Explore the historic murals of Downtown, hilly streets of Vila Madalena and works of OsGemeos in Cambuci.
Endless high-rises, paved-over rivers, a maze of under- and over-passes, sidewalks broken up by tree roots or simply washed away by the tropical rain, not to mention the brutal ups and downs of its hills: São Paulo is hardly a pedestrians’ paradise. But there is plenty to discover for those who head out on foot, especially when it comes to street art.
No neighbourhood concentrates quite the same quality of work in such a compact space, as in Vila Madalena. When compared to the quiet streets of its street art counterpart in Cambuci, Vila Madalena’s hustle and bustle, with its shops, bars, restaurants and galleries, is quite a contrast. And while the kings of Cambuci’s scene are quite obviously OsGemeos, Vila Madalena’s streets are the test lab for an overwhelming number of artists, creating a constant turnover of artworks and making any territorial hierarchy near impossible.
Nonetheless, certain artists’ trademark styles are easier to recognise. Take the work of Pato, for example – a well-known name on the circuit, his figurative works with colourful long-nosed characters are visible on several walls throughout the neighbourhood. Spot one in front of the entrance to Beco do Aprendiz.
What’s referred to as the beco, or alley, is actually a paved-over river that runs parallel to Rua Belmiro Braga. The water may pass underneath the asphalt, but colour overflows above ground. Those who walk the 80 metres through the alley will spot every colour in the spectrum. To find your way into the Beco do Aprendiz, head through the basketball court in Praça Aprendiz das Letras (opposite Rua Belmiro Braga 188) or through an alleyway opposite Rua Padre João Gonçalves 107.
On our visit, guided by artist Thaís Beltrame, we see grafiteiro Boleta painting alongside a design by Vitché. The artist recently painted the Big Brother Brasil house for media giant O Globo, generating media attention, as well as criticism – just one example of graffiti’s paradoxical power in São Paulo, as an illegal but also celebrated, and sometimes lucrative, occupation.
Head uphill on Rua Luis Murat, alongside the cemetery, then turn left into Rua Medeiros de Albuquerque, and left again on Rua Gonçalo Afonso until you hit the so-called Beco do Batman, the city’s premiere open-air street art ‘gallery’.
It may be a long, thin, winding alleyway but it’s teeming with life – we’re there with students holding an impromptu party, hipsters clicking away with their cameras and families in their entireties, stopping to gaze at the works of artists like Dask2, Ninguém Dorme, Speto, Tumulus, Profeta and Vado do Cachimbo, not to mention our guide Thaís Beltrame, whose pencilled white bear cub can be seen being gobbled up by a skull-shaped figure, by artist Ciro Schu.
‘That one is by Pato. I can tell by the style.’ It’s not Beltrame’s voice this time, but that of a ten-year-old kid talking to his parents. At least in his eyes, Pato is the boss around here.
To explore street art that’s more off-the-beaten-path, head to the south-eastern residential neighbourhood of Cambuci – the birthplace of two of São Paulo’s most famous street artists, with works old and new reflecting the realities of life for its residents.
Cambuci is best known in the annals of street art as the place where the twin brothers Otávio and Gustavo Pandolfo – OsGemeos (‘the twins’) – were born and grew up. It doesn’t take long to see that OsGemeos and their troupe run the show here.
‘Graffiti is a very territorial art form,’ explains Beltrame. ‘If an artist is first to occupy a space, that space belongs to him or her. Even if it’s covered in grey paint,’ she says, referring to the fate of much of the city’s street art, painted over following a clean-up mandate by former São Paulo mayor Gilberto Kassab.
OsGemeos have been painting in Cambuci since they were kids, transforming even the most prominent of spaces, like the long wall on Rua dos Lavapés next to the Igreja da Glória church. Look out for the serene faces of two wide-eyed children, staring out from amongst a background of yellow grapixos – a mixed technique of graffiti and tagging.
