Leo Arti, a French artist, arrived in the sleepy town of 25 de agosto just an hour outside of Montevideo in 2006 to visit the train station. Enchanted by the peace and quiet of the town, a couple of years later she moved there and set up her workshop.
A fan of horse-riding and gaucho events, she painted a gaucho scene on the front of her atelier in 2012. Shortly after one of her pupils asked for help to reproduce a mural of her own work on her house-front.
Requests started pouring in from townspeople and businesses for her to paint murals on their houses and shops.
Over a hundred murals
The over one hundred murals range from realist, to expressionist to the downright kitsch.
If you speak Spanish, one of Leo Arti’s disciples, Nancy Reyes, is available to do guided tours. However if you don’t speak Spanish, here’s some of Nancy’s tour, background she has generously shared with Guru’Guay.
A mini tour of the murals of Leo Arti
Start at Leo’s atelier opposite the train station.
The atelier is painted with gauchos. Leo Arti is a gaucho festival enthusiast visiting as many as she can. It was one of the reasons that brought her to the interior of Uruguay to live.
The owner of the store on the corner (a rotiseria, selling baked goods and food to go) asked for dancers from the Moulin Rouge to be painted on her walls.
Each of the walls of this house has the reproduction of a painting done by a family member of Leo Arti. Leo’s mother who was 65 at the time she did this drawing.
According to our guide, Nancy, Father Pio who is painted life-size on this house is quite the favourite saint of Uruguayans in general. Curiously, the owners requested that their own hands be substituted for the priest’s. So you’ll see one hand is a woman’s, and the other a man’s. To the left under the window is the Italian town where Father Pio was born.
The owner of the blue house loves her interior patio and she asked for it to be painted exactly as it is on the exterior wall, down to the garden furniture. The day I was there the little white cat was sitting at the door, but I didn’t realise and so missed a great photo opportunity.
Beatriz, the owner of this house, is descended from the Chonik tribe. The majority of Uruguayans will erroneously claim that they are descended solely from European immigrants, and ignore the fact that about 30% of the population have indigenous genes. So in Beatriz’s case, her choice of mural is a political declaration.
Julio is a retired civil servant. He requested a reproduction of a fishing boat scene by the Spanish artist Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida for his blue house.
This newly rebuilt Catholic church has a mural of the Sacred Family in an archway.
The San Cono bakery mural depicts the real family of bakers – parents, son and daughter – carrying out the family business – making bread and bizcochos (savoury pastries).
The gentleman that lived in this house worked for the railway. He actually worked in the train on the left. He also owned the antique car on the right, but it was painted from photos, so perhaps he no longer owns it. It has the same licence plate. The lady and the children were added to unify the two paintings. She looks like she’s just go out of the car to catch the train. But she’s pure invention.
The blinds are also painted.
Miguel who owns the red house is a Gardel fanatic. Carlos Gardel is the Godfather of tango, the most famous singer of them all. It was Miguel’s long time dream to have a mural of his idol painted on his house, and so it’s one of the most recent ones.
The owner of this bar is one of a group who owned a racehorse called Al Pacino. Al Pacino is depicted here in the Maroñas racetrack in Montevideo winning his biggest race.
Susana is the town music teacher. She’s depicted playing the piano from the rooftops of Paris. Her children are depicted in the other murals playing the instruments they do indeed play.
The gentleman who lives in this house habitually comes out onto the sidewalk to drink mate, Uruguay’s national drink, in the afternoon. Leo would pass by and see that he was always alone. One day she asked him, “Would you like some company?” He said he would. And soon he had a few imaginary gauchos to keep him company as he sipped his mate. The chicken and the chicks are not imaginary – Leo painted her own.
How to get to 25 de agosto
Visit the town as part of day trip from Montevideo or as part of an expedition to Florida, and the Uruguayan interior.
Driving from Montevideo Just over one hour. Take Ruta 5 and then Ruta 11 to Santa Lucia. As soon as you pass the toll on the Santa Lucia bridge, take the first right hand turn (beware, it’s 90-degree). Go through Ituzaingo and follow the signs to 25 de agosto.
Take an hour or two to walk around the town. There’s a map of the murals from 2015 (there are more now), but it’s almost more fun to stumble across them by chance.
Meet the artist
You can meet the artist and have tea in the Atelier Wagon at the train station from 4pm on Sundays. Leo Arti also receives visitors in her atelier. Arrange a visit writing to [email protected]. Note she speaks French and Spanish. She does not speak English.
If you speak Spanish, contact Nancy Reyes for a guided tour. Telephone: +598 95 666927. Cost 600 pesos for the tour regardless of the size of your group.
More about Leo Arti in Spanish
All photos: Guru’Guay
Written: Jan 17 2017. Last updated at the date above.
Hearty Guru thanks to the Department of Tourism of Florida and the Florida Economic Development Agency (ADEF) for the invitation to visit the province of Florida. Congratulations for understanding that what makes travel really memorable is the chance to meet real people and see how they live and work, not just visiting typical tourist destinations.
Guru’Guay agradece al Departamento de Turismo de Florida y a la Agencia de Desarrollo Economico de Florida (ADEF) por la invitación a visitar el departamento. Les felicita por tener la visión de entender que lo que hace que los viajes sean realmente memorables es la oportunidad de conocer a su gente y ver cómo viven y trabajan, no sólo visitar destinos turísticos típicos. Y gracias a toda la gente maravillosa que tuve la suerte de conocer.