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2007 kelburn castle

Street Artists Transform an Old Castle into a Mind-blowing Grafitti Retreat

Once you sight the Kelburn Castle, you’d be forgiven to think that castles have to be old, dreary stone buildings with grey and brown exteriors. The ideas of Patrick Boyle, the 10th and current Earl of Glasgow will completely change your perception.

Kelburn Castle was originally built in the 13th century and undergone remodeling in the 16th century. It’s perhaps the oldest castle in Scotland and it holds the record for inhabiting the same family for the longest time. In 1703, David Boyle, the then owner of the castle was among the commissioners who negotiated the Treaty of Union uniting Scotland and England into Great Britain. The castle has been home to a long line of Earls the family has produced since then.

In 2007, experts told Lord Glasgow that the castle’s concrete would soon need replacing to avoid further deterioration of the stonework. David and Alice asked their dad, the Earl of Glasgow, to paint the building into a colorful mural.

The job landed on four Brazilian graffiti artists Nunca, Nina Pandolfo, and twins Os Gemeos. Together, they designed a tropical imaginary world featuring large and vibrant monkeys, fish and huge fruits. A quick glance at the mural will tell you a lot about Brazilian graffiti tradition; vibrant, color-rich and energetic. Taken out of its urban context, it illuminates the Scottish countryside with formidable hues and shines through any rain-soaked distress the world can throw at it.

It was a groundbreaking artistic move that combined the transient, contemporary culture of street art with traditional, lifelong and rural nature of the castle, creating a lasting contradiction of visual beauty.

2007 kelburn castle

“It is a project of contrasts and collaboration that bridges between cultures, rural and urban realms and unites two proud and very different cultures”, explained the Kelburn estate.

The work was originally meant to be temporary following a three-year permit from Historic Scotland, a government agency responsible for preserving Scotland’s historic monuments. A report came out in September 2010 claiming the agency was piling pressure on Lord Glasgow to remove the graffiti, though it was later denied by both parties. Another 2011 report suggested that the Earl had written to Historic Scotland requesting permission to keep the graffiti as a permanent feature of the castle.

He said, “In the three years that the mural has been on the castle it has attracted enormous interest from around the world and it is loved by everyone who sees it…It has become a landmark and a talking point and it has given the castle and the estate a whole new character”.

The Earl fought a good fight, of course, he had to; he spent £20,000 for the work that featured a psychedelic series of interwoven cartoons representing a surreal urban culture.

A 2011 memo published by Historic Scotland stated that owners of listed properties should only use ‘historically correct colors in a manner which is appropriate to the building’. Historically indeed, yet many who have witnessed the breathtaking mural appreciate the artwork in contrast to the dull and monochrome part of the mansion.

The report continued, “Where more than one color is to be used, they should all relate to the architectural features of the whole building in a logical and consistent manner”.

The mural had quickly become an integral feature of Kelburn alongside a series of outdoor attractions and a country centre open to the public. These include a ginger bread house, a Chinese garden in a secluded forest and a stone grotto. The Kelburn Glen in particular with its deep gorges and waterfalls is one of Scotland’s most scenic woodlands and leads to stunning views across the Farm of Clyde islands.

For information, the mural was once mentioned as one of the top 10 world examples of street art by author and designer Tristan Manco, putting it on the same level with the Favela Morro Da Providencia in Rio de Janeiro and Banksy’s work in Los Angeles.

Historic Scotland eventually allowed some leeway for the artwork to live a few a more years. Unfortunately in 2012, another inspection suggested that the cement was again damaging the original walls of the castle and should be removed, according to BBC. There was a planned removal of the mural in the summer of 2015 but until date, there are no more updates from either the castle owners or from the media.

Sometimes people take time to start appreciating art, even the French first thought the Eiffel Tower was ugly yet today it’s their iconic structure. We hope Historic Scotland looked at things differently and let the work of the Brazilian street artists continue drawing millions to Kelburn.

mural by os gemeos

Os Gêmeos Bio

Brazil today is internationally renowned for its grafitti and street art scene, intensified recently by the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The whole country embraces their street art scene more than many other countries, with some municipalities passing laws to encourage street art. The city of São Paulo, for example, has banned public advertising like billboards, freeing up more space for street artists to create and display their talents.

Perhaps one of the reasons São Paulo has laws to encourage street art is because they are the birthplace of one, or rightly two, of Brazil’s most important and influential street artists. Born Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo, these identical twins are better known as Os Gêmeos, the Portuguese word for twins. But even those who don’t know their name would know their work in Brazil, it has come to dominate and guide the country’s street art aesthetics.

The twins were born in 1974 and grew up just as hip-hop began its swift movement through Central and South America. The familiar beats and youthful energy captured the attention of Brazil’s youth, including Otavio and Gustavo. They started out as breakdancers, but soon graffiti became their favourite activity.

At the time, the New York street art scene was the most prevalent and famous in the world and the twins began tagging and reproducing the style that could be seen all over NYC. They weren’t interested in their own style at the time and, much like the early adoption of any artistic practice, reproduction was vastly more interesting than creating something entirely new. Os Gêmeos, as we all know now, quickly became disinterested in mere reproduction, and a definitive style that incorporated Brazilian aesthetic, folklore, and culture began showing up in their work.

A chance encounter with Barry McGee, then known as Twist, gave the twins their first direct contact with an American graffiti artist. McGee was in Brazil for several months for school and provided local artists with examples of the New York scene as it was happening. McGee also put Os Gêmeos in contact with other artists and street art professionals, giving them a way to advertise themselves outside Brazil.

Os Gêmeos began experimenting with their style and giving their work a distinctive Brazilian flavour, including differing colour palettes, subjects, and approaches from their New York influences. A trademark for their work now, the yellow skin of many of their characters actually comes from dreams they have both had that feature people with yellow skin. They started making overt political statements as well, focused on local issues of poverty and infrastructure in their homeland.

Nowadays, Os Gêmeos’ work can be seen all over the world, from Europe to North America to all over their native land. Special commissions include art festivals around the world and, surprisingly, local transit systems in Brazil, who are famously against street art on their trains. Murals and graffiti have become part of Brazil’s cultural makeup, individual expressions that together help a local and national identity, and two artists working under one name are a large part of this continuing mode of expression and internationally renowned scene. Their name is Os Gêmeos.