Bill Hinchberger osgemeos in their studio in São Paulo's Cambuci neighborhood
São Paulo - São Paulo is one of those hyper-active megacites that makes even hardcore homeboys cry “uncle” sooner or later. Wealthier citizens buy their respites - driving to the beach for a weekend or taking extended European vacations. The twin sons of a modest quality inspector for a toymaker had to create their own escape.
“São Paulo is largely guilty for what we do,” says Otávio Pandolfo, half of the graffiti-cum-fine art duo osgemeos (literally “thetwins”). “São Paulo can suffocate you. We didn’t have money to travel. We couldn’t buy a car. So we traveled in our art. Soon we were miles away.”
Their lyrical, surrealist and playful graffiti began popping up around their stomping grounds, Cambuci, a working class enclave dotted with cottage industries near downtown, in the late 1980s. With the wave of a wand, those mythical adolescent journeys have been transformed into the real thing. Otávio and his identical twin Gustavo, 33, now travel the world – shapeshifting from outsider graffiti “writers” to insider gallery and museum artists – and back. Most recently they teamed up with fellow São Paulo writers Nina and Nunca in The Graffiti Project, to decorate the Kelburn Castle, a residence of Scottish nobility dating to around 1200. “Older than Brazil,” Gustavo notes.
Graffiti aficionados credit osgemeos with expanding the palate of street artists to include latex – which they adopted as a cheaper alternative to spray paint and to prepare surfaces that in impoverished Brazil were often only whitewashed. They have added considerably more unorthodox materials like fireworks (to burn the surface). Their yellow, oval-faced characters, painted in latex and highlighted in dark red spray paint, act out distinct storylines - sometimes but not always political or social.
All of the above caught the attention of San Francisco urban artist Barry McGee (a.k.a. Twist) during his 1993 visit to São Paulo. He helped osgemeos gain entry into the international gallery, museum and mural circuit. Their work has appeared in venues like New York’s Deitch Project Gallery, Miami Art Basel and the Havana Biennial. They’re on the docket at the Hetdomein Sittard Museum in Holland. Their murals can be found everywhere from Athens, where they received a commission for the 2004 Olympics, to New York’s Coney Island, where their largest ever work at 60 meters greets commuters as they exit a subway station.
Gustavo describes the Coney Island work as “living theater.” With its citations of traditional Brazilian culture, the 2005 mural for the Creative Time Project represents an effort by osgemeos to delve deeper into their Brazilian roots. “Brazil is very rich. People are forced to be creative to feel good while facing a daily grind filled with sadness and social injustice,” says Gustavo.
Osgemeos subsequently collaborated with Siba, a musician from the folklore-rich Brazilian northeast, to design the stage for a show and DVD-recording of a Buena Vista Social Club-style revival of veteran rural roots musicians called Fuloresta Do Samba. They also traveled to the stomping grounds of the old-timers in Pernambuco state to adorn the outback with a bit of un-urban graffiti.
The transition from street to gallery no longer makes news, of course. Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and others paved the way long ago. Yet many, including McGee, merely transpose street art from outside to inside the walls. Not osgemeos. A blockbuster in gallery terms, their 2006 show at São Paulo’s Galeria Fortes Vilaça included a mechanical, moving installation of an oversized sailor in a boat right out of Fantasyland. Their July 2007 show offered a more subdued selection of drawings – many of which served as designs for larger works. “What we do in galleries has nothing to do with graffiti,” says Otávio.
São Paulo Graffiti Tour: osgemeos
A “clean-up” campaign by the City of São Paulo is destroying many of the classic graffiti murals that have dotted the city for years. “They’re covering everything with grey paint, just like they do in the U.S. and Europe,” complain osgemeos. “It is funny because São Paulo is one of the most unruly, lawless and violent cities we know, with millions of problems, and City Hall is worried about stamping out graffiti. They’re destroying the dreams of artists who, through graffiti, stay away from drugs and crime because they’re too busy doing art.”
Still, if you hurry, you may be able to catch some of osgemeos classic street art. Here are the neighborhoods and coordinates of some that were still standing as of July 2007:
* Cambuci: Corner of Avenida Teresa Cristina and Avenida do Estado
* Cambuci: Rua Lavapés at the beginning of the Largo de Cambuci
* Ipiranga: Corner of Avenida Teresa Cristina and Rua Tabor
* Ipiranga: Avenida Dom Pedro just before you reach the Museu do Ipiranga
* Mooca: Rua Oriente at the Colégio Carlos de Campos
* Santana: Avenida Zaki Narchi in front of the Depatri (police station, no. 152)
* Santa Cecília on ramp to the Elevado Costa e Silva (overpass), also known as the Minhocão, heading west to the Zona Oeste