Essay: Alexandre Farto (Vhils) – Graffiti Writer

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  • Subject area(s): Photography and arts essays
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  • Published on: January 17, 2020
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  • Number of pages: 2
  • Alexandre Farto (Vhils) - Graffiti Writer
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Alexandre Farto aka Vhils is a Portuguese artist who started out as a graffiti writer in the early 2000’s. Vhils found his artistic voice while growing up during the intensive urban development in Seixal, an industrial suburb of Lisbon, during the 80s and 90s. He is essentially a portrait artist known for his subtractive carving technique, which has been hailed as one of the most experimental approaches to street art in the last decade. His art evolved from spraycan art on walls to tearing layers from street advertising billboards to reveal caricatures of people. This technique led him in turn to drilling and etching sections of plaster and concrete from walls. He compares this experience to that of an archaeologist exploring the layers of earth to reveal the fragments of our past. His work is a document of a city’s recent history, a contemporary archaeology exploring the convergence of two factors: the recourse to a technique of reverse stencilling coupled with the notion of creative vandalism. Vihils began experimenting with pyrotechnics in 2011 to create murals carved from explosions in dilapidated walls.

“I believe in working with the forces of chaos present in the city and making them part of an art that is as transient as the material reality that surrounds us”. Valencia is a city proud is it’s art, literature, cultural traditions and architecture. One of the most revered ‘starchitects’ of modern times, Santiago Calatrava, hails from Valencia and can claim to have made a deep impact in carving the city’s modern and innovative aesthetic. He is not without controversy and has been accused by some as bleeding Valencia dry from his escalating fees in excess of 100m euros. Sections of the swooping mosaic roof of the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia opera house came away in high winds, forcing the authorities to close the building to the public. The opera house is one of seven buildings that comprise the City of Arts and Sciences complex, opened in October 2005 and constructed on reclaimed land in the city’s former port. The white concrete opera house features a feather-like roof sailing over two outer shells that curl round the sides. These are clad in a layer of ceramic mosaic tiles or “trencadis”, which first showed early signs of ageing when wrinkles appeared in the smooth white surface and soon started falling in chunks. It may not be fair to point the finger at the architect for the failings of the materials or the contractors however the Calatrava has several lawsuits against him for flawed designs in the past.

I propose The Hortensia Herrero Foundation to commission Vihls to produce a permanent artwork within the Arts Centre to document this saga for posterity. Valencia has a history of making fun and satirising Spanish politicians and celebrities during the annual Las Fallas festival. Giant ninots (puppets or dolls) are created from cardboard, wood, paper mache and plaster, and then burned to the ground. The massive structures are sometimes lifted into place by cranes on the day of La Plantà, or “the rising,” and they remain here until La Crema, the day of the burning, on the 19th March. Just before midnight the crowds in Valencia start to chant, the streetlights are turned off, and finally at midnight the ninots are set ablaze. What follows is an explosion of fireworks, roaring fires and a street party to remember.

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