The richness of street art

Gualicho. Jorge Newbery and Zapiola

Run-down walls, abandoned buildings, degraded public areas. Where most see only dirt and decay, urban artists find a perfect canvas. In Buenos Aires street art started in the 90s under the influence of some visiting foreign artists. They worked side by side with Argentines and Chileans who had learned the art of graffiti in Europe or the States. The areas mostly intervened by streets artists are Saavedra, Belgrano, Palermo, Colegiales, Barracas and San Telmo. At the beginning paintings were done in a rush and at night. But in 2004 arrived The London Police, a group of British artists who encouraged local graffiteros to take the streets more seriously. Buenos Aires street artists sign as Caru, Crayfish, Parbo, Gualicho, Teko, Pum-Pum and Jaz, to name a few. Jaz is one of the leading local figures.

Parbo and The London Police. Matienzo and Zapiola

In 2006 Federico Minuchin, from Run Don't Walk, along with BA Stencils and Malatesta, founded the only art gallery which shows street art, Hollywood in Cambodia, housed in a bar at 1800 Thames St. in Palermo. But graffiti is not an indoors experience. In Jaz's words: Graffiti belongs to the streets and to the streets alone. That's where it was born and that's where it should stay.

Filete porteño. Zelaya St.

Buenos Aires new urban art shows the influence of the filete porteño, a local style of graffiti first developed by Italian immigrants. Much of Jaz's graffiti is rooted in Buenos Aires filete style.
Graffiti Argentina - Libro de Graffiti Argentino
Jaz. Front cover of Graffiti Argentina by Maximiliano Ruiz

Until 1975, when an absurd law forbade it, city buses were profusely decorated with filete patterns.

Filete porteño: Photo from http://www.taringa.net/posts/arte/2463440/Fileteado-porteño:-historia,-técnicas,-descargas-y- videos

Like the traditional filete, graffiti chooses clean lines, geometrical figures and bright colours; it also uses other surfaces apart from walls. Graffiteros have left ingenious expressions of their art on train and metro carriages. Below is a masterly piece by Zekis, one of the first Chilean street artists, now painting as Cekis in NYC. The figure of a recumbernt woman was sprayed one night between 3am and 5am, in Buenos Aires, in 2002.

Zekis. Photo from Rodney Palmer's review of Graffiti Argentina

You can't walk around San Telmo or Barracas without running into one of Grolou's paintings. Grolou is Louis Danjou, a young French artist who lives part-time in San Telmo.

Grolou. 1000 Chacabuco St.

We are different groups - Danjou explains to La Vereda magazine, # 8 - each paints strange things, with no style. We have nothing in common with the current graffiti of, let's say, the USA or other movements. In Europe graffiti belongs to the Hip Hop movement; it's more compact and they use mostly letters.

Graffiteros sometimes work alone and sometimes in a group. Each painter does as he pleases, there are no rules. The materials for graffiti include white latex, colours to mix and Montana Color, a spray especially made for graffiti in Catalonia. Most paint for fun but for some it's also a way of making a living as paint manufacturers often sponsor artists.
Local graffiti has been criticized as having no message. The question is whether an original work, beautifully executed can ever be devoid of meaning. What is undeniable is that street art breaks the rules of the art market. It cannot be bought. It's there for everyone to see, free of charge.

Join the graffiti gallery by sending photos of your favourite graffiti (local or foreign) to argentinechronicles@gmail.com.

Interesting pages on Graffiti:
Graffiti y stencils
Book on Argentine graffiti
Argentine graffiti facebook
Lucas Lasnier aka Parbo
Louis Danjou aka Grolou

Recommended books

* Graffiti Argentina, by Maximiliano Ruiz
A compilation of graffiti photos and highlights from interviews with Argentine and foreign graffiteros who tell the story of Buenos Aires graffiti from the early '90s, when the scene started to develop.

* The Whispering Land, by Gerald Durrell
Naturalist and writer Gerald Durrell describes his journey to the vast, bleak plateau of Patagonia, where the wind whispers incessantly. His perceptive observations of both animals and the human species, plus his sensitivity and sense of humour, make the reading of this book a memorable experience.

Sea lions. Photo: Wikipedia.

