CASTROGONZALO, Spain – The sleepy village of Castrogonzalo in northwestern Spain is an unlikely canvas for urban street art but every year a group of artists descends on the rural enclave to give its facades a new lick of paint.
This part of Spain is normally awash with earthy tones but the years-long interventions led by local graffiti artist Antonio Feliz, known as Parsec, and Madrid Street Art Project have made Castrogonzalo a mecca for urban art lovers and the village an explosion of color.
“It’s great!” Tomasa Zamora, a resident of the village, told Efe.
“People visit the village, we’ve even been on the television.”
Zamora is one of the many locals who have become street art aficionados and is also the star of one of the most popular murals in the village of some 478 inhabitants.
“We told Antonio to paint something on our wall, some flowers or something,” she added.
“One day he came along and took a photo of us.
“Then a few days later he came and started painting.”
Feliz painted a portrait of the three life-long friends on the exact location where the women gather every day.
They now sit opposite the artwork and watch the world go by whilst admiring themselves.
A VILLAGE TRANSFORMED
Feliz started the venture that has transformed the village beyond recognition in 2006 and spent his formative years as an artist leaving his stamp on the streets he’d known since he was a child.
Since 2006 some 75 artworks have taken shape.
“I wanted to share this place with people because I think this is an interesting place for both those who paint and those who don’t,” Antonio Feliz, the founder of the event and village local told Efe.
“You hear a lot about ‘empty Spain’ but the concept sounds very mournful, I don’t really agree with calling these places ‘empty’, they aren’t empty.
“There are people, people live here.
“Perhaps Madrid is ‘fuller’ but within it may be emptier. Here there is more to give and receive.”
As you meander around the quiet village large colorful murals take you by surprise, stencils on random places catch your eye and even installations have started to emerge.
Art is so embedded in this settlement that even the cisterns of public toilets have been decorated with stickers of floating mermaids.
And the movement has proven contagious.
Neighboring villages have started to adopt the urban aesthetic and commissions trickle in at a steady rate as garage doors and walls are branded in vibrant hues.
“I have visited this village several times to take pictures of the graffiti and I’m familiar with many of the murals,” Felix Alfonso Barrero, who is from the neighboring village of Quiruelas de Vidriales, told Efe.
Barrero uses the photos to make things like bookmarks or books of the artworks which he then gives as presents to friends and family.
“I value the works from an artistic point of view.
“They undoubtedly have a great value for the village, people must enjoy having painted walls rather than bear surfaces,” he added.
Feliz teamed up with the Madrid Street Art Project in 2013 to launch a community event during which several artists spend a weekend in the village and contribute to this growing graffiti haven with their creations.
As part of the “Rural Safari” weekend, Feliz takes anyone who is interested on a guided tour of the village and the ever-growing collection.
As locals, artists and art lovers trundled around under the hot August sun, graffitists had already popped their cans open and could be seen painting the village over.
Piahomes, a couple from Madrid, created a mural featuring a set of swallows in acid colors.
“This mural is about migration, it addresses the issue of depopulation of villages and the movement of people from one place to the next,” Marta Morales told Efe.
“It is like a metaphor about travel, like swallows who leave but then always return to the same spot, for ‘fiestas’ or because people retire, or they decide to return to their land.”
Many of the murals and artworks have been influenced by the rural surroundings.
Miho Hirano, Feliz’s wife, told the touring group that one of the works in the village is a picture of a Japanese couple from the Edo period.
“The woman works the land and has a ratan basket on her back to transport her produce,” Hirano, who is also Japanese, explained to the group of enthusiasts and artists.
A set of weather-worn hands intricately painted in ochre hues adorned a wall in earthy tones.
“It was designed to be a homage to the older people of this village,” Yolanda Gomez Urrea, the artist who created it, told the group.
Further along, a large mural known as the “Gallery of Circles” features a delicate painting of wild indigenous flowers that are endangered by Leticia Ortega Urien.
What traditionally is associated with an urban landscape with gritty content and appealing to a young eye, in Castrogonzalo takes on a different meaning and Feliz has even coined a new term to describe it: “su-ruralism.”
Locals take great pride in their murals and the new identity the village enjoys shaped by the ever-changing art.
One such villager is Trinidad Nuñez Vecino who is the proud caretaker of a popular artwork that wraps around her garage.
As you approach, a set of chickens looking apprehensive are dotted around two of the building’s walls.
On the second wall a fox’s snout peaks around a corner, with his full body painted on the third wall.
“My son suggested Antonio should paint it,” Nuñez Vecino told Efe.
“One morning Antonio just turned up and started painting, nobody knew what he was going to do.
“At the end of the day we saw the fox and the chickens and so forth, and it is very popular.”
Feliz is very popular and his warmth is infectious.
You can see how he has managed to make the people of this remote village into street art enthusiasts.
“This isn’t a festival, it’s a get-together,” Feliz told the crowd.
And the community aspect of the weekend event is what makes it such a refreshing and intimate affair.
It’s not about selling your art, it’s not about selling an experience, it’s about appreciating the process of the creation, savoring it and inviting an entire community to enjoy the process with you, the artist told Efe.
“People get involved for their love of art, and that is why this event generates joy.”