If San Francisco (the rougher San Francisco of Ferlinghetti and Kerouac, not the glittering city of today) and La Boca (the intensely colorful port barrio of Buenos Aires) had a love child, and that love child had an arsenal of spray paint, that child would be Valparaíso. Indeed, la gente of Valparaíso share the same nickname as the residents of Buenos Aires, “porteños”–those from the port– because the still-gritty waterfront gave birth to, and, like San Francisco, defines the geography of place. These are the elements that leap out to a visitor: the cerros (hills) –steeper than San Francisco?– and the ramshackle buildings that cling to them, the swooping Pacific coastline, and the street art. Here also stands La Sebastiana, one of the three homes of the Nobel Prize winning, champion of the left, Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda. No visit to Valparaíso is complete without a visit to his home, with its grand, teetering, views of the harbor and the Pacific and the monumental story of his life as an artist and leader.
Neruda’s living spaces are lovingly restored and you can how this sweeping landscape inspired the artist.
The visual cacophony of Valparaíso is inescapable. Nearly every vertical surface is vividly painted. Our walking tour guide was careful to use the term “street art”, and only occasionally referred to “graffiti”, as though careful of an unwritten code separating the two. He said that only Buenos Aires and Bogotá can compare in the quality ( or is it quantity?) of street art. (Though I haven’t been to Bogotá, I would certainly put Rio de Janeiro in the pantheon of street art.)
A quick Google search of “theories of street art” yielded this: “Street art is a paradigm of hybridity in global visual culture, a post-postmodern genre being defined more by real-time practice than by any sense of unified theory, movement or message. Many artists associated with the”urban art movement” don’t consider themselves “street” or “graffiti” artists, but as artists who consider the city their necessary working environment.”
I don’t know that I know for sure what that means– but I will leave it to you to contemplate these images from the streets of Valparaíso. Decide for yourself what it means:
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