Madrid isn’t internationally renowned for its public art scene, but there’s a certain creative spontaneity wafting through its corridors that keeps me hot on the scent of evolving expression.
No one neighborhood can lay claim to expressive exclusivity, but the northern barrio of Malasaña is an excellent place to take its pulse. After oppressive dictator Franco‘s death in 1975, these labyrinthine streets breathed deep at last, giving rise to the counter-cultural shift known as la movida madrileña. The surge of radical movement in art, music, and fashion permanently established this area’s alternative identity, which is immediately observable in the plethora of kaleidoscopic murals on its walls.
The pieces here seem in some way approachable, as though inviting you to converse with them over a nutty café con leche, remarking on the myriad of funky passersby.
Storefronts in Malasaña are best observed during siesta hours (very approximately running from 2 PM to 5 PM), when they shutter their doors to reveal art pieces reflecting the style of wares within.
Some declarations are more direct than others.
I’m not sure who’s commissioned to put together the more sprawling works, but I adore the striking contrast to the cobbled streets and aging brickwork.
These two pieces flank the entrance to a Malasaña bar that reaches peak occupancy around 3 AM.
English: “The second Wittgenstein is also cool. Not the first.” Looks like someone’s a fan of Ludwig.
Styles shift as you head south towards the center, and the creativity isn’t confined to walls. This newsstand in between plaza Tirso de Molina and La Latina is slick in yellow, green, and teal. The small black letters proclaim, “FAXAS NO!” (“No fascists!“)
One of Madrid’s few iconic pieces is also near the very center; you can find this optical illusion just off Sol in an area replete with tacky sangría bars.
More southern still brings us to Lavapiés, known for its African, Arabic, and Indian immigrant populations. There’s more of what I’d call classic tag art here, and the vibe is pleasingly grungy. Sharpie’d anarchist symbols abound.
The hilly zone between Lavapiés and La Latina is practically tourist-free, which perhaps goes hand in hand with fostering some absolutely stunning mural works. The high-contrast and the abstract blend seamlessly with the natural and the classical.
In some ways, it feels as though the art is itself nurturing the city, imbuing it with colorful magic, cooking it chicken noodle soup.
A few walls in this zone seem to be experimental spaces, inviting to those who’d like to play on a smaller scale before attempting a larger piece. Bottom right: “Without us, the world does not move.”
This little guy is a bit tragic, but I love him. I’m not sure how he got in there, and he’s not sure how he’s going to get out.
If you take the time to listen, Madrid’s creative heart beats loud and true.
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Janel Torkington is a young freelance writer, photographer, and Tripper from Arizona, currently living in Madrid, Spain. Her work has appeared in Bangkok’s LookEast Magazine, Honolulu’s InsideOut Hawaii, and Madrid’s own InMadrid; connect with Janel through the Travel Writer Network, and for more photos about Madrid’s Public Art, check out her blog.