Interviewed by Joel Centano

“Bogotá is now one of the meccas for street art in all the world,” says Crisp, an artist whose work often calls attention to political injustices and the beauty of nature. An Australian native, he’s one of many talents who’ve transformed the city’s streets into colorful open-air galleries that showcase everything from Colombia’s indigenous cultures to comic book characters.

After traveling the globe and making art in Europe, Asia, North America, and beyond, Crisp settled in Bogotá in 2009, and now serves as an unofficial ambassador for the city’s urban art scene. In 2011, he helped launch an art walk – your travel advisor can arrange the tour as part of a customized Colombia journey – that wends its way through Bogotá’s creative La Candelaria neighborhood. He also gives back by teaching art to underprivileged youth.

Following a recent Colombia trip with Big Five Tours & Expeditions that included time to contemplate La Candelaria’s canvases, I tracked Crisp down to get his take on Bogotá’s urban art scene and some of the people who’ve put it on the map.

A bird’s-eye view of Bogotá’s San Felipe neighborhood. (Photo: Crisp)

Why is urban art booming in Bogotá?
The laws have been generally permissive; street art isn’t strictly illegal. This means there’s a more open and respected environment to create in public. Saying this, laws are changing under the current mayor, who’s instructed police to enforce tougher penalties. However, if artists have permission from building owners or the city council – both are realizing that urban art and the interest it generates benefits businesses and the community – there typically isn’t a problem.

There are also a host of potent issues that inspire graffiti and street art here – just for example, social inequalities or Colombia’s 52-year civil conflict and recent peace process. Last, there is so much beauty to draw from Colombia’s people, mountains, coasts, jungles, animals, and plants.

Iconic La Candelaria: A portrait of an indigenous woman by Carlos Trilleras. (Photo: Joel Centano)

What inspires you?
My work varies from the sociopolitical to the purely aesthetic. Sometimes I like to send a message or try to make people think about an issue I feel strongly about. For example, I highlight the fact that urban sprawl and our modern lifestyle are disrupting our natural ecosystems that we all ultimately rely on to live. Other times I enjoy making blank spaces or congested parts of the city more beautiful by adding scenes that depict nature and the wild.

Colombia’s fauna, like this frog in La Candelaria, is a recurring motif in Crisp’s work. (Photo: Crisp)

A word on your fellow artists:
Grafiteros represent many different types of creators – from graffiti writers and taggers to sculptors, stencil artists, muralists, and more. They also come from diverse backgrounds and from every level of society. Many are highly educated and work as university lecturers, architects, jewelers, physiotherapists, designers, or doctors. That’s the beauty of street art – it transcends all stereotypes and reaches everyone!

Some grafiteros of note?
It’s difficult to single out a list of artists, considering the amount of talent here. That said, keep an eye out for the Bogotá Street Art Collective, which includes Juegasiempre, Toxicómano, Lesivo, and Guache. There’s a strong female contingent covering the city, so look for pieces by Erre, Ledania, Lik Mi, Leela, Melissa Vásquez, Gleo, and Mugre. Works from Rodez and his two sons, Nomada and Malegria, also should not be missed. I’ve only mentioned a fraction of the active artists here, however, and it’s best just to wander around to find your own favorites.

Malegria’s art, including this mural in La Candelaria, often focuses on fantastical creatures with pronounced eyes. (Photo: Joel Centano)

When in La Candelaria …
For lunch, you can’t go wrong at Sant Just, which serves fresh, high-quality French-Colombian fusion cuisine at decent prices. To purchase local street art, head to the Dibs by Culture Shock Colombia gallery in La Candelaria or Visaje Graffiti Colombia and Beta Galería; both are just a short taxi ride away. These places help support local artists by selling their pieces and exhibiting their work.

Flower power: “Smelling Peace” by the artist Goin on display at Visaje Graffiti Colombia. (Photo: Goin)

Farther afield …
The whole of Bogotá is covered in great works, and it’s almost impossible to find a street in the city without some form of urban art in it. Some of the other more popular neighborhoods for street art include Chapinero, Chico, San Felipe, Suba, Ciudad Bolívar, and the centro area.

What’s the value of urban art?
It’s important that politicians, police, and corporations don’t have total control over our urban spaces. Seeing only gray concrete walls and paid-for advertising isn’t healthy for humans. One of the main reasons I love urban art is that it’s free for everyone. Observers don’t have to pay to go inside a museum or gallery to see it. It’s a free space of expression, communication, and interpretation.