The faces and the grapixos are reflected in a big pool of water, which in turn is submerging a valley of trees and mountains, depicting one of Cambuci’s most depressing problems – flooding. We duck down one of the quiet side streets, with the grey clouds overhead threatening rain. We press on, despite the risk of getting stranded here in Cambuci should the heavens open.
From Largo do Cambuci, we are watched over by an OsGemeos giant, its head formed by the rooftop engine room of an elevator with the body spanning the façade of the building’s floors below (Rua Clímaco Barbosa 110). We spot more of OsGemeo’s grapixos, on the corner of Rua Clímaco Barbosa and Rua Barão de Jaraguá. From there, heading towards Avenida do Estado, almost all the streets you’ll find surrounding Rua Barão de Jaraguá feature a selection of either figurative, typographical or mixed graffiti.
It’s not all about the famous twins in Cambuci, though. The neighbourhood’s spaces also belong to artists like Nunca, Vitché, Nina and Ise, all important names in the graffiti generation from the last decade. Turn right from Rua Barão de Jaraguá onto Rua Cesário Ramalho and you’ll spot pieces by Vitché, Ise and Nunca as well as OsGemeos.
Further on, at the corner of Rua Estéfano and Rua Silveira da Motta, you’ll find one of Cambuci’s largest murals, featuring creations by all the area’s key grafiteiros, with the surprise addition of a work by Onesto, well known for his blend of fantasy and humour.
Back on Barão de Jaraguá we spot more pieces by Nunca and OsGemeos. And on Rua dos Alpes 411, on the right, sits one of the most beautiful artworks of the tour – a mural by Vitché, in which a fantastical carriage is drawn by a flock of birds.
As we wend our way back to Largo do Cambuci, we pass a tiled Space Invader, one of a host of small coloured invaders that the eponymous French artist slyly installed across the city in 2011 (Rua Clímaco Barbosa 19). It’s perfect timing, just as the first raindrops start to fall.
In São Paulo’s historic centre, we set out on a walking tour taking in some of the city’s most important murals alongside the journalist and entrepreneur Felipe Lavignatti, founder of the interactive site Arte Fora do Museu – ‘art outside the museum’ (arteforadomuseu.com.br) – a digital project mapping the city’s cultural treasures.
We plunge back in time as we come face to face with the largest work ever made by the Brazilian artist Emiliano Di Cavalcanti, the Alegoria das Artes (‘Allegory of the Arts’), at Rua Nestor Pestana 125. Completed in 1950 and standing 48 metres tall and eight metres wide, Di Cavalcanti’s immense mosaic, depicting Zeus’s muses, covers one part of the façade of the Teatro Cultura Artística, still part-clad in scaffolding as the theatre is rebuilt following a devastating fire in 2008.
Di Cavalcanti died in 1976, just a few months after Steve Jobs created the first Apple, and there’s no way the artist could have possibly imagined us here and now, viewing his work both live and via 3G, via the Arte Fora do Museu app.
We move on to Rua da Consolação to gaze at another mosaic mural, this one 60 years old, on the façade of the former headquarters of the Estado de S.Paulo, portraying the newspaper’s production process back in the day.
Back on Rua da Consolação, opposite the Mário de Andrade library, we’re in pole position to see the coloured mural by Japanese-born artist Tomie Ohtake (Rua Coronel Xavier de Toledo 161).
Further on, past the small blue blocks painted by Bramonte Buffoni on the façade of the Galeria Nova Barão mall (Rua Barão de Itapetininga 37), we stop at an abstract mosaic by one of Brazil’s best-known artists, Cândido Portinari, in the entrance hall of the Edifício e Galeria Califórnia (Rua Barão de Itapetininga 255).
Fast forward a few decades, and we round up our tour with a pop piece by Claudio Tozzi. On the upper corner of a high-rise (Avenida Ipiranga 600) you’ll spot a zebra – Claudio Tozzi’s protest against art as a product of mass consumption.
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