The Walls of San Telmo Talk
Article by Rick Powell, founder of San Telmo Art & History Walk.
The walls of Buenos Aires are rarely blank and they never stop talking. It’s just that maybe we’re not always listening. After all, it’s hard enough to navigate the narrow sidewalks of Microcentro or San Telmo without stepping in dog shit or on the booby-trapped slabs of concrete that splash water up to your knees if you hit them just right. Hard enough that, those things, to notice much else.
And the people! All the people can make it hard for you to see, well, all the people and the marks they’ve made, the traces of themselves and their lives that they’ve left as trails to follow or stories to listen to today, yesterday, a year ago, a hundred years ago.
I try to listen. I try to see.
I find something new on the walls and in the streets.
I’m amazed at what’s there, what changes, sometimes even from day to day, what goes up one week and is replaced the next, paste-up on top of paste-up, white paint rolled over block letters white-washed again the next time I walk by. Nestor Vive becomes Macri 2015.
Abstract street artist Poeta has tried twice to keep a mural up in this same spot. Here’s his latest:
The previous one was gone in less than two weeks, replaced by some sort of memorial and guest book to someone’s friend who had died: Buen viaje, che! I haven’t been by this spot for about 10 days. There’s no telling if it’s still there. I guess the onda of San Telmo isn’t particularly abstract.
I’m amazed to discover architectural details I’ve never noticed but had to have been there all along but one day, I scratched my neck and looked sideways and there something was, big as lives, looking brand-new, to me anyway — a terra cotta bust of a Victorian woman high on the lintel of a rusty iron gate, an angel held in the hand of a giant on the Otto Wulf building, a pro-vegan stencil just above where a raw beef bone lies on the sidewalk. Or I discover a prolific artist leaving little monsters painted on paper but glued to the walls, to the windows of San Telmo and disappearing, torn away or down just a couple days later.
I don’t who or what Boxi Trixi is and I may never know. There’s something sad about that and yet something wonderful. All these little known artists signing their names and leaving their art to fade, to peel off, to be replaced, to be painted over and forgotten. The egos of traditional contemporary artists are too big for that kind of obscurity. There’s no way they could give what they do away to the world or to the weather. A brush stroke that sluices away with the rain.
A restaurant leaves its shutters down, not open for business and something usually hidden during the day becomes visible and transforms the façade:
I have to be quick to see it all and I know that I don’t so I try to take alternate routes home after giving tours. Sometimes I stumble upon treasures, like this obsessively painted mural by Spanish mural artist David de la Mano:
I haven’t been back by since I shot that photo. I hope it’s still there.
Some others of my favorite murals have not been long-lasting. This anime-inspired painting by Macro on the side of a parking garage is gone now. I’m not sure this girl walking by even gave it a second glance.
Me, I walk the streets of this city gawking like a tourist and snapping pictures. The walls aren’t empty, they’re never silent and I don’t believe this last bit at all:
There’s no way I can agree to that.
See the sites for yourself, and hear the stories by joining Buenos Aires Art Tours for an afternoon on the San Telmo Art Walk.