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House wall painted by the French couple Ella & Pitr. Photo: Ian Cox
House wall painted by the French couple Ella & Pitr. Photo: Ian Cox

Stavanger – The city of street art

The western Norwegian city of Stavanger is famous for its beautiful old wooden houses, but the city has a lot more to offer. Stavanger has now gained a reputation as a city of street art.

The white villas of Nedstrandsgata sit in a neat row. Their white picket fences are well maintained and the hedges and cypress trees appear to be clipped using nail scissors. But hidden among these idyllic

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Stavanger hosted the first street art festival in 2001. Today, the festival brings in artists from all over the world. The municipality and the local business community work together to make it happen.

“We want to create an international platform for artists who operate outside the traditional systems,” says Martyn Reed, curator and director of the Nuart festival. “We want to stimulate debate by challenging the understanding of what art can be. We also want to create a dynamic environment for artists, students, people who go to galleries, and the general public.”

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grand villas is a little visual surprise. An old villa with a bay window has been given a makeover, with cross-stitch embroidery in red and orange paint. Street artist Ernest Zacharevic from Lithuania has been here. So has Norwegian artist Dot Dot Dot. He is one of Norway’s most acclaimed street artists and has painted three walls in Stavanger.

“Stavanger was among the first to accept the art form,” Dot Dot Dot tells Scandinavian Traveler.

He does not want to reveal his real name or age, only that he was born and raised in Oslo and began his art career along the subways and train lines of the city “in the 1990s.”

“Stavanger was among the first to help create acceptance of the art form,” he says.

To start with, Dot Dot Dot worked using a spray can, but he soon wanted to take his expression in a different direction. Today he uses a mixture of techniques, including stencils and freehand painting. In Stavanger, his image of the Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten casts an expectant and skeptical eye over the passersby on Vinkelgata.

Ernest Zacharevic in the making of the cross-stitch embroidery pattern on a wall. Photo: Ian Cox

“I bought a hat and a jacket and photographed a person wearing them, then brought that together with a photo of Rotten,” he says. “It is a form of collage, but one that unfolds on the walls. The images are often first designed on paper and cut out before being hung against the wall and sprayed on. Johnny Rotten was painted freehand, which involves more work in the painting process, but gives me greater freedom to adapt the size of the subject to the wall.”

‘Stavanger was among the first to help create acceptance of the art form’

Stencil painting is a traditional genre within street art and arose out of the need to paint a wall quickly. Creating works of art on buildings and walls used to be illegal, and you had to work fast. Many people in Bergen are still tearing their hair out over British artist Banksy’s visit to town 15 years ago. The legendary street artist left several of his works on the city’s walls. The municipal authorities considered it vandalism and cleaned away the murals.
Today, Banksy’s works sell for tens of thousands of euros.

Street art has become mainstream. This year, Stavanger gave €50,000 to the Nuart street art festival, which attracts street artists from all around the world to show off their work.

“From our point of view, street art is on an equal footing with other art forms,” says Inger S. Bjerga, the city’s cultural adviser. “Street art is visible and people generally like it. The Nuart street art festival has become a major event that attracts the international press to the city.”

Art by Bordalo. Photo: Ian Cox

Now the festival even has galleries at the Tou Scene arts center, and street art is moving in on the traditional art scene, which forces a moment of self-examination: Has street art become mainstream?

The acceptance of this art form has also led to commercial involvement. In Klepp, just outside Stavanger, concrete contractor Block Berge Bygg commissioned artists Ella & Pitr to paint a picture on the roof of their building. The result is a painting of a crumpled woman and a small figure, Olav Tryggvason, who was king of Norway from 995 to 1000 A.D. It covers 21,000 square meters.

“First of all, we wanted to make ourselves visible from the sky,” says Eirik Halvorsen, profile and media manager at Block Berge Bygg. “Then we established a partnership with the Nuart festival and the artists Ella & Pitr. Their work has got people talking about us all over the world. This is not only amazing from a marketing perspective, but it is also a project of which the staff, the municipality, and the county can be proud. The work has become a landmark.”

The walls of Stavanger are bursting with energy, satirical comment, colors, and poetic expression. Is there a common denominator?

“Everyone has their own style,” Dot Dot Dot says. “I use a lot of humor and I try to put my opinion across or comment on the political situation. What I do may remind you of what Dolk [an artist from Bergen] and Banksy do, but we each have our own way of depicting our subject.

“It’s like pop art in the ’60s and ’70s. And it is exciting to be part of it.”

Text: Inga Ragnhild Holst