Padova in Italy, also known as Padua, has serious fresco spots. The boy Giotto nailed it about 800 years ago with his chapel at Scrovegeni. A fine example of permissioned wall painting, supported by a rich patron and assisted by a cast of forty other painters over a period of two years. Parallels with the support Lee B and Global Street Art provide to muralists in London are just inescapable.
Connectivity Mural, Shoreditch, managed by Global Street Art. More here
What is less obvious is that an ancient centre of learning like Padova supports a thriving culture of non permissioned street art. Certainly my wife hadn’t anticipated that when she picked Padova and Venice for a short break and I traveled with expectations close to zero and trending downwards. This post is about stuff you find by chance on your travels when you keep your eyes peeled.
Within minutes of dumping our bags in our charming Padova hotel, street art in dark corners started catching the eye and it became apparent that stencilism was the art technique of choice.
The stencil game in Padua is generally very old school, the kind that dominated the scene in London before the visits of the French stencilists in the mid 2000s. The reasons for this are not hard to fathom, lots of young students means rebellious, politically charged art aficionados with a burning desire to champion political causes and a willingness to take brazen risks. Lots of old buildings and historic walls with low numbers of permission walls or tolerated street art locations dictates that speed is of the essence. The solution just has to be stencils.
These skulls were so 2005 and they were everywhere.
I loved the mysterious fish bone skeletons which kept swimming into view. Some are stencilled, some sprayed freehand; some are lone predators, some hunt in shoals. Some are even reverse stencilled. No idea who the artist is but I salute the glorious madness of the concept.
Within Padova there was clear evidence that some artists were striving for a higher level of stencil accomplishment. Kenny Random (awesome moniker) has clear Banksy and Blek inspiration informing his art.
Banksy isn’t the only stencil artist challenged by feet.
We even passed stencil murals which were clearly permissioned, in October 2018 Ale Corredigo produced a stencil tribute to internationally famous Padova conductor Claudio Scimoni who passed away 6th September 2018.
Padova walls functioned as a literal community noticeboard with tons of political messages in spraypaint, paste up, marker pen and stencil format, here announcing that there would be a protest against racism on 12th October, though which October is not clear to the outsider.
Padova was our restaurant and dormitory, touristing the living daylights out of Venice was our main intention and we travelled there by train. As Italian trains are infamous in the interrailing graff community as being among the easiest to hit it came as no surprise to find our carriage bore some stylish lettering. Slightly weird to find we traveled on the same train twice in 2 days!
The buff is present but limit themselves to just sufficient to reveal carriage identification codes.
And so to Venice where our expectations for illegal street art were even lower than in Padova. One of the first specimens of street art we chanced upon was as stencil by Dolus, also seen in recent years in Shoreditch.
Placement is paramount in street art, so when in Venice – use the canals! Two artists did this to great effect, this first example is artist unknown to me but awesome canal proximity for the swimmer.
Following obligatory Venice box ticking like more frescoes, rooftop views of canals, buying cheap beads on the Rialto and a pavement café lunch, my wife kindly agreed that we try to locate the one bit of art the stencil maestro Banksy dropped in Venice earlier this year, though we were pessimistic as I believed it had gone. The hunt required exploring some of the nicer quiet back streets of Venice, we were so impressed with the tranquility and absence of pressing crowds that we returned the next evening for dinner in an alleyway restaurant. We weren’t disappointed with either the meal or the Banksy.
That was the other specimen of street art with inspired canal context.
Bronk, another artist who has also visited Shoreditch, placed a four eyed female possibly readying for a bit of illegal canal swimming among the gondolas. Just one small bit of sartorial guidance for tourists…. do you really need to be told that the gondolier look is kind of reserved for fit people with big poles at the back of a punt?
Top marks for the ballsiest placement for the street art we saw in Venice goes to this stencil by ESPI, an artist about whom I can find out bugger all but this stencil was not far from St Marks and on the main waterfront drag.
Just to be clear, this is not a guide to street art in either of these locations, it is not a comprehensive survey, it is merely a little bit of a reflection on the unexpected richness of the local scene as chanced upon during our brief visit. Padova had a street art festival at the beginning of the Summer and judging by the website it yielded a dozen or so very accomplished murals by mainly local artists but for us this was a visit in which street art came quite a way down the list of priorities. Go for the biennial, the food and the tourist experience but do also look out for lovely little street art easter eggs.
Kenny Random instagram
Scrovegni Chapel website
All photos: Dave Stuart