Iceland / Travel

Painting the Town in Reykjavik

While wandering Reykjavik on a rainy, dreary day, I caught a glimpse of color out of the corner of my eye: a purple sign: “Virðið Garðin Ykkar.” Peering through an small alley, I thought for a moment that I had stumbled into Cool World (it’s a 1992 Brad Pitt movie–if you haven’t seen it, you haven’t missed much).

Reykjavik is punctuated by graffiti or “street art.” The park, located in between Laugavegur, Hverfisgata, Klapparstigur and Smidjustigur streets in downtown Reykjavik, is just one area where artists showcase their work.

Meandering through the streets, these brightly colored flashes would cause me to veer off the path, take a different turn and sometimes cock my head to get a better angle. It’s a great way to wander and, luckily, it’s not difficult to reorient yourself and continue on to your original destination.

The mural house

The mural house

Walking back to my hostel, I found the street that I would want to live on if I moved to Reykjavik (I do this in most cities that I visit) and saw an entryway painted a sky blue with white mangrove trees and fantastically colored animals. I crept through for a better look and met a lady and her son who were leaving.

“Is this your house?” I asked.

“No, it’s my neighbor’s. She’s very artistic,” the woman explained.

“I saw the mural and couldn’t help but come take a look,” I said, almost apologetically.

DSCN8463

If you look closely, you can see the shadow of what was once there.

“Yes, she painted all of this. Before, we would have graffiti (emphasis on the first syllable: GRAF-iti) appear–terrible words,” she explained, with a glance down at the boy. “Since she did this, there has been no more graffiti. ”

I looked closely and could see, at a certain angle, the previous decoration. While I don’t understand Icelandic, I could imagine the sentiment.

I like the idea of fighting fire with fire, as it were. Perhaps the original graffiti-ers were just calling attention to the fact that this blank canvas needed some attention.

But I doubt it.

Exploring Reykjavik, keep your eyes open for the newest offerings of street artists. Whether you agree with the legality or morality of the practice, for me it became an iconic aspect of the city as I wandered the gatas.

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