Love it or loathe it, street art is gaining a worldwide following as a popular means for creative release. No longer just the work of ‘low lives and teenagers’ in derelict areas of the city, many street artists are being commissioned to bring their colourful urban art to gentrifying and modern neighbourhoods in cities worldwide.
Valencia, on the Mediterranean coast of Spain is no exception to this trend, and the barrio (or neighbourhood) of El Carmen boasts plenty of such art. El Carmen is located in the heart of the city, just north of the main train station and shopping district, and forms the core of Valencia’s old town and bar and nightclub district. Previously this area was a bit worn down, so it comes as no surprise that street art here flourished in the past. In recent years the neighbourhood has cleaned itself up, but still manages to maintain that grungy feel, especially if you are prepared to leave the main thoroughfare.
The countless narrow, winding streets here form a labyrinth and it seems very easy to lose your way. Luckily, walking in any direction for 10 minutes will bring you back to a main avenue or tourist-filled area, so it’s fairly easy to reestablish your bearings. Even if street art isn’t your thing, it’s well worth spending an hour or two in El Carmen enjoying the classic European architecture that permeates through the neighbourhood (think doors built for giants, cobbled streets, flower-potted balconies and cafes and bars every which way.)
What I really love about the urban art in this area, is the contrast it forms against the quintessential European architecture. On one hand, the buildings are so beautiful, with their dull-muted paint in red, orange and brown, trimmed with wrought iron balconies and imposing wooden doors. Yet, in the same street, or even on the same building in some cases, lays a piece of artwork with its crisp, vibrant colours – an expression of the artist, captured here, amongst the history of the city.
Some people might say that it distracts from the beauty of the neighbourhood, but I disagree. It adds something special, a uniqueness, that can only exist here in this particular street or plaza. Amongst these buildings, the art and the architecture somehow balance one another out.
I headed out into the neighbourhood for the best part of a morning to see what I could discover in El Carmen.
The first thing you’ll probably notice is that many streets have the same feel to them; beautiful wooden doors, tiny plant-laden balconies and stony terracotta walls. In that sense, the graffiti actually serves as a visual draw card, breaking some of the monotony of streets as you wind in and out of each little passageway.
Some of what you’ll find are normal ‘tags’ as in any city, but Valencia’s urban art also features some well known artists. Julieta is one of these artists, and her cute Japanese-inspired artworks can be found dotted throughout the neighbourhood. They are easy to find, you just have to keep and open eye.
I also started to notice a ninja guy appearing on the buildings and in the artworks. He was by far the most common character I discovered while out exploring, but I haven’t been able to find out who created him (Edit: the artist is David de Limon. His instagram here). In the urban art I saw, I probably encountered him no less than ten times in the streets that I walked. I didn’t walk through every street in El Carmen, so there could well be many more paintings of him. By about halfway through my walk, I was getting excited everytime I encountered him. I felt like I was playing a giant game of real life Where’s Wally (or Waldo for the Americans!).
Since El Carmen is not a huge area, you’ll be fine to go out exploring by yourself. There are a number of main streets the lead up into the neighbourhood from the Central Market, the Plaza de la Reina, and the Plaza de la Virgen. While you might feel a little lost within the tiny streets themselves, as long as you remember the general direction you came from you will find it very, very hard to totally lose your sense of direction (plus that’s why we have Google Maps and GPS in our phones now!).
If you want to know more about the art work in the area, see the following link (in Spanish). At the bottom of the page is a Google Map with the key artworks marked for easy finding. Or, you know, you could always “get lost” a little and just have to stop at one the bars or cafes for cold drink or coffee…
Heading out into El Carmen in search of some urban art is a good way to pass a few hours in Valencia. You can tie it in with a visit to the other main sightseeing areas of the city as they are all within walking distance of one another (click here for my gallery on other sightseeing spots in the city.)
The last piece of art I found on my walk was definitely my favourite. Small and subtle (?) it made me laugh. I have no idea why he’s amongst the underwear, but I guess we will never know…
Click here for the full Valencian Street Art Gallery.