São Paulo - Brazil in 10 Street Art Works - Part 1
The sunrays these past weeks have been warming up our bones. Spring is in the air and summer is around the corner! Are you thinking about a big trip and haven’t decided on a destination yet? Well, if you like street art as much as we do, don’t hesitate to make your way across the ocean to Brazil. The enormous country is known for its Amazon rainforest, carnival parties and caipirinhas, as well as dangerous favelas and political corruption. But if there is one thing that is missing on that list, it has got to be the Brazilian street art scene!
We lost our heart to Brazil’s biggest city, São Paulo, famous for its vibrant street art scene. The huge metropolis has more than 12 million inhabitants and travelling from one side of the city to the other takes several hours. São Paulo is known for having one of the world’s most prominent displays of street art. Often accompanied by the local pixaçao graffiti, the many colourful but often critical murals are acknowledged as an important and valid art form reflecting the local urban street culture.
Famous international artists already left their mark here. But their own street art scene is up and booming as well! Alongside world-renowned Brazilian artists like the Os Gemeôs twins, many local artists have put their signature on their hometown.
We had a hard time making a good selection. But we proudly present you our top 10 of Brazilian street artists to keep an eye on in São Paulo:
When visiting São Paulo, there is no doubt that you will stumble upon one of Eduardo Kobra's many colourful kaleidoscopic images. He is currently one of the major exponents of the Brazilian street art scene, alongside the famous graffiti duo Os Gemeôs. His artistic career started off with the kind of local graffiti called pixaçao. Nowadays, Kobra is active all over the world and known for making kick-ass portraits of artists like Basquiat, David Bowie and many others. Locally, he is celebrated for his big scale project on the streets of São Paulo in 2005, called 'Muro das Memorias' (walls of memories), in which he portrayed scenes from the city’s past.
Recently, mayor João Doria started an initiative to spray grey paint over the graffiti and street art in an effort to clean up the city. Needless to say, many paulistas (inhabitants of São Paulo) are not happy with this programme. As protest, a mural of Kobra was partially covered up by an unknown local artist with an image of the mayor painting it grey. But city workers quickly painted the entire wall grey. Later, Kobra himself expressed his concern to The Guardian: “If the mayor is declaring war against the taggers, but no one can tell for sure what is tagging and what is graffiti, many people making street art will be deterred.”
Street artist Zezão has already been active for some 20 years in the Brazilian graffiti scene. He is one of the precursors of the Brazilian street art scene as we know it. Inspired by Os Gemeôs, Zezão started painting graffiti to maintain his connection with the streets after a serious skate accident when he was 24 years old. Nowadays, he is internationally active and his work is being exhibited in galleries and museums around the world. He paints recognizable wavy formations in blue colours with an almost mechanical look, but at the same time looking as if they’ve grown there naturally.
When he started painting in the streets in the late '90s, it was hard to find a spot for his art since there was a lot of political repression. So Zezão began to paint at abandoned spaces. At first he enjoyed those locations as an opportunity to be alone with his work, but it kicked off his interest for the most abandoned and damaged locations in the city (subterrains, favelas and underneath bridges). He still works at these kind of locations and once his work is finished, he takes photographs to show it to the world. He feels in touch with the local people roaming the streets, who have no opportunities in their difficult life and feel just as ignored and dirty as their surroundings. By putting his art in these places, he wants to add something positive to the daily life of those people.
Another important member of the first generation of Brazilian street artists, alongside Os Gemeôs and Zezão, is Paulo Cesar Silva, better known as Speto. Apart from being an artist on the streets of his hometown São Paulo, he is a graphic designer and illustrator. Already as a child, he had a lot of talent and drew the local skate culture around him. He really started to paint graffiti as a teenager in the mid-'80s. After seeing Beat Street, he was inspired by one of the characters in the movie to buy his first spray paint, determined to animate the streets of his hometown.
In his work, Speto draws on Brazilian folklore culture, hip hop, traditional tattoo and even manga culture. Although he is an autodidact, he did take some courses at the Museum of Modern Art and wood engraving classes. Inspired by the folklore tradition of northeastern Brazilian literature and wood engraving, he developed his own authentic style. He uses their symbols and style to tell a fantastic folklore story, which he combines with African elements into something personal. His work is characterized by his authentic free-spirited style.
Francisco Rodrigues da Silva is also known as Nunca and is a Brazilian grafiteiro who confronts modern urban Brazil with its native past in his colourful work. The Brazilian street art scene has high hopes for this promising artist! In the book “Graffiti Brazil” he was described as “one of the rising stars of the São Paulo graffiti scene” and a whole chapter was devoted to him. Nunca welcomes the growing recognition, as the artist tries to communicate with as many people as possible to shed light on socio-cultural and political issues.
Just like Speto’s art, his style evokes a ‘primitive’ vibe. Nunca has a way of building up shadows and perspective with parallel and crossing lines, which reminds us of the technique of etching. The artist creates striking, intensely colourful work inspired by the indigenous culture of Brazil. You will notice he mostly portrays only indigenous South Americans. Why? To give them a voice in a culture where they have already been silenced far too much. His tag "Nunca" means "Never" in Portuguese and reminds us that he does not want to be bound by any cultural constraints.
Brazilian artist Luis Seven Martins was born in the countryside of São Paulo and is known as L7m in the street art scene. He was already talented as a kid and even won several cultural awards. Nonetheless, just like a lot of other street artists of his generation, he first came into contact with the medium of spray paint as a teenager. Ever since then, he has been experimenting with different techniques and materials such as china ink, latex, pastel and acrylics.
Through a lot of experimenting, Luis came up with his truly unique style that’s instantly recognizable. The artist succeeds in balancing out both roughness and elegance in his breathtaking murals of birds and (partial) portraits on the walls of São Paulo. His paintings combine geometric elements, as well as raw brushstrokes and splashes of colour with detailed realism. On his website, L7m accurately describes his own style: “Everything generates the chaos, from the mixture of outlooks and feelings to the materials and medias utilized.”