While we often associate "living walls" with flora they can also be alive with visual art. Ever since landscape designers and plant enthusiasts such as Patrick Blanc, launched this vertical gardens "movement" throughout Europe a few decades ago, we've been offered surfaces teeming with sedums, ferns, moss and so much more.
Concurrently, street art, also known as graffiti art, has also been flourishing in towns and particularly, cities throughout the world. As no surprise, Mexico, famous for its murals back in Diego Rivera's day, is also awash with creative and fanciful outdoor murals. Many have a social justice message too.
If you were to walk today along the twisting, uneven cobblestone streets of San Miguel de Allende’ colonia (neighborhood), Guadelupe, you could count 97 such street art works. This has happened in just five years. And the total would be higher since some have vanished due to construction or simply wearing out and peeling. Usually they get replaced by new ones while some get touched up.
On surfaces from cement to brick, stucco, or even metal doors and with materials from aerosol cans to acrylic paint applied by brush or roller, the art continues to flourish. Walls take on a new life.
I was curious to know how long do the artists take to make often huge walls radiate with color, patterns and often symbolic meaning. According to Colleen Sorenson, the principal founder of Muros en Blanco, they accomplish them between two and four days. (Of course, weather can be a factor, especially in summer's rainy season.)
It wasn’t easy in the beginning. As anyone knows who has ever built or sought to renovate a house in San Miguel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the rules are very strict. Particularly in the historic Centro, permits must be sought and bureaucracy is a hurdle one must invariably deal with.“For over a year we had to push hard for permission from the city authorities for street art,” explains Colleen. With previous experience in public art in San Antonio, Texas, she was proposing an alternative to the typical graffiti performed by disaffected youth. “People were upset about the tagging that was suddenly happening all over town. Our proposal was to make Guadelupe, an arts district.” By 2012 they were holding their first festival.
Many of the artists participate in festivals all over the world. For the much in demand artist, Sego, festivals abroad can feel overly controlling, explained Colleen. He is not alone in this sentiment. “Here it’s all about the painting. We have peace and quiet and we also become friends,” according to Sego.
This should come as no surprise. Thanks to the various individuals committed to making the festivals run smoothly, there is a strong sense of community among the artists as well as the neighbors. A sense of mutual respect has grown. (Owners of the buildings must be consulted when art is proposed.)
According to Graffitiworld, the current producer of the festivals, Guadelupe is “where Public Art has been let loose by the municipal authorities.” And let loose it is. Other parts of town such as Independencia have also been inspired, attracting top notch artists, both local and international as well.
In wandering through the colonia with my camera, I am always thrilled when both the "real world" and the "creative world" meet. Not the case in an art gallery or museum setting. One such example is the young woman almost riding the yellow four wheeler, in the slide show above. The other two right here also reveal interaction where color is echoing back and forth.
And while the art is often iconographic, it often carries a strong message. Below is a portrait of an activist now behind bars in Michoacan by Sego, a famous Mexican artist. Interestingly, the surface is a metal door...
For those unable to navigate Guadelupe's rather confusing streets, Colleen Sorenson is now offering both walking and driving tours. In launching "Street Art Tours San Miguel", she recently held two for visitors to the San Miguel Writers Conference. Not only will she show you some hidden treasures you might not easily access (one is a project along the Rio Laja) but more importantly, she shares stories about the artists.
In street art - perhaps like living walls, nothing is permanent. Due to the surge of construction and restoration going on in town, some walls have to go. In other cases, the paint just begins to peel and the facade deteriorates.
Just the other day, I saw a very magical looking turquoise woman tossing a red heart against a black wall. Two days later, it was gone. A new work was coming up. Fortunately, I got to see a mural being made "in action". The paint hadn't dried yet. Better yet, I was given the opportunity to meet the artist, Michael Husmann from Switzerland and painting in San Miguel for the first time. Portrayed below is the previous work; the artist at work and then Colleen Sorenson chatting with him.