Madrid shopkeers recruit graffiti artists

Shopkeepers in the Spanish capital have invited graffiti artists to paint the steel shutters protecting their stores to prevent them from being defaced by crude or obscene scribblings.

Over 130 graffiti artists from across Europe, including Bristol and Milan, decorated 140 shutters on Sunday in Madrid's central Malasana neighbourhood, which has long been the heart of the city's countercultural scene.

Since painting over another graffiti artists' artwork is considered a serious insult by street artists, the shopkeepers believe they will no longer find their shutters covered with ugly, and sometimes obscene, drawings that can be expensive to remove.

"I really like it," said Marcela Orquera as she admired the painting of a large blue star inside a red ball outlined in yellow on the shutter of her Internet cafe.

"If you leave the shutter clean, they will paint on it. They respect each others' work so this way they will leave it the way it is," the 31-year-old Argentinian added.

Some of the drawings are linked to the shop's activity, like the black silhouette of a chef tossing pizza dough against a red backdrop on the shutter of a pizzeria - but in most cases there is no connection.

The shutter of a bicycle shop depicts a young girl in a red dress skipping with barbed wire in front of a tank and a helicopter - reminiscent of the works of celebrated British graffiti artist Banksy.

Others depict blue monsters, a girl washing herself in a pail and Mexican wrestlers in colourful costumes that leave only their nose, mouth and eyes exposed.

Organisers hope the initiative, which has the backing of the local residents' association, will transform the neighbourhood into an "outdoor urban art gallery". Shops can have their shutters repainted every 80 days.

"We like graffiti, what we reject are the indiscriminate scribblings that no one authorises that make the neighbourhood ugly," said the president of the local residents' association, Isabel Rodriguez.

The quarter was the heart of the "movida madrilena", the explosion of creativity in fashion, theatre, movies and nightlife which took place in the late 1970s and the 1980s after the death of dictator Francisco Franco.

The area still retains an alternative feel like London's Camden Town and New York's East Village, with its hemp shops, independent clothing stores and bars that send customers spilling out into the street.

"This is the perfect neighbourhood for this, it adds to its unique character," said Carlos Reverte, a 21-year-old student at a local art school as he sat with friends at a cafe terrace during a break from classes.

Graffiti artists have also greeted the project with enthusiasm.

"The initiative seems like a good idea, it uses the entire neighbourhood like a gigantic canvas and gives exposure to all those people who enjoy making art and expressing their emotions," said the duo of graffiti artists that go by the nickname Totemjau who painted the girl skipping with barbed wire.

The two artists said they have already received e-mails from shopkeepers in other neighbourhoods who want them to paint their shutters as well.

"We do not earn a living with this, we just want to express an opinion through images and this seems like the best way," they added in an e-mail.

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