In 2013 I had the pleasure (and sometimes pain) of spending every third week or so in Shoreditch, London for six months. It was a grueling travel schedule, especially so shortly after Trish’s death. But it was professionally rewarding and it started a love of Street Art. Shoreditch is the birthplace of the commercial street art scene.
Emma and I took a tour when they visited me over the summer, and we loved it. We’ve been addicted ever since.
‘Tour’ in this case means a long walk with people that follow the scene and can identify some of the major artists. ‘Commercial’ means that the artists are usually aiming to make a living, and often sell art at galleries on the side. The art is usually illegal, at least technically , because it’s defacing property and you need to do it somewhat quickly so as not to be caught.
Street Art has it’s roots in graffiti or tagging, which is a youthful competitive game of ‘who can quickly tag the most difficult, public, dangerous places’. At the other end of the spectrum are the ‘muralists’ who only do work on commission and practice legally with all the time in the world, sometimes with scaffolds and
‘Defacing’ is a relative term in Street Art. Some of it is shit. But ff Banksy stencils your building, it’s instantly worth a half million pounds more, some of which you’ll need in cash to protect the building because people will come and try to chip your wall off and take it from you. There is lots of bad street art, but if you get a good one, you’re lucky.
Rio’s Street Art scene got a boost a few years back when they made it legal (with some limits) to create it. The sanitation workers that are responsible for paint rolling over graffiti had to take a class on the differences between Street Art and Grafiti, which is kind of hilarious.
In addition to the legality, there is a more supportive and collaborative community in Rio. They almost never aggressively paint on top of each other as is common everywhere else – and they even get permission to connect images or often outright collaborate together.
We almost always have to do this on travel because D.C. has a very stunted street art community. The ego federal bureaucracy is in an epic battle with the id scenesters for control of the city’s identity. Unsurprisingly, the bureaucracy is winning.
Rio Street Art Tours is a two-girl team that picks us up in a large van along with several Wharton MBA students on their winter break. We take 5-6 stops around the city and explore the street art scene. Their knowledge is good, they have obviously immersed themselves in the artist community. Their English is amazing.
We start the tour with a statement work by Eduardo Denne, who does drip stencils, usually of women and children. Poverty and inequality in Brazil has been improved a lot in the last few decades, but it’s still a massive issue. Women and children suffer a lot still and the walls serve as a collective memory for suffering. He also does some very lighthearted stuff, including the detailed stencil work above.
Zezao may be the most famous artist from Brazil. Also from Sao Paulo, he is famous for having tagged in the sewers – places sanitation and sewer engineers wouldn’t even go because they were so toxic. Here is one of his signature blue abstract designs on a busy highway below Christ the Redeemer.
The fleshbeck crew are the largest and most well known group of Street Artists in Rio. Toz is one of the most prolific of them. He does the one up top entitled Nina and Insomniac, as well as the ‘jungle baby here’.
Another member of Fleshbeck crew is Pia’, who does these wonderful abstract designs like the devil belowt.
The Rio Art scene is quite open and collaborative, unlike Shoreditch, London, where the scene is socially and economically competitive. In London part of your street art cred is you willingness to ‘defend’ your territory from rival taggers and white-walling sanitation workers. In Rio, ovberwriting someone’s street art is culturally unacceptable.
It’s much easier to get into the community. Some, like Muta group are college educated and trained and have design firms on the side. here they ave built a tiled mural for an otherwise ugly underpass.
Others like Bruno Life and Wark Mocina are two of the upcoming artists, both very very young and with little conventional training. But they have been embraced solely from their youthful display of talent.
The growth of street art is a fantastic addition to gritty urban streets, enlivening the surroundings for residents and tourists alike. The Creekmores love these tours, and we suggest them highly on your next adventure travel trip.