About sea lions Durrell wrote: They were heavenly creatures, and I decided that, should I ever have the chance of being an animal in this world, I would choose to be a sea lion so that I might enjoy having such a wonderful wife.

*The Old Patagonian Express, by Paul Theroux
In the 1970s, American writer P. Theroux made a journey from Boston to Argentina by train. The book is an account of the end of his journey in Argentine Patagonia where he travelled to the foot of the Andes on a narrow gauge railway (la Trochita), pulled by a steam locomotive.

La Trochita today. Photo: Wikipedia

* Bad Airs in Buenos Aires, by Miranda France
Freelance British journalist M. France focuses on some turbulent years in Argentine history and analyses the average Argentine's character -unhappy and arrogant, she concludes. The information she supplies is accurate even if her angle of perception seems to be invariably negative.

Can you recommend any other good book about Argentina?



For the newcomer making head or tail of local terms is not an easy task. Here are a few tips to help you understand some Argentine slang:

un boliche: un night club (a disco)
una birra: una cerveza ( a beer)
un bondi: un colectivo (a bus)
un faso, un pucho: un cigarrillo (a cigarette)
un mango: un peso (a peso)
una mina: una chica ( a girl)
un flaco, un tipo: un muchacho (a guy)
un kilombo: un lío (a mess, a fuss)

These words are only used in informal communication. None of them is offensive.


The mystery of beef cuts

Anywhere in the world a steak is a steak. Not in Argentina. A steak or bife can be different things:

Bife de lomo is sirloin.
Bife de chorizo is a steak cut off the rib.
Bife de costilla is a T-bone steak.

After the bife de chorizo, the most popular cut in a parrilla (steakhouse) is the tira de asado, a thin strip of rib, usually grilled. A proper parrillada starts with chorizo, a thick, rather fat, tasty sausage and morcilla, a blood sausage which is a delicate morsel despite its looks. Vacío is another must in a parrillada, it's flavorsome and juicy though not always tender.
If you like your beef rare, ask for it jugoso; if medium, ask for it a punto and if you like it well-done, say bien cocido.

The names of coffee

Photo: Soledad Ianni

The news that caffein is bad for the health doesn't seem to have reached Argentina so decaf is not always available in public places (a good excuse to enjoy the flavour and aroma of the real thing). When ordering a coffee you have these basic options:

un café................. black coffee
un cortado ............ coffee with a dash of milk
una lágrima ........... milk with a few drops or
tears (lágrimas) of coffee.
un café con leche .... a big cup of coffee and milk

café liviano ........... light coffee (more watery)
café fuerte ........... strong coffee

chico .................. small cup (photo)
en jarrito ............. twice that size

Eating on a budget

When looking for a tasty, inexpensive meal in San Telmo, you may end up in one of these places:

Oleiros: Piedras 850. Typical bodegón (like the dining-room of an ordinary house, but much bigger). Spanish food, good fish. The quality of the mashed potatoes depends on the cook's mood. Service anything but quick. See: El refugio de Oleiros

Caracol: Bolivar and Hº Primo. Fresh, almost home-made food.

Molière: Balcarce and Chile. A three-course meal, wine included, for A$ 31,00. Only for lunch and on weekdays.


* If you're in the mood for a takeaway beef or chorizo sandwich (choripan), your place is the mini-grill at
471 Carlos Calvo St.

Suggestions to combine good eating with frugal spending welcomed.

Local food

Empanadas are a traditional Argentine snack. Each region has its own variety: hot and juicy in Mendoza; rather sweet, with raisins, in Córdoba and with bits of potato in the North. Empanadas are very easy to make. Here's a basic recipe for the beef variety:

* Fry 750 g. of chopped onions until they are transparent. Add 500 g. of minced beef and the spices: salt, pepper, oregano and a little cumin. Mix, cover and let cook over a medium flame for about 7 minutes (mix from time to time). Then add two hard-boiled eggs, chopped, and 100 g. of green olives.

* Get two dozen empanada discs (tapas para empanadas) preferably from a pasta shop. Wet the edges of the disc and scoop a fat tbsp. of the mixture onto it. Fold and press both sides with your fingers or a fork. Bake at 400 F until the empanadas are golden. Good luck!