BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA – Luciano Federico Gatti, 31, teeters on a beat-up ladder more than four meters above a street corner in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. Aerosol cans of varying colors hang from his black belt. He alternates between light and dark gray and light and dark pink to paint the corner of a wall that he has spent months working on.
He is painting a city – but not just any city. The houses and buildings have lifted off the ground and are floating toward the sky via hot air balloon.
Gatti, a graffiti artist who goes by the alias “Ice,” has been painting in the streets of the capital for the past 16 years.
“When I started at 15 years old, I wasn’t looking to identify myself or to have a group of friends,” he says. “I painted because I liked it. Something happened to me when I was painting a wall. After many years, I realized everything that I feel when I paint.”
He paints because it makes him happy. And the walls of the city to him are a giant canvas where he can express his creativity without having to battle in the traditional art circuit.
“When I began, I thought it was a good way of showing what I did and not having to go to an art gallery,” Gatti says.
To make a living, Gatti set up a fabric printing shop, where he works for different clothing brands. He has a partner and two employees. But in his free time, he pursues his passion: graffiti. He says graffiti allows him to clear his head and express himself while having a job takes the economic pressure of his work.
Gatti has characters that he likes to repeat in his paintings. For example, he has already painted five apes throughout the city, all different colors. One ape is a critique of people who watch TV all the time, though Gatti says that most of his work is strictly creative without any specific meaning.
Other recurring motifs in his work are mushrooms of every kind and color. But above all, he enjoys painting surrealist landscapes.
“I like to do surrealist landscapes,” he says. “I like to open the imagination of the people. I want people to stop on a corner for 15 seconds and forget everything that surrounds them.”
Buenos Aires is fast joining the meccas of graffiti in Latin America, with some works commissioned by business proprietors, homeowners and even the city government and others of the artists' own volition. They are generally welcome by the public and accepted by police, but graffiti in prohibited spaces draws criticism and sometimes jailtime. Graffiti artists’ motivations vary from creativity and self-expression to ego and adrenaline.
The graffiti movement in Buenos Aires began in the 1990s, but it began to take off after 2000, Gatti says. Graffiti is one of the four pillars of hip-hop: singing, dancing, painting and playing music.
Graffiti artists that group together are