Reykjavik Street Art

I was walking down a street in downtown Reykjavik when I caught a glimpse of explosive color on the walls of a courtyard behind a bar. I couldn’t stop myself. I walked in and found myself in a riot of art and color.

Kitty!

Kitty! And…is that a poop emoji, bottom right?

I snapped a photo then turned around; there was a man in the courtyard, having a smoke. We struck up a conversation–where I’m from, what I was doing in Reykjavik–and then he asked how I liked the city. 

“Reykjavik is great fun,” I said, “and has a lot of really cool things to do. But the street art is fantastic.”

This guy, right here.

This guy, right here.

As I said this he beamed. I saw the look on his face and asked, “Wait, are you a street artist, too?” He said he was (but not of the art in this photo). He said there are a handful of street artists that work in Reykjavik, some on commission from building owners, some independently. And they’re generally incredibly creative and resourceful, kind of funny, and respectful of each other’s work.

Looking good, Billy Ray.

Looking good, Billy Ray.

And the street art is everywhere. Note: All my photos were taken in downtown Reykjavik (remember, I was only in the city for three and a half days and we had some packaged trips to take, so downtown was where we wandered in our free time. I hardly claim this is an exhaustive display of Reykjavik street art). And I have ZERO background information on how this all started. I just know the art on the walls was thrilling to see. Vibrant. Fresh. Occasionally challenging.

Note: this photo was taken at like 4:30 in the afternoon. #nighttime #north

Where koalas are king. Note: this photo was taken at like 4:30 in the afternoon. #nighttime #north

I mean, I grew up in New Jersey. New York was my training city, and there was precious little that would compel me to walk down an unfamiliar alley in New York. And yet in Reykjavik…

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The lure of houndstooth was too strong.

And here.

Back behind some bar, somewhere.

Back behind some bar, somewhere.

And here.

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George looms in the distance.

Some art is decidedly helpful.

Not one, not two, but three different ways to tie a tie.

Not one, not two, but three different ways to tie a tie.

Some art seems to be more…political? Maybe?

A statement on US-Icelandic relations? Or a really cool painting of an eagle and a raven?

A statement on US-Icelandic relations? Or a really cool painting of an eagle and a raven?

And with some art, the politics are unquestionable.

Women's rights. Dig it.

Women’s rights. Dig it.

Here’s how the Icelandic and German sections of this statement roughly translate (and I confess, I presume my readership is fluent in English, so for the red part you’re on your own).

Part 1 (in green, in Icelandic): Gender equality has not been achieved. Multiple invisible thresholds still exist in the traditionally male-dominated power system.

Part 2 (in blue, in German): The Convention* entered into force in 1981 and was an important step in the recognition of women’s rights as human rights.

*The Convention refers to The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), ratified by the UN General Assembly in 1979 and brought into force in 1981, when the 20th UN member country ratified it.

Also, I realize this is probably, more technically, graffiti. No pictures, just words. But I like what it has to say, so it’s going up.

Some bits of street art don’t make a lot of sense.

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I don’t know where that cat is going but he is hauling ass to get there.

Is quirky.

Hey li'l fella. What's your name?

Hey li’l fella. Maybe you should lay off the caffeine.

Or kind of nightmare-fuel-y.

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The Master is here for your soul. Side note: I overheard an older American woman complaining about this becloaked figure, saying it was “dreadful”. Indeed. Mission accomplished, artist.

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From what I can tell, the quote below the image translates to, “I was worst to those I loved the most.” So. He seems nice.

Or is full of badassery.

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Ride on, Wolf Lady!

If mine upstairs window offends thee I shall pluck it out.

If mine upstairs window offends thee I shall pluck it out…

...and give it to the valkyrie just around the corner.

…and give it to the valkyrie just around the corner.

Sometimes, street artists do a selfie.

Nice job, Stefan.

Nice job, Stefan.

Offer up practical bits of advice.

Who's a hoopy frood who really knows where her towel is? #geekalert

Who’s a hoopy frood who really knows where her towel is? #geekalert

And most importantly, it can remind us where our dreams can take us.

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And there he goes!

Thank you, Reyjkavik street artists, for some spectacular visual feasting. Keep making art happen! It was a thrill to see your incredible work. 

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