RUAS DE SAO PAOLO: A SURVEY OFBRAZILIAN STREET ART
Jonathan LeVine Gallery
In a progressive leap, the Jonathan LeVine Gallery has bravely offered their “white cube” as a blank canvas to Boleto, Fefe, Highraff, Kboco, Onesto, Speto, Titi Freak, and Zezao, eight young street artists from Sao Paolo. The space has been divided in such a way as to provide each artist space to display their own signature style of graffiti on a variety of surfaces, including the walls and ceiling. Instead of the strict demarcation from one artist to the next, that one might expect to result from such an arrangement, what emerges is an uninterrupted flow, and the manifestation of a street vernacular that can best be described as purely Brazilian.
The stylistic motifs among the group of artists are as diverse as the people of Brazil. Onesto’s emblematic cartoon-like figures could well be inspired by the graffiti of
San Francisco legend, Barry McGee, who the Brazilian would know well due to McGee’s influential stays in Sao Paolo. Onesto features these characters in pleasing compositions of black, white and red, arranged in a variety of humorous situations evoking internationally identifiable symbols of drunks, bums and village idiots. His wall paintings show these figures stacked on each other’s shoulders revealing an often employed method used by teams of Brazilian graffiti artists in order to paint on high-up surfaces.
The playfulness of Onesto’s work is complimented by the equally lighthearted sculptures of the neighboring artist, Highraff. These freestanding symmetrical wooden compositions are painted with bold, high-gloss paints resulting in pop-like arrangements reminiscent of Roy Lichtenstein.
The work of Boleta is certainly a highlight of the show. His paintings done on circular wood panels, cutting boards and ironing boards blend Duchampian readymades with colorful graffiti that takes on darker, almost violent, connotations featuring images of skulls and knives that would be appropriate tattoos on the arms of leather-clad bikers. The wall grafitti displays the artist’s versatility and offers a pleasant juxtaposition of hard edge geometric forms coinciding with cloud-like colorful designs.
Zezao’s aesthetic is at the same time spiraling and linear. The sleekness of these blue and black forms along with their inherent geometric qualities suggest influences that seem to combine the flashy decals of a “pimped-out ride” and Aztec architectural ornamentation.
Situated across from Zezao is the work of Fefe. These unique pieces teeter on the border that separates painting from sculpture. Hung on the wall are monochromatic compositions of paint and ordinary chipboard out of which are etched beastly mutations of animals with distorted and multiplied features. Her imaginative departure from naturalism combined with the lack of color immediately recalls Picasso’s primal interpretations of natural forms in
Housed within the newly-opened extension to the gallery is the work of three more artists. Speto’s stenciled designs are simplistic in form in a manner that is totally compelling. The abstracted form of a man smoking a pipe has a sentimental characteristic that reminds the viewer of folk art illustrations.In contrast to Speto is the adjacent work of Kboco. The linear forms which sprawl across the walls have a circuitous nature that seems to be sympathetic to the emergence of technological imagery in all aspects of contemporary life that encompasses even graffiti. In conjunction with this microchip aesthetic, Kboco appropriately includes images of robotic figures with television-shaped heads.
Titi Freak’s art is a naturalistic departure from the other artists in the group. On large unstretched canvases, he paints portraits of Brazil’s urban youth. The heavy saturation of the canvases and viscous drippings of industrial glossy paints at first seems haphazard. However, the undeniable attention to realism forces the interpretation of the aggressive handling of paint to be a revolutionary reflection of youthful angst and an accurate aesthetic for the portraiture of Sao Paolo’s street culture.
To be recognized in the art world is undoubtedly a feat that few people reach. The long and daunting road of struggling to get their work into galleries, and from there sold, is a necessary path that many young artists face. But within the graffiti subculture the desired recognition and the route to achieve it operate in a dramatically different context. On the streets of Sao Paolo, graffiti artists risk their lives to leave their mark on daring surfaces such as the underside of bridges or the towering cornices of high rises. Although these daredevils receive no money for their efforts they certainly make sure they are recognized.
In rare cases, established artists will be commissioned to paint public murals, but for the most part recognition in itself is the objective, not money. Obviously the walls of the gallery are not for sale. So the idea that these artists eagerly obscured the walls with spray paint is evidence of the unselfish display of individual talent without the expectation of reward that takes place in Sao Paolo. This gesture simultaneously reveals a charming innocence with which these artists have approached the
New York art scene. Thus many of the pieces that are for sale have been painted on unstretched canvases, cardboard, and found objects. As we have seen with
New York graffiti artists Keith Haring and Basquiat, street art has the ability to become a powerful commodity. Sao Paolo is currently at the forefront of graffiti on an international level. The exhibit at the Jonathan LeVine gallery not only offers a wonderful investment opportunity for the serious collector or the art-lover of modest means, but a truly refreshing viewing experience, and undoubtedly a precursor of things to come.
- Chris Maceira
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Chris Maceira is a graduate art history student at the Pratt Institute. He received his B.A. in art history from Vassar College where he wrote his thesis on the masochistic performances of Chris Burden and the recurrance of similar acts in contemporary pop culture.