Expectations of Iceland are framed by volcanoes, glaciers, sea life and thermal baths but not necessarily graffiti. As the airport bus meandered tight streets disgorging short stay tourists, down a side street the elevation of one building revealed a top to bottom London Police. Where did that come from?! This stunning end elevation set the scene for un-expected discoveries almost everywhere we turned.
A healthy graffiti culture requires a used and abused alphabet. The icelandic language is written using more or less the same letters as English albeit some are embellished with squiggles and other ornamentation, the thing about Icelandic letters which perhaps explains why an Icelander getting hold of a spraycan might be inclined to graff is that they do love using a heck of a lot of them.
Graffiti in all its forms is pretty dense in the area between Skulagata and Hverfisgata right next to the centre of Reykjavik, we came across three Halls of Fame within barely half a mile.
Sticker culture and tagging is as rampant as you’d find in any other street art tolerant locality.
A boarded up building with intriguing runic graffiti on the outside (see VNA 19) and its front door off its hinges beckoned. Inside, floors and ceilings have been removed but every surface was decorated with tags, pieces and “street” art while nooks and crannies were stuffed with empty cans and stencils. A bit of post Reykjavik digging revealed that the recent history of the building mirrors the economic Pegasus trajectory you can’t escape in Iceland today. It had been a thriving musical instrument shop that closed. Developers moved in, gutted the building and went bust. More developers came and went without troubling themselves with any actual work and the building is now in the hands of a Yoga group who are bending over backwards to get planning approval. So in came the graffers and the building played host to an art rave a year or so ago.
In the centre of Reykjavik you will find a considerable amount of authorised rooftop art by Theresa Himmer, from the “Mountain Series”, all playing off some aspect of the raw Icelandic outdoors.
If authorised artists can get up high then un-surprisingly rooftops are going to host other illegal artistic endeavours. Rooftop dubbings are not uncommon around the outer suburbs of Reykjavik and we even found writers and street artists getting up high in the centre.
Halls Of Fame in most large cities are commonly backdropped by council housing blocks, railway arches and pockets of irregular over-grown post industrial wasteland. In Iceland HOFs, the amazing un-polluted airy light complements views of fjords and glaciers.
On the theme of backdrops, anyone familiar with British news from the early 70s will be amused that Icelandic gun boats expelled British trawlers from their 200 mile fishing limit but in their home port failed to prevent roadside graff under their very nose.
In defining the pecking order of graffiti kings, no action fosters greater kudos than changing the colour of steel train panels. Iceland doesn’t have a public railway network so in this nautical orientated society the obvious substitute is your top-to-bottom fishing boat.
A spot survey of the local culture by an outsider on a whistlestop visit can’t be authoritative about who is up and who is “all-Reykjavik” but we can “wow” at the quality and quantity at that moment in time. Casio was everywhere running the full gamut from stickers and tags to throws and pieces.
Kopur has style.
Vato has beautiful flow, great fills and rocks characters as letters.
Evidence on the streets suggests five or six overlapping crews calling Reykjavik HQ but without doubt CMF (Cash Money Fame, Crazy Mother Fuckers) are the most in-your-face.
Beany hats off to Reykjavik graff!