Documenting graffiti in Reykjavik, Iceland
While I have been living in Reykjavik I have documented the graffiti that has been pooping up in the city with a particular interest in unique styles and reoccurring artist. I passed one building in particular on my way to the supermarket, that had great assortment of different graffiti styles. The graffiti refreshed on a weekly basis. Newer designs cover older pieces, the entire face would completely change week to week.
Seljavegur, a street situated on the west side of Reykjavik -the oldest quarter, is positioned next to the coast. The last residential street before the ocean breakers. These streets are hit hard all year round, as they serve as the first line of defense against the ocean wind. Although there is practically 0 crime in Iceland, Seljavegur looks like a slum compared to the rest of Reykjavik. The houses look abused and depressed. The wall paint is chipped, basement windows are cracked, doors are broken, even the stone side walk is crumbling. I walked passed the same abandoned car battery for three months, just laying in the middle of the sidewalk, leaking acid into the street.
The municipality seems to have given up, up-keeping Seljavegur and other ocean side streets like it. While the main shopping street, Laugavegur and fancier residential streets are cleaned regularly. The city charters workers to remove broken glass, trash, moss growth, and graffiti from the city streets. These locations are targeted specifically for their high tourist traffic, business value, and property prices. Seljavegur is not targeted in these effort for the lack of above qualifications. As evident from the image below, streets like Seljavegur are left out of the city’s target locations. This lack of city presence has attracted artist from all over Reykjavík, creating a hot bed for graffiti activity.
When documenting pieces, I mainly focused on collecting a wide variety of styles. I looked for variations of complexity, details, flares, coloring, techniques and mediums. I found a great selection of wild style pieces, “throw ups”, and simpler bubble letters. These were the easiest to find. Usually sprayed on abandoned buildings and street walls. I also documented rare presence of stencil work. These pieces were usually political, placed in downtown residential areas. They were often short lived. Staying up for only days, before being removed by city or house owners. Understandable, these were harder to document.
BUBBLE LETTERS - Rounded, puffy, simple lettering was the hands down, most common style I found in Iceland. As seen in the two images directly above, the letters were simple and contained two to three colors. DISCO TERROR was 5 feet long and colored in only black and white. A small piece, most likely a “throw up”, made quickly using a simple design. While the right image is a larger, 30-50 foot piece, with an accented structure of bulging sides and tapered tipped lettering. It may be a more grandiose, wild-ish bubble letter style, but it’s still a simple two main color piece, slightly raised, and thinly outlined.
COMPLEXITIES - The three images above are of the more complex script. The attention to detail and presentation make the pieces look more time consuming than their bubble cousins. These graffiti pieces are often containing many colors, gradients, shooting arrows, interconnecting letters, and beautifully refined lines. The three images bellow contain delicate accent flares in a variety of styles.
‘ROSE’ contains delicate serif detail that bends, twists, split and curls. The letters are purple with a dark definition, with a yellow raise and outlined in black. The piece takes up two 8 by 6 walls.
The left two images use a more box letters style. The middle image of the red and white is 12 feet tall and 24 feet long. The piece uses a mix of straights and curves and contains twisting arrows and (penis) tipped letter serifs. The white letters are ‘buffed’ and raised in red, making it look 3D. All together the letters are double outlined in red and black.
The far left image is the hardest for me to read for its interlocking letters and seemly random placement of letters are complicated for my untrained eye to see. The graffiti piece is colored in many tones: magenta, pink, violet, sky blue, blue, and blue-green. The letters are outlined in black and raised slightly in dark magenta.
WHITE BIRD AND SCALY BREAD WALK - The white bird with robot legs and scaly bread with legs are two of my all time favorite graffiti pieces. Both pieces done signed ‘DÝR’ which could mean either expensive or animal in Icelandic. I find this designs to be unique from other graffiti styles present in Iceland. A purely illustrative style, they breaking from reoccurring text styles.
IN ALUMINUM WE TRUST - The graffiti stencil is of a masked combat soldier with the slogan, “in aluminum we trust” hanging above. The soldier is labeled “Alcan Alcoa”, after the American aluminum company. This stencil illustrates the politically charged relationship between the Icelandic state and the aluminum giant.
The Icelandic government made a controversial decision to subsidize several Alcoa dams using state funding. The decision was passed without parliament’s vote but by the Minister of the Environment. The totalitarian move is represented by the masked combat soldier. “In Aluminum We Trust” references the slogan of the American dollar, as the Aluminum giant snuggles in with the Icelandic government.
Icelandic officials play monopoly with tax payer’s money as the Icelandic population is left without a voice or proper representation. As graffiti is illegal in the capital, the stencil makes a clear parallel between the silenced Icelandic voice and the silenced graffiti movement.
RTS was a reoccurring artist I documented throughout the summer. The signature wasn’t hard to find a latter high off the ground, in big colorful letters. RTS likes it big with letters more than 8 feet tall, and a story or two up. The first image of is one grandiose tag of ‘RTS’, panted in larger than life sky blue letters. The second image is still simple, a “throw up” of only two colors, slightly raised. The last image is of a larger more complex salmon pink piece, using two different styles of interlocking widening letters, next two noodles and puffier letters.Graffiti jumped the across the northern Atlantic using Iceland’s strong cultural link to America. Sharing common media programming, hip hop poured into Reykjavik from films, television, the internet, and radio. From my experience living in Reykjavik, I’ve found Reykjavik’s colorful graffiti movement is not the only appearance of hip hop in Icelandic culture. Elements of hip hop: beat, sampling, rapping, style, rhythm and flow have deeply effected Icelandic culture. In fashion, music, language(slang), and art, the infusion of hip hop is expressed.
Before I left for Egilsstadir, I took photographs of Einar and I in front of some of the mass graphiti areas in Reykjavik.