Lisbon street art – meet Vhils
The capital of Portugal, on the radar of the city-break travellers for a few years now, enchants the visitors with the unobvious aesthetics of its cityscape.
The elegant Renaissance, the classic Gothic and the characteristic ‘local’ Manueline style mix here with outstanding examples of the modern architecture (some of them with the signature of great contemporary architects such as Santiago Calatrava) and the cheap and frankly unattractive, residential construction dating back to the 70’s.
The way to the most iconic Lisbon monuments often leads along narrow and winding cobble stone streets, among dilapidated building ‘adorned’ with line-drying laundry. Fashionable and elegant districts intertwine here with abandoned factories and ware houses which instantly get colonized by artists, counter culture, hipsters and free lancers of all sorts of professions.
Lisbon street art
Street art usually thrives in soulful cities and Lisbon is no exception. This contestatory form of artistic expression is inspired both by the phenomena of the contemporary world – war, politics, propaganda, consumerism and the universal, timeless aspects of the human condition.
Street art embellishes but also shocks and prompts for reflection. As the most ‘proletarian’ of arts, it uses cheap medium, usually spray paint and usually makes itself at home in improbable, unexpected locations.
Lisbon’s street art scene is thriving being taken by storm by one name in particular: Alexandre Farto, a.k.a Vhils. Unlike the majority of street artists, Vhils delivers his art not through a spray paint can, but with a chisel and a hammer, an electric drill, a jackhammer and recently, also with explosives.
Art by destruction? Yes. Vhils’ works, a majority of which are portraits, is scraped and chipped into buildings or thorn through the layers of old posters. A third dimension, an additional depth is added to his creations by the multiple layers hiding under what is visible at the first sight, also in a metaphysical fashion. The artist captures the present by unveiling the past under the most recent layer of paint.
Vhils’ subjects are usually ordinary people, the anonymous ‘everyday heroes’ as refers to them, although his portfolio includes portraits of a few, very recognizable Portuguese figures.
Despite the great success enjoyed both in Portugal and worldwide – Vhils’ works can be found now in a variety of locations across the globe – the artists does not ambition to make his creations eternal. On the contrary, Farto believes that fading away, falling apart and finally disappearing is ‘the nature of things’ and a natural continuation of the creating process.
Where to see Vhils in Lisbon?
Already a few of Vhils’ iconic works disappeared from Lisbon cityscape, together with the building that hosted them, victims of the urban planning. ‘Nothing lasts forever’ is the only comment from the artists seeing his work destroyed.
This shows how ephemeral can Vhils’ work be (despite being carved in walls with a chisel and a hammer). When in Lisbon, get off the beaten tourist tracks and see the city through the eyes of the local. Much like Banksy tours in Bristol, tracing the footsteps of Vhils in Lisbon can provide a very intimate portraits of the city. Here are a few suggestions of places in where you can still see them in Lisbon:
- in the patio of the restaurant at Rua das Gaivotas 8, in Chiado (Lisbon ‘upper town’ historic quarters)
- in the the old factory Fábrica do Braço de Prata in the industrial area of eastern Lisbon. The factory has been transformed into a culture and art venue.~
- at São Tomé street, in the São Jorge Castle neighbourhood. Here, the artist used a different medium – mosaic – to create a portrait of Portugal’s beloved fado singer Amalia Rodrigues.
- at Infante D. Henrique Avenue. This work is a collaboration with another famous Lisbon street artist, Pixel Pancho.
- at Cascais street in the dock quarter Alcântara.
Vhils’ works are also found inside the Dona Maria II theatre and in the Honorat restaurant in Chiado.
Alexandre Farto’s art reaches far beyond Portugal. His art can be admired in many charismatic cities across the world, amongst them London, Moscow, Bogota, New York and Los Angeles.
The new technique of ‘sculpting’ portraits in the building walls with a series of carefully planned explosions, also explored by Vhils has been used in the video clip to U2 song Raised by Wolves.
In the artist’s homeland, Portugal, his craftsmanship was recognized at the national level in 2015 when he was decorated the Order of Santiago of the Sward, awarded for outstanding literary, scientific or artistic merits.