Trotsky). Needless to say, Mexican muralism was the inception of a Latin American tradition including the Chicano Art Movement in the USA. Today's street art, as witnessed in San Miguel de Allende, is an incarnation of this rich and powerful legacy.