Some people paint on canvas, some people sculpt. Others might decide to draw. And if you thought that this list was an exhaustive list of media, then think again: some people decide to use walls themselves, but not necessarily in a way in which you initially think. The street art scene is notorious for taking something clinical, and fashioning it into a ‘thing’ – be it a device which challenges social conventions, politics, or as an expression of any other satirical take on life. How precisely are these walls used? This week’s blog finds out, in the work of Portuguese graffiti artist Alexandre Farto – known internationally as Vhils.
Alexandre Farto, Vhils
Alexandre Farto (1987) grew up in Seixal, Portugal, where he immersed himself in the urban facet of life in an industrial suburb of Lisbon. Farto paid particular attention to the huge shifts in urban development that Portugal underwent towards the end of the 20th century; a point which would become a major handle for the rest of his work. Initially starting out with stencils, he exhibited with the Visual Street Performance (VSP) collective in Lisbon – the largest street art festival in Portugal, specialising in live music and real-time painting and graffiti sessions – subsequently floating to full-time representation by the Vera Cortês Art Agency in Lisbon, who started exhibiting his work in 2006. It was with this agency that he launched his first solo-exhibition entitled ‘Even if You Win the Rat Race, You’re Still A Rat’ in 2008.
A move to London in 2007 saw Farto studying at Central St Martin’s College of Art and Design where he took time to evaluate his art, and hone his maverick techniques that he was to display during the Cans Festival of Street Art in 2008. During this festival he first introduced his ‘scratching’ techniques that were to form the basis for his ‘scratching the surface’ series which would later became the subject of a recent book of the same name.
Scratching the Surface
Vhils’ technique of ‘scratching’ images into the surfaces of buildings and billboards has been critically acclaimed. Such impressions are achieved in a plethora of inventive ways, such as manual wall-carving and ‘reverse graffiti’ – a technique made possible by power-washing dirt from the façade of buildings to leave the positive image behind. Current methods being investigated include delving into pyrotechnic compositions and explosions; a collection of methods he describes as being part of the ‘aesthetics of vandalism’. A series of these pieces from around the world is included below:
As of 2014, Vhils works with the Vera Cortês Art Agency in Portugal, Lazarides Gallery in the UK, and the Magda Danysz Gallery in France and China. His work is highly sought after and is renowned worldwide. A larger selection of his artistic portfolio can be found on his personal website.
Many thanks go to Alexandre Farto for providing the work for this blog, and to Duarte Cavalinhos from Vhils’ studio for his patience in liaising with me during this entry’s construction.