By Clate Korsant
After shooting street art and graffiti in places like Berlin, Barcelona, and Dublin, I traveled to Sao Paolo, Brazil in 2009 and found the most incredible street art that I have ever seen. As someone who sells fine art photography, shooting street art may seem ironic because it is someone else’s mural that becomes the subject of the photo. However, it is critical to document this burgeoning art form and display it in a photo-journalistic manner. The nature of street art and graffiti is temporal, most times illegal, and difficult to access. It is a process of artistic expression that constantly changes as one artist interacts with and paints over another’s work. Documenting graffiti through photography allows for a widespread understanding of the art as a form of cultural expression through a more permanent medium. It also exposes the life of a community, in this case Sao Paolo, to a larger international audience.
Street art is blossoming in Sao Paolo unlike anywhere else in the world. With one of the largest urban Japanese populations in Latin America, the city carries an influence of anime and other popular expressions of Japanese art. This is certainly evident in the graffiti and creates a unique multicultural style that sets Sao Paolo apart from the usual suspects of graffiti display: New York, Tokyo, London, Paris, Barcelona, and Berlin. In Sao Paolo, entire neighborhoods are painted, overshadowing the famous sections of the Berlin wall, which depict romantic murals and historically critical moments. I remember walking through cobbled streets and rows of small concrete houses in Sao Paolo neighborhoods and feeling amazed by the incessant artistic effort that blankets the city.
Street artists paint in conversation with one another so that one artist begins and another finishes the mural. An artist might begin a piece with a certain theme and then someone else could pick up on that theme and continue bringing something new to the wall. However, these artists are not just confined to walls. They paint sidewalks, buildings, and surfaces all over the city. Notably, Brazilians risk their lives and climb high buildings to paint in the style of “Pichacao,” placing simple illustrations or symbols on places of cultural importance. This type of graffiti is a language of its own and has already caught the attention of French linguists and sociologists. Other than it being a dangerous act, painting Pichacao is illegal and, therefore, those who create it are acting out against authority and making a social statement of protest. Some of the photos depicted here contain Pichacao throughout the graffiti murals.
These six photos are part of a larger collection on Brazilian street art and provide perspective on both different styles of artistic expression and different locations for graffiti. The first and sixth photos demonstrate some Pichacao writing. The second photo is by Speto, a famous and well-respected Brazilian street artist whose style is easily identifiable. The fourth photo glorifies the female form, a popular artistic theme, and includes heavy Japanese influence. The fifth photo demonstrates diverse surreal styles and captures the urban landscape in this particular neighborhood. The most famous graffiti artists in Brazil are the brothers Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo, or Os Gemeos (the twins) as they are better known. They began spray-painting buildings in the middle of the night and now sell artwork from museums for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Their amazing and, at times controversial work, can be viewed from highways throughout Sao Paolo. One such mural is depicted in photo three.
Despite the controversies over the legality of graffiti and the respect it may or may not elicit as ‘proper’ contemporary art, the act of street art creates an urban space for residents and travelers alike to interact with artistic expression. This space engenders a sense of community and pride in the talented individuals that create an aesthetic that can completely alter our perception of those urban facades that are now interacted with instead of passed by en route to somewhere else.