São Paulo: A Street Artist’s Paradise @ Grand Central Library
In this pulsating, polluted metropolis of 18 million people – many of whom barely survive – exists a flourishing array of subcultures. An extraordinary range of vibrant public art thrives amid broken buildings, garbage-strewn streets and abandoned alleyways.
Although rooted in the graffiti that emerged in New York City in the early 80’s, São Paulo’s street art is singular in its mode of styles and forms. Its energy, originality, and freshness have transformed São Paulo into the street art capital of the world. The main impetus of the artists who work in public spaces is to beautify the city and communicate with the everyday people on the streets. They are not interested in making political statements. Nor do they use the streets as a means to enter the gallery circuit. As the authorities have not – for the most part – intervened, the artists have honed their skills refashioning in broad daylight the walls of their city into a huge, free open gallery.
Alongside the captivating, colorful murals and pieces by such internationally renowned artists as Os Gemeos, Alex Hornest aka Onesto, Titi Freak, Nina and Nunca, is another street art genre. It is the endemic pixação tagging practiced by the pichadores. Regarded more as gangsters than as artists, the pichadores are largely from São Paulo’s favelas, the poorest neighborhoods on the city’s outskirts.
Influenced by the graphics identified with heavy metal music that had enraptured the earliest pichadores, pixação emerged as a distinct style of tagging in the early 1980’s. Though many pichadores are not literate in the conventional sense, they have invented a new alphabet of letters, symbols and cryptograms, characterized by simple angular lines. Risking their lives, the pichadores strive to hit the highest points of the buildings – sometimes as high as 50 stories – that become their canvases. Scorned by the genteel public who prefers that they remain invisible, the pichadores are often shot at and beaten by the police. Some pichadores have fallen to their deaths in their flights from the authorities or their attempts to reach the uppermost reaches of their surfaces. As so many feel they have nothing to lose anyway, the perils of their passion do not deter them as they leap from one rooftop to the next in the middle of the night.
Just about every Brazilian street artist -- from Boleta, a member of VÍCIO, one of the oldest and most active pixação crews in São Paulo, to the celebrated Os Gemeos -- has roots in pixação or has been inspired by it.
Within recent years São Paulo has witnessed the emergence of yet another street art genre, grapixo, a fusion of classical graffiti styles and pixação that has already begun to impact the international graffiti scene. São Paulo is, indeed, a street art artist’s paradise.