Reykjavik’s Thriving Street Art Scene

Heart Park Sculpture

Heart Park In The Midnight Sun, Reykjavik, 2012. Photo credit unknown

A recent exploration of Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavik led to the discovery of a lively and evolving street art scene. A walk around the city reveals fresh work at every turn, so if you visit, expect to peer down quite a few alleyways. Some murals are created with permission from private building owners and some are less formal, but either way, the sheer variety is one of the strengths of the scene.

There are so many good artists working, some of them anonymously, and the scene changes constantly, creating a moving target for documentation, but one stand-out is artist Sara Riel, who trained in Berlin and now lives and works in Reykjavik. Riel’s work can seen be in museums, (she had a show at the National Gallery of Iceland in 2013), and she also does commercial work such as album covers and posters. Notably on the street scene: in 2012, she created a series of works under the theme Natural Kingdoms and in 2013, she created a mural called Cultivate Your Garden.

Iceland Sculpture

The Mushroom, detail, from The Nature Kingdom series by Sara Riel. Photo credit: Sara Riel

Here is a Google Map of Reykjavik Street Art including Riel’s work.

Part of the magic of the scene is the way murals come and go, but to see any of this work painted over would be a sad thing.

Riel’s website:

Another standout are the works of painter Guido van Helten:

Iceland Sculpture

No Exit, detail, by Guido van Helten, Reykjavik, 2014

In February 2014, van Helten created a massive installation in the Old West end of the city. According to Street Art News, “The artist based (his) murals on photographs by Andres Kolbeinsson selected from the Reykjavik Museum Of Photography archive. They represent scenes from the Jean-Paul Sartre play No Exit performed in the city in 1961 in which the characters Estelle, Garcin and Inez are locked together in a room for eternity”. No Exit contains the famous line, “Hell is other people”.

This work creates a huge visual impact in a part of the city that otherwise looks a bit run down. Many people, including the family of one of the actresses depicted, came to talk with van Helten and to watch him paint, thus expanding the public’s engagement, not only with his work, but with street art in general.

Iceland Sculpture

Heart Park In The Midnight Sun, Reykjavik, 2012. Photo credit unknown

The Heart Park

In 2008, a private property management company purchased an empty lot near Laugavegur, Reykjavik’s main shopping district. There intent was to build a hotel, however, the economic crash of 2008 put a stop to their plans and the lot lay fallow until artists Tomas Magnusson, aka Tomio Newmilk, Tanya Pollack and Orn Tonsberg started a movement to pick up trash and make the lot into a park. Soon, the Hjartagarðurinn, or Heart Park, as it became known, was a regular hang-out-spot, complete with benches, playground equipment, skate ramps and beautiful murals, all of which were donated. Kids, teens, adults and tourists all used the space. According to Newmilk, people felt safe there and it was a fun, lively scene.

Iceland Sculpture

Seal Mural by Selur, Heart Park, Reykjavik, 2012. Photo credit: Apex Imagery

As is often the case with graffiti sites, (5Pointz in Long Island City, NY comes immediately to mind), in the end the builders reclaimed their right to use the space and in September 2013, the Heart Park was closed. After its demise, 33-year-old Tomio Newmilk, who is also a musician with Quadruplos, a visual artist, and a photographer, set up a rotating exhibit on his own property on Vitastigur.

According to Newmilk, this summer he will be working with the city and private property owners to create legal spaces for artwork. When asked how many murals he would like to see in the city, he said, “There is no idea of too much. Liven the place up”.

Reykjavik may be coming around. It has a cutting edge art and music scene that is a draw for tourism and also serves as a home to a vital scene that recognizes local youth and local talent. Bravo. Wouldn’t it be great if every town had a Heart Park that could last?

By Elizabeth Keithline

Other Links:

An American In Iceland


Grapevine Iceland

Hyperallergic, The Wildlife of Reykjavik Street Art

Razing of Heart Park Begins, Grapevine

Will The Heart (Park) Beat Go On?, Huff Post

Interview With Sara Riel, Grapevine

Reykjavik’s War On Graffiti, Grapevine

Grapevine’s Sara Riel cover

Reviving Reykjavik’s Slum

Home Is Where The Heart Is, Grapevine

Restoring A Park To Its Former Glory, Grapevine

Visit Reykjavik’s Heart While It’s Still Beating


3 responses

  1. Pingback: Iceland’s Urban Art and Design Details | Encountering Urbanization

  2. Pingback: — Day 1 — | threeroamingsouls

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: