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Painting the Town

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

We love art. 

In fact, prior to leaving the United States we had started a collection of some pretty incredible pieces. So it makes sense that we are “in love” with San Miguel because it is an artist’s mecca. In fact, here, you don’t even have to venture inside galleries to see amazing artwork…all you have to do is walk down the street!

Because of the efforts of an innovative woman named Colleen Sorensen, the colonia Guadalupe area of the city is an imaginative world of colorful expression that makes you go, “WOW!” But it wasn’t always like that. In fact, prior to 2013, street art was not permitted anywhere in San Miguel. 

When Colleen moved to San Miguel from Texas (a lot of great things and people come from Texas…wink!) she created the Muros en Blanco project and championed the very first Street Art Mural Festival. During this event artists got together for three days to create a little magic on the streets of the city. 

In 2015, Graffiti World got involved and the annual festival became an international event. 

So, as I absorbed the gorgeous eye candy around here, it got me to thinking about how graffiti and urban expression as an art form got started. Here’s what I found out.

History of Street Art

I used to think that graffiti artists, in all likelihood, lead double lives. In my head, I figured that during the day they probably held down somewhat ordinary jobs and then morphed into creative ninjas at night, where they showed off their talents on stationary canvases like under bridges or school walls, or for the more daring, trains. Nah! There is quite a bit more to it than that.

Think about it. The first drawings on walls appeared in caves thousands and thousands of years ago. And later on the ancient Greeks and Romans wrote their names and protests on buildings. They, like every other human since, had an innate desire to put some sort of artistic expression (generally their names) in a public place. Granted, these early artists didn’t have lofty aesthetic aspirations as they placed their names, love interests, trash talk, pictures of animals, etc. around town, but they were definitely sating an impulse shared by street artists today. 

Modern graffiti as we know it today appeared in the 1960s, in Philadelphia, and by the 1970s it had exploded in New York. During this time artists began writing their names or “tags” on buildings all over the city, subway cars and trains.

Often these early “taggers” were members of street gangs, who were marking their territory. They worked in groups called “crews” and called what they did “writing.” It was the New York Times and writer Norman Mailer that actually coined the word “graffiti” and the more talented works were considered art.

As it spread, there was much resistance from municipal leaders and an ongoing debate, as to whether street art is truly art or vandalism, ensued. Today the general consensus is that if the graffiti is done with permission of the structure’s owner, it is art. If not, it’s vandalism and is a crime.

From Back Streets to International Fame

For some, graffiti has been a springboard to international fame. For example, Jean-Michel Basquiat began spraying on the street in the 1970s before becoming a respected artist in the ’80s. The Frenchman Blek le Rat, British artist Banksy and American Keith Haring, have achieved international fame by producing complex works with stencils, often making political or humorous points. Works by Banksy have been sold for over $250,000 (think Les Miserables). Many of these talented artists produce both outside and inside works. Today, street art is big business.

Painting the Streets of San Miguel

As Colleen took us up and down the streets here, we feasted on eye candy like we’d never seen before. We learned that because the structures around town are faced with a type of stucco, that is powdery, spray paint and acrylic paint will not “stick” permanently to it. If you lean up against a wall here, more often than not you will take away a bit of the wall color with you on your clothes or hands. Thus, most of these extraordinary masterpieces start to flake and peel after a few months. This is not a good thing. But, on the bright side, this means that the walls, fences and buildings are being redone yearly. If we come back to San Miguel in a few years, chances are we’ll have a whole new set of art pieces to drool over. Yay!

Colleen does tours every week. Here’s the info:

Check out our Gallery

So are you ready to ogle at some of the masterpieces that we really enjoy? We’ve been back to the Guadalupe area four times now so we’ve taken a lot of photos! Here’s what keeps us going back. Enjoy! 

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