A Photographic Tour of Reykjavík Street Art

In September, my husband and I had our first stopover in Reykjavík, Iceland on our way to France. While walking around the city, we quickly noticed an interesting subculture that we weren’t expecting to see: Reykjavík street art. And there was a lot of it. So much so, that we just had to photograph some of our favourites.

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This one seemed innocuous enough. It’s instructions on how to tie a tie:

How to Tie a Tie mural Reykjavik

Guido Van Helten, an Australian street artist painted this series of murals in the Grandi harbour area. They’re based on photos from the Jean-Paul Sartre play “No Exit” performed here in 1961. They’ve seen better days, though:

no exit guido van helten street art

Guido Van Helten Reykjavik mural No Exit

Not all of the murals cover entire walls of buildings, either. Check out this smaller mural. I’m not sure what the symbolism here is, with a fox carrying a house on its back. But Icelanders are known for great sagas and storytelling. So I’m sure there’s a tale to tell here:

reykjavik fox and house mural

I imagine most street artists are fully aware of the fleeting permanence of their work. But some of these murals are so stunning, it would really be a huge loss to cover them up. Just look at this one, for example:

Girl with unicorn and stars Reykjavik mural

Reykjavík Street Art and Iceland Airwaves

Many of the murals are due to a 2015-2016 collaboration between Iceland Airwaves, a local music festival, and Urban Nation, based in Berlin. Entitled “Wall Poetry,” the ongoing project is a way of encouraging musicians and street artists to blend their crafts in order to create urban art in public spaces.

This Reykjavík street art, by an artist called D*Face, was one that particularly drew my attention, I’m not sure why. But isn’t that one of the aspects of great art; that it evokes some sort of emotion or visceral feeling? I do love the comic book aspect of the work too. It’s inspired by Agent Fresco and Laxdaela. You can find it at Laugavegur 66:

Reykjavík D*FACE and Agent Fresco mural

The mural below is by Elle, with inspiration from a song by a band called Úlfur Úlfur. It’s at Laugavegur 35:

Elle with Úlfur Úlfur mural

This one, covering a building at Laugavegur 23 is particularly iconic. Caratoes S painted it in collaboration with the Icelandic band YLJA.

black and white mural by Caratoes S in Reykjavik

I love the serene oceanic colours and theme of this one by Raff. According to the date, Raff painted this one in 2012:

Reykjavik street art Raff 2012

An artist by the name of Tankpetrol painted this one in the Old Harbour area. A song by a band called Gus Gus inspired this mural. You can see it at Grandagarður 14:

Tankpetrol with Gus Gus mural

And this one, by the artistic duo of Telmo Miel, is especially…interesting? You may be wondering why she’s riding a moth? It’s all thanks to the inspiration of a song called Moth Light by Mercury Rev! I love the look of determination on the girl’s face:

girl riding a moth mural by Telmo Miel, Reykjavik

This stunning piece is on the side of the Gamla Bíó concert venue. It’s by Canadian artist Li-Hill, inspired by John Grant’s song Pale Green Ghosts:

mural on side of Gamla Bio concert venue in Reykjavik

And if you’re really lucky, as we were in 2016, you may even catch an artist working on a mural! Heather McLean is a tattoo artist and illustrator from Calgary, Alberta, Canada – and we got to see her working on this mural! It’s inspired by a song called “A Hundred Ropes” by Minor Victories:

hundred ropes Reykjavik street art

The Disappearance of Reykjavík Street Art

Many murals have been painted on the sides of buildings that are currently only visible due to active demolition/construction in Reykjavík.

Which means, inevitably, many of these murals will get covered up once new buildings are erected. The mural below is just one example of this. You can still see the imprint of the old building that was demolished next door. Ernest Zacharevic painted this mural at Hverfisgata 42, with inspiration from Dikta – but sadly, due to new construction, it’s now just a memory:

Ernest Zacharevic with Dikta mural

This brightly painted mural did not last forever either. This Reykjavík street art was just another casualty of the construction boom happening in Reykjavík right now:

Reykjavik colorful murals

Discovering all these murals was an unexpected treat during our stay in Reykjavik. It really enhanced our experience and gave us something to seek out on every street we walked down. So if you’re ever in Reykjavik, keep an eye out for the incredible street art, fleeting as some of it may be!

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