Street art in Rome
Creating images on walls has been a tradition in Rome going back thousands of years. If you want to know what kept the everyday Romans busy, look at the remnants of ancient Roman street art. In Rome examples of ancient inscriptions are a rare find, but if the ones which survived in Pompeii are a sign of the times, we can only assume that in Rome graffiti on the walls was as common as in Pompeii.
Just to give an example in Pompeii: on the building of the fullery of Fabius Ululitremulus we can read in Latin – Fullones ululamque cano, non arma virumque – it translates into something like ‘I sing of fullers and the screech-owl, not arms and the man’ and above it we see an image of Romulus and near a picture of Aeneas fleeing Troy with his family. Some scholars believe it is a false start or a parody of Aeneid. We can only speculate; if only the walls could talk.
Finding street art
As there’s so much classic art in Rome it almost seems an unfair competition. Finding street art in Rome can be hard. Most street art is not found in the historical centre, but in the surrounding metropolitan areas that are significantly off the beaten tourist track. These are the urban islands of neighbourhoods such as San Lorenzo, Trastevere, Pigneto, Ostiense, San Basilio and Garbatella, as well as old cinemas (Preneste in Pigneto and Volturno near Termini) and various train/subway stations (par example subway station Spagna).
Nobody knows exactly when the flame of (what we now call) street art was ignited in Rome, probably in the early 90s with traditional painted graffiti. If we define graffiti as any type of writing on the wall and the walls of contemporary Rome could talk, you would probably not fail to notice how much things have changed. What emerges among the artists (or “writers” as they prefer to call themselves) today is much more than that; it is an art form that is both local and international. There is no doubt that in the last 5 to 10 years Rome offers a fertile ground for artists whom show incredible skill in pouring their art out on the walls of this eternal city.
Street art is a democratic form of public art
If you consider street art as any art developed in public spaces and streets, meaning outside of the context of traditional art venues, it has a high democratic value. A view shared by the “Poeti der Trullo”, a collective of young poets who write verses on the walls of Rome.They want to respect Rome by giving it something more, but without disfiguring it. They contradict the way street artist have been portrayed as common criminals and vandals. Their goal is to create poetic street art that makes people smile, which shows the character of the inhabitants of Rome in the form of “a river of verses directed toward the Tiber, the sea, the ocean”.
When the street art leaves the street to enter an art gallery is it still considered art?
If you want to contemplate the origins of Rome’s street art, you have to be cautious not put all urban art expressions in the same basket, as there are as many forms of street art as there are street artists. What started out as an illegal way of creating public art can now be found as art created by well known artist on specially appointed walls and in art galleries.
Does street art lose its nature in an art gallery? That’s a tricky question. Street artist Mr.Klevra has a clear vision: “Street Art, for me, must be art on a high level for ordinary people who do not expect to find complex works around the corner; it is a kind of gift to the spectators.” Another argument in favour of street exposure is that for many young artists (who are largely ignored by established galleries) street art provides an outlet to express themselves without having to ask permission from anybody. Another street artist, Omino71, believes that street art gets the dialogue going in the street and is one of the best ways for people to express themselves in a city.
Some art galleries agree to disagree; in their vision street art will not lose its nature in a gallery. They consider art art, wherever its location, although they are aware of the dilemma of losing out on the general public when street art is exhibited inside. The uniqueness of an artist’s work can still be admired, but the idea of dialogue with people is abandoned.
The future of Rome’s street art
Romans were never shy about scribbling on walls, but I wonder what the future holds for Rome’s street art. I just hope that street art will avoid the trap of institutionalisation and will continue to keep us curious and smiling. May the walls of Rome continue to tell us their stories for centuries to come!
Street art can be found (to name a few places) near the food market in Testaccio, on Via del Porto Fluviale, on via Partini 21 in Tiburtina, on the underpass leading into San Lorenzo from Porta Maggiore, on Via Silvio d’Amico, Tor Sapienza, Via Ostiense, via del Pigneto, via dei Volsci, near the new bridge in Garbatella, via delle Conce, the San Basilio area, Via del Commercio, Tor Marancia and via dei Magazzini Generali.
Art galleries specialised in urban art
Via Braccio da Montone, 56, 00176 Roma
Via di San Salvatore in Campo, 51, 00186 Rome
Piazza Manfredo Fanti, 47, 00185 Roma
Via Gabrio Serbelloni, 124, 00176 Roma
999Contemporary – visit by appointment only
Via Baccina, 84, 00184, Roma
Dorothy Circus Gallery
Via dei Pettinari, 76, 00186 Rome
Via Panisperna, 59, 00184 Roma
Mondo Bizzarro Gallery
Via Degli Equi, 18/A, Roma
A great source of information about street art is Rome Street Art, a project of Tomas Mancin.