Three American tourists stop and get out of their car at the former fire station in Hellissandur. They immediately start to take pictures of the old building to be shared on social media. “Make Kanye great again!”, exclaims one of the girls. The reason for their excitement—and Kanye’s presence in the little town—are the murals covering the little shack. This graffiti is not the only street art to be admired; murals are spread out over the fishing village and are part of Kári Viðarsson’s street art project.
Fish factory makeover
“It all started when Luanna Lee from artrvl contacted me,” says Kári. “Artrvl is this organisation that connects international artists. I already had this idea of giving the old fish factory in town a makeover. I said yes immediately.”
Kári didn’t initially plan to launch such an ambitious project, though. “I was thinking about chilling and relaxing a bit this spring, but once I get ideas, they’re like babies that need to be taken care of,” he explains. And thus, the project to transform Hellissandur into the Icelandic capital of street art began.
While most of the art is concentrated on the walls around the fish factory, there is more to discover throughout the village. “My vision is to have at least one wall on every street painted, so we could make a map,” says Kári. Furthermore, Kári’s hostel, The Freezer, is not exempt from the street-art project: “I want the hostel to become one giant mural extravaganza,” says Kári.
Art from without
“I grew up in Hellissandur and had always known the old fish factory,” Kári continues. “It’s been unused for quite some time now, but it’s a huge space, so I wanted to create a historical mural gallery that would educate people on the local history and ultimately make the town itself an attraction.”
Driving towards the former fish factory, you’re greeted by the harrowing face of Áxlar-Björn, Iceland’s most famous serial killer, flanked by scenes from Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth, a peacefully sleeping woman, and many more colourful paintings. As you walk between the walls, you can read local stories, which are arranged in window frames and accompanied by decorations from Turkish artist Melike Kerpel—artists came from all over the world to take part in the project.
Inspiring the kidz
Priority number one, however, was to include the locals. “It became a community project,” says Kári. “Locals were cooking for the artists and much of the paint is left-over paint that was donated by town inhabitants.”
Thus, Kári’s mission is not solely about art, but community, and tourism. “I hope that this will help the local travel and service industry in the long run,” he says. “As soon as people start taking pictures of the murals, the town will become popular, which will in turn attract more travellers to come to this area.”
Several businesses closed or moved away from Rif in recent years. “The Freezer is now the only thing remaining in town,” says Kári. “It certainly wouldn’t hurt to have something else in addition.”
Although some of the murals are not quite finished yet, the fish factory has already hosted a town festival within the colourful walls. Kári’s dream would be to host a street art festival in the near future, including music and street theatre. “Growing up here, I would have liked to be exposed to so much creativity,” he concludes, “and this will hopefully inspire local kids to become artists themselves.”