When it comes to Iceland, there are plenty of amazing landscapes to choose from: There’s the geyser and the waterfalls, lava fields and glaciers, just to name few. But how about the capital? Here there are concrete buildings and houses walled with ragged sheets of metal, sometimes painted in cheery colours, sometimes not.
“Reykjavík is such a grey place” argues Þorsteinn Davíðsson, graphic designer and graffiti artist. I am sitting with him to talk about the urban Icelandic landscape and graffiti in it. And yes, despite all the colours on the houses, anybody who’s ever spent the winter in Reykjavík probably agrees with him to some extent.
Given the conditions in Iceland, constant wind, cold, and limited light, it’s not exactly the ideal place for graffiti, and still it exists, making the town a bit less grey.
“It’s stupid to be a graffiti artist here” as Davíðsson himself puts it.
“It’s so cold” he continues, “There’s basically four months of convenience in this country when it comes to spraying. For the rest of the year the cans stop working, as the pressure goes down with the cold, the lines won’t stay on the wall as they are meant to, and your hands get frostbitten, as it’s not the weather alone but also the cans that instantly get cold when you start using them. Sometimes you just get the urge to go out no matter what the weather is, and paint, just give the town some colour.”
There are plenty of ways to fill a wall, from a painting to stencil and graffiti fitting entire walls. Modern graffiti is roughly 30 years old, dating back to New York and the tags, nickname signatures, in the 1960s. Over the years the writings grew bigger in size, adopting more and more pictorial elements, until today the graffiti has become an entire culture with its own styles, references, languages and forms of expression. There’s the American old school street graffiti, with close linking to hip-hop and street culture, and then again there’s the European graffiti scene with new kinds of experimenting and 3D visualization.
And then there’s Iceland, in the middle of the two continents.
Reykjavík is a small town, and the graffiti circle is similar to the sewing circles, the groups women here form to gossip and chat. The size of Reykjavík also makes it that there’s not much room for different styles. The use of stencil, for example, was considered as a method for those who didn’t have the talent to do the real graffiti. It became a huge trend a few years ago, however, and is still all over the town. While the country is isolated, the influences come mainly through the internet.
The combination of an international graffiti culture and local ingredients result in the most interesting and creative ideas sometimes. What do you think about graffiti with a mixture of moss and beer used instead of spray to get the organic piece of art growing on the wall one day?
The ultimate American old-school dream to cover the whole Reykjavík with your name would be so easy that it isn’t even appealing” states Þorsteinn Davíðsson. “There’s only a few streets to spray for everybody to see you. It’d be a two-night-mission to cover Reykjavík!”