San Juan’s Urban Art explosion is a living beauty

In downtown San Juan, in Santurce and Miramar, urban art is alive, blossoming in once forgotten spaces and reviving once boring slabs of cement along familiar walkways and avenues.

By Peter Martin
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That pop art dream with the shades could have been painted by Lichtenstein. The three local beauties, beflowered and dazzling, have that fresh and happy look of emerging from a day on the Ocean Park beach. The towering figures include a ferocious tiger, a giant glittering seahorse and a fat lizard sprawled on its back. The mummified “La Virgen De La Discordia” attracts pierced hearts and skulls, and has a rosary wrapped like barbwire around her wrist. It just takes a glance to get swept up into its ghostly artistic draw.

The boy playing with crayons creates a heavenly swirl of rainbow illumination, while two other children, black and white depictions as if from a previous century, emerge from an unfurled Puerto Rican flag. J Lo-like starlets hang with natural beauties while industrial nightmares, with the aesthetic of a machine, exist among playful postmodern delights, including a Klee-like aquarium scene under a bridge.

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In downtown San Juan, in Santurce and Miramar, urban art is alive, blossoming in once forgotten spaces and reviving once boring slabs of cement along familiar walkways and avenues. The traditional Latin American art of mural painting has been given new life in Puerto Rico by a new generation of muralists and graffiti artists. They are adding to the already abundant array of public art in San Juan, from the monuments and statues, fortresses, and cathedrals in Old San Juan to the postmodern sculptures and other works in a range of styles found throughout the city and across Puerto Rico.

In Santurce and parts of Miramar, the vibrant public art is seen as a response to the abandonment of the area, as well as the erosion of the communities once housed there. Many of the works were painted in connection with urban art festivals “Santurce Es Ley” and “Los Muros Hablan,” which feature murals painted by local and world artists during the event on abandoned buildings and walls throughout the downtown area.

Santurce es Ley (Santurce rules!) was born in 2010, the brainchild of local artist Alexis Busquet and continues a vibrant force today, with five editions now under its belt. Puerto Rican artists work alongside painters from the United States, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Portugal, and Ukraine.

It was born along and around Cerra Street, which was a rundown area that still held on to signs of its prominent perch in the island music industry, home to production and distribution centers. The art has now made it a must see for any art lover visiting Puerto Rico.

Los Muros Hablan also seeks to unite locals and artists from across the Americas to revitalize through their work, the city’s neglected areas. The event, which also has an edition in New York City, specifically targets areas hit by economic and social abandonment. Since its inception less than five years ago, the event has also been held in Rio Piedras, another area of San Juan, and the western suburb Bayamon. Mayor Ramon Luis Nieves said the festival will inject “beauty and vitality” into an area he wants to improve and called artists Puerto Rico’s “best ambassadors.”

Like all Puerto Rican fiestas, there are cold drinks, delicious food, great music, dancing and plenty of happy people at these art fests. The great thing about the festivals, however, is the treasure trove of art they have left behind.

Many of the murals are located along Fernandez Juncos Avenue and Ponce De Leon Avenue and the side streets that connect them. The vibrant murals extend from areas of Miramar through Santurce to the Sagrado Corazon Tren Urbano station. However, San Juan street art is constantly changing, and what the festivals ignited has become a permanent force in the area. Other pieces are located in Rio Piedras and Bayamon, as well as in areas of Condado, Puerta de Tierra, and Hato Rey.

The new street art movement is invigorating San Juan’s public arts tradition, while helping revitalize specific areas. Already, eclectic sculptures from artists as diverse as Jorge Zeno and Lindsay Daen dot the city from Old San Juan to Condado to Isla Verde and beyond. The new muralists are part of San Juan’s growing allure as a cutting edge cultural scene maker. Touring the murals has almost become a must-do for art lovers in the island of enchantment.

The area also is home to San Juan’s best art museums – the Puerto Rico Art Museum and the Puerto Rico Museum of Contemporary Art – as well as a growing number of galleries, clubs, and alternate art spaces. As rents have tumbled in recent years, families and small business owners have flocked back into the areas, another revitalizing force along the art. And with more and more visitors coming to the area for the fabulous murals and other works of art, new cafes, and bistros are emerging in its wake.





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