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To understand Vhils’s work and the context in which his pieces are created, we leave you a brief profile of his trajectory
Alexandre Manuel Dias Farto is the artist’s real name; Vhils and the art he creates under this pen name is a conceptual system founded on humanism.
Any type of surface can be the perfect canvas for the Portuguese artist. The concept on which his work is based is interesting because it’s from destruction that he manages to create pieces of high aesthetic value. In addition, he just needs a chisel and a drill to achieve these artworks.
He portrays reality through his art
However, understanding Vhils’ poetic work requires a leap in time. We need to go back to 1974 when the War of The Claveles caused great damage to the political, social and economic life in Portugal. He witnessed the effects of this conflict as a kid; the walls reflected the destruction. That was the starting point.
He studied at the University of the Arts in London, Central Saint Martins, and Byam Shaw Fine Art Skills and Practices. But it was in 2008 that Vhils caught the world’s eye by collaborating on a smaller-format mural at the Cans Festival in London.
The pieces were made in Leake Street below Waterloo Station, one next to the other. Vhils’ is the portrait of an elderly woman. What’s interesting is that Banksy sent a message to a select group of about 40 like-minded international street artists.
Vhils creates portraits to make marginalized people more visible…
The most notable feature of his work is that he always creates embossed portraits, as it is a way of making the more marginalized and underserving more visible. Like the Ethereal mural he made at Goldman Global Arts in Miami.
His creative process begins when he takes a camera and takes to the streets to portray reality through them. From these images, he makes sketches that he then digitizes. He immediately gathers his materials: engraving acid, bleach, pneumatic drills, and other processes or tools.
Other techniques he applies are collage, wheat paste, wood, metal, installations and more. In the composition of his pieces, we can see three colors, which help to provide depth, similar to a stencil. An example of this is this mural at the Portuguese Embassy in Bangkok that pays homage to the surrounding population.
One of the artist’s most impressive pieces was the one he made for the Debris festival in Hong Kong. It was a single show in 2016, which consisted of large scale pieces presented by the Hong Kong Contemporary Art Foundation (HOCA).
Iconic sites were selected in Hong Kong, such as a tram and ferry dock, and various spaces on the streets to showcase his works. Best of all, it was shaped by portraits, juxtapositions, and graphic imbrications and geometric elements. There were also pieces illuminated by neon lights.
We are all composed of layer of social and historical fabric….
Alexandre Farto believes that we are all composed of layers on layers of social and historical fabric. This whole concept is very symbolic and he seeks to capture it in any festival. Vhils also values the idea of turning ordinary people into icons. He often captures portraits of the elderly, for they are bearers of wisdom.
At the Unexpected Street Art Festival, curated by JustKids, the artist created a large scale mural that captures a portrait of a Native American Cherokee. The piece denotes a great ability to create 2D pieces, as well as a mastery of light and shadows.
In 2012, the artist arrived in Mexico City to participate in the All City Canvas Festival. It was four days of work where Vhils recaptured the humanity of its inhabitants. Hammers, chisels, and drills were enough to create the portrait of an adult woman in the Dolores Building, in Juarez 26, in the Centro neighborhood.
The work of the Portuguese artist has also reached art galleries. One of the most memorable exhibitions was at Galerie Danyszin Shanghai, China. The artist mounted a series of portraits on the ground, inspired by his visits to Beijing and Shanghai.
In fact, in addition to this exhibition, a short film was released Realm in Shanghai.. Directed by José Pando Lucas who worked hand in hand with the Portuguese artist. In this sense, the works portray the essence of the inhabitants of these cities. Without neglecting Vhils’ impressive ability to create credible faces.
He also arrived in France with his urbains and débris fragments samples. In them, he raised “problems related to and reflecting on the dominant model of globalized development and the nature of contemporary urban societies.”
To do this, he took walls, billboards, doors and other surfaces on which he painted portraits that symbolically represent the replacement of the new with the old as a metaphor for urbanization and globalization.
He has also collaborated with other artists. This is the case of the mural he made next to Shepard Fairey, a.k.a Obey, at Mack Sennett Studios in Silver Lake (with the support of Branded Arts).
Another cool piece was the one he made with Pixel Pancho in Lisbon. The Italian artist collaborated thanks to the invitation by UnderDogs in a piece that combines his robotic-surreal style with Vhils’ beautiful “destruction.” The piece is a portrait of a man (the face made by Vhils), holding a ship in his hand.
Vhils and JR: what a great duo!
In 2010 he also had the opportunity to collaborate with JR on a mural portraying the portrait of an older man holding his head on one hand and the other on his face, which Vhils created, while the arms and torso were made by the French artist.
As if that weren’t enough, he was the Portuguese artist invited by the Irish band U2 to join the group of 11 most acclaimed urban artists in their Films Of Innocence project. In this sense, Vhils created all the visual language for the song.
Finally, Vhils says: “I like the idea of working with the city as a raw material, with the aim of exposing the fragility of what we take for granted that it is indestructible and immutable. My goal in using the urban environment itself is to create a part of the work and involve all the people who live in that same space.
This post is also available in: Español (Spanish)