Street Art From Iceland Hits Colourful Nuuk

Street art Nuuk - guido van helten

Guido van Helten’s work. Photo: Mads Pihl

It created such buzz that residents of Greenland’s capital Nuuk heard about it on Facebook before they saw it: Icelanders were painting art on the blocks.

While it’s burgeoning in Reykjavik, large-scale street art is almost non-existent in Nuuk, a city with 16,000 residents. That is, before this new Icelandic-Greenlandic-Australian creative project happened. Today you can’t miss the presence of street art in Nuuk’s centrum, courtesy of an idea born in Reykjavik.

A wacky idea churned in Iceland

Icelander Stefán Óli Baldursson met Aussie artist Guido van Helten when he was in Iceland. Stefán works the underground scene, painting at night and avoiding attention where possible. Guido came to Iceland in April 2013 for a two-month Nes Artist Residency in Skagaströnd and hung around up North for as long as possible. Greenland beckoned at them both, because they were attracted to painting in less established and outdoor canvasses. After a whole lot of hard work and organisation, their efforts paid off, and the Greenlandic government even partially financed the project.

Street art with Sermitsiaq mountain in the background. Photo: Guido van Helten

Urban Greenland

Most people in Iceland (or the world for that matter) don’t know much about Greenland. They imagine icebergs and polar bears, but cannot combine that picture with an urban Greenland where tattoo artists, BMX biking and street fashion exist.

It’s probably most obvious in Nuuk, a diverse city that playfully calls itself Nuuk York. Described as beautiful, ugly, raw yet real, the colourful capital is dominated by looming mountain peaks and an extensive fjord system. The city gives way quickly to rough nature, but it’s the slightly deteriorating apartment blocks that define the inner city area, and it’s two of those walls that Stefán and Guido were commissioned to paint.

Lady with polar bear. Photo: Stefán Óli Baldursson

Painting on the blocks

Stefán created a picture of a woman petting a polar bear on Block Ten in Nuuk, created directly from his head. In contrast, Guido continued a theme he used in Iceland, painting historical photos inspired by the location. For example, ‘Estelle and Inez’ in Reykjavik and ‘Sia’ in Akureyri. For Greenland, he studied a photo of a hunter thought to be called Katuat or Pooŋojorteq from Tasiilaq in East Greenland, taken in 1906 by W. Thalbitzer.

He really liked the texture and lines on the wall, which allowed him to systematically paint the hunter.

Find art in Iceland

Roaming around Reykjavik, Akureyri and other cities in Iceland, see if you can spot works by Stefán and Guido on the streets. At the end of September, Guido left to go back to his home in Brisbane, Australia where he plans to paint a similar concept. Stefán on the other hand will be painting in broad daylight on a commissioned project of Reykjavik City Library’s wall.

4 thoughts on “Street Art From Iceland Hits Colourful Nuuk

  1. Pingback: Why The Capital Of Greenland Is The New New York - IntoConnection

  2. You are right. I’m one of those people who think Greenland is all about polar bears and icecaps. Now I know better. That is one massive art project, with an Aussie touch, and it must have taken some time to put together. They are certainly eye-catching faces and I’m sure each one tells a different story from the past.

    We do have something similar here in Melbourne. Like this Aboriginal work of art painted high up on one of the city’s buildings (just above a spray-paint lane popular with graffiti artists):

    I don’t walk by this area too often, but I hear that the portraits change once every few months.

  3. Sichler can only improve the outward appearance (many buildings are not the most beautiful in the world…)
    It is funny that you say that people imagine polar Bears and ice bergs, well many people have the same idea about Scandinavia and that there is snow 10momths a year and two months full of huge Mosquitos ( they might be right on the mosquito thing though!)

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