Interview | Lord K2: Street Art Santiago

Stencil graffiti artist Lord K2 travelled Latin America, studying the local scenes of Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, and Bogotá. Along his travels, he discovered a glittering gem nestled amongst the Andes. Santiago, Chile captured his heart and imagination, inspiring a voyage of discovery that has taken form in Street Art Santiago (Schiffer Publishing).

Street Art Santiago, Lord K2

Featuring more than 200 photographs and intimate conversations with 80 artists in 14 neighborhoods, Street Art Santiago Chile shows how street art developed throughout the city, tracing its evolution alongside the political history of the nation itself. During the Cold War, under the regime of General Augusto Pinochet, the mural became a weapon of popular resistance. After the fall of Pinochet’s dictatorship, graffiti and street art began to flourish, developing quietly in its own cosmos, taking in the aesthetic influences of American, European, and Brazilian writers. The result has made Santiago a singular home for graffiti and street art. Lord K2 speaks with Crave about his experience making the book.

Crave: FISEK says, “Graffiti is about liberty.” This seems to speak to the ethos of graffiti in Chile, as it began as a clandestine weapon of resistance against General Augusto Pinochet, and remaining a crime that is publicly stigmatized by the government. Can you speak about what it is about graffiti that gives it such strong, passionate appeal to the rebellious heart of the Chilean youth?

 Lord K2: Public walls are often the only medium that is accessible and effective in reaching out to the people. The Chilean youth who revolt against the government have no other means to convey their messages effectively to the masses. There are an abundance of walls in Chile that can easily be painted on and they are free to use. I have noticed that the majority of Chileans do not use walls for political purposes but rather to express their artistic skills. 

Also: Studio Visit | Catching Up With Graffiti Legend RISK

By providing a history of the graffiti movement alongside the historical developments in Chile since Pinochet’s regime, we begin to understand the way that art is used to create a “spirit of communion,” as you describe. Graffiti is a very populist art: for the people, by the people, whether they like it or not. Can you speak about what kind of consequences writers face if caught by the police?

I do not think that graffiti is much of a threat to the government of Chile. Graffiti may cause the government a little embarrassment, it’s just another angle along with many other methods in which the people can protest. The culmination of many styles of protesting may then cause an impact. Usually the police do nothing if they see an artist painting illegally, unless it’s on a government building or an obvious form of vandalism. If a writer were to be caught vandalizing, he would be arrested and probably made to do community service.

In your introduction, you mention that all you had to do to meet writers was to walk around. I’m dreaming of a world where people paint illegally in the daytime. Reminds me of a New York that no longer exists. Can you talk about what the scene is like on the streets of Santiago? How public is the act of writing, and how open are writers to the public as a whole?

In Chile it’s easy to access a wall to paint on, the local artists know which walls they can and can’t paint on. If in doubt, they will knock on the door and ask, often the resident will be more than happy to have his wall painted. The police have other things to worry about and they also know which walls to turn a blind eye to. I painted on a public wall without permission right in front of the police, knowing full well that it’s acceptable.

Whereas art galleries are very elitist, graffiti brings art to the people, for free. It belongs to everyone and cannot be owned, or resold for profit. Can you speak about how the communities in which they work, and how the community as a whole relates to the work, and to the writers themselves? 

The Chilean community tends to admire street art. The walls in Chile are often dilapidated, so artworks usually enhance the appearance of walls, the public is well aware of this and hence they appreciate quality artwork on their walls. The standard of artistry in Chile is high, so the artworks are often of a standard that falls into the fine art genre. I have come across many Chileans who are fans of street art. I spent a lot of time watching/photographing the artists working on the streets and in many instances they are offered private work by passers by, not all the offers materialize but a few of them do.

In total, what was the most exciting thing you discovered about the Santiago graffiti scene and its writers ? What was the biggest surprise to you?

The biggest surprise to me was the warmth I had experienced from these guys. Street Art has an image of rebellion and attitude, but I experienced open hearts and relaxed attitudes. What I also noted, which is so far unique in my travels was the willingness to share and collaborate walls amongst fellow artists.

The most exciting thing for me was the anticipation of the artists painting their next walls. The standards of artistry are so high that each time an artist paints I perceive it as a gift to society. These fine art pieces are usually reserved for galleries so to see it on such a grand scale is the public domain was a treat.

Photos courtesy of Lord K2/Schiffer Publishing.

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.