Even though I’ve travelled extensively in Europe and seen my fair share of street-art in various countries, I found the range of art in Switzerland to be distinct and pleasantly surprising.
I always knew that the Swiss have a love for the arts, but imagined that it was primarily behind doors, in museums – of which there are quite a few in the country.
However, while walking the various big cities and small villages of Switzerland, I came across several types of street-art. There were the conventional murals or large art pieces on walls and the occasional graffiti. But then there were random sculptures in streets, and most interestingly, the fountains that dot the country have individual features that are no less arty and fabulous.
In addition to that, the Swiss celebrate literature and the arts by having statues of celebrities, especially if they have some form of a connection with the country.
The range of street-art in Switzerland is quite diverse, and there are surprises to be found around every nook and corner.
Street-art in its “traditional” form is not always readily visible in Switzerland. Many of the paintings were in small passages, discovered entirely by chance. From the large murals in Lausanne featuring comic book characters to the legendary Charlie Chaplin on residential buildings in Vevey, these elaborate pieces add a sense of drama and colour to the region they represent. While street-art is typically visible throughout the country, these grand pieces were located mostly in the bigger cities.
Switzerland boasts of free and fresh water for everyone through a network of water fountains. What is even more attractive is that these fountains always have some artistic element to them. Be it the wooden log or Rosey the cow in Gstaad, a pretty flowery one in Corseaux, or the more old-style water fountain of Bern; it was a pleasure to come across different types of fountains while walking the streets of small villages as well as the big towns.
A special mention goes to Charles Morgan who is a local artist from the Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) area. He produces some genuinely exceptional functional art that often includes some interaction with the public. The picture below is one of his installations at the Montreux pier. Another other was in a display case of a shop in Vevey. In that particular art piece, visitors are encouraged to put the palm of their hand on the glass which makes the mechanics of the art inside the shop move.
It’s not unusual to find statues while visiting cities around the world, but in Switzerland, quite a few of them are randomly placed in town squares or next to pedestrian streets. Gstaad had a few of these sculptures as did Geneva. In Gruyeres, I found a couple of strange ones outside the HR Giger Museum. Then there are also the statues of famous former citizens or visitors to Switzerland that include Charlie Chaplin in Vevey, Freddie Mercury in Montreux, and Rousseau in Geneva.
I always believe that “art” doesn’t necessarily have to be drawing or paintings that depict something. Occasionally, a row of coloured buildings – like a side street in Lausanne – or the metal cut-outs placed alongside the lake in Montreux – for the annual Montreux Jazz Festival – is equally fascinating.
Although most of Switzerland is extremely clean in terms of graffiti, I did come across the odd one here and there. The one in Vevey that resembles Gandhi was quite interesting, and I do believe the artist was trying to make a point – which I couldn’t quite understand. Then there is the usual “stuff on the wall” type graffiti I came across while walking in Lausanne, but once again street-art of this kind was quite rare.
So, it’s not Switzerland, but we did take the boat – included in the Swiss Train Pass – from Lausanne across Lake Geneva to Evian and found the most unusual street-art there. The art consisted of large wooden structures placed at a few locations in the town. One looked like Yoda, and the other was some kind of beast.
Imaginative, colourful, attractive, and weird; Art doesn’t get any better than this.