As you explore the streets of Buenos Aires, you may find yourself noticing a very common decorative motif in shop windows, on buildings or even on vehicles. These brightly colored, stylized designs are known as fileteado, which has firmly established itself as the porteño style of art.
The name fileteado comes from the latin word for thread: filum, and referred to the long fine lines that were the key elements in decoration. During the early 19th century, when fileteado began, horse-drawn carts transporting various goods were among the first objects to be painted. Although it’s difficult to know the precise origins, some of the earliest fileteadores were Vicente Brunetti, Cecilio Pascarella, and Salvador Venturo. These three, among others, began decorating their carts after this sort of fashion, which developed and grew to incorporate flowers, dragons, birds, horseshoes, and other symbols. This decorative art spread from carts to other forms of transportation, such as buses, trucks, store fronts, and signs.
Some of the main characteristics of fileteado are: symmetry, bright colors, shading and highlighting to create depth, highly stylized designs, Gothic-style font, framing of the finished product, and use of symbols (horseshoes for good luck, for example). This authentically porteño art style was officially declared Cultural Heritage of the City of Buenos Aires in April of 2006.
If you’d like to learn more about fileteado as an art form, you can check out the book “Tratado de Fileteado Porteño” by Alfredo Genovese. Genovese is a renowned Argentine fileteador who has written a few books about the topic, but this book in particular covers every aspect from the themes, motifs, and design to the technical aspects and to its applications and uses throughout history, from buses to body art, and best of all there are plenty of full-color illustrations!
Today you can easily find fileteado in San Telmo, at El Caminito in La Boca, and on Jean Juares in Abasto. If you want to bring some fileteado home with you, be sure to stop at the feria (market fair) on San Telmo’s Calle Defensa or at a shop while you’re in El Caminito, and you’ll be sure to find signs with all sorts of declarations on them for sale.