Interview with Vhils at Nuart Aberdeen 2019

Hi Alexandre, Great to meet you. Where are you originally from?
I was born in Lisbon and grew up in the suburban town of Seixal, which lies just across the river Tagus from the city. I started out as a graffiti writer in my youth, an experience I still regard as my first art school, then things evolved gradually from there: art studies, exhibitions, art events, travelling, working, setting up my studio. In 2007 I moved to London to pursue my studies at Central St Martins College of Art and Design (University of the Arts London) and was based there for five years, give or take. In 2012 I moved back to Lisbon, where I set up my studio. Nowadays, despite spending a lot of time working in various places around the world, my main work base is my studio in Barreiro, close to my hometown of Seixal.

When and why did you start putting your art onto walls?
I began exploring and interacting with the urban environment when I got involved with the local graffiti scene, which I view as my first art school and the backbone to my current artistic practice. It taught me a lot about how to use public space effectively and how to use art to interact with people in the city. Despite the fact that my artwork today is not graffiti it still owes it plenty, being based on techniques and concepts I came across or started developing back then. Around 2004 I began experimenting with stencils which enabled me to develop other lines of work and communicate with a wider audience. After observing how city walls are constantly growing thicker over time, as they are repeatedly covered with new layers of paint, graffiti, posters, etc. I realised that instead of adding yet more layers to them, I could work with what was already there. The convergence between this subtractive approach based on the concept of creative destruction and graffiti, stencils, and a desire to work with the city and its inhabitants all contributed to my vision. Most of my work tries to create a reflection on life in contemporary urban societies and how places, people and communities are being affected by the current model of globalised development, which on the one hand is responsible for bringing people and cultures closer together but on the other is also responsible for creating an increasingly uniform reality that is eroding the cultural differences that made each culture unique. In this sense, travelling and working in different contexts around the world is pivotal to understanding the phenomenon. I’m interested in witnessing and experiencing this process first-hand in as many locations as possible, and thus aim to interact with different people, to listen to their stories and experiences, to gather images and capture something of this unique moment the world is living. The main objective is to help raise questions and help people think about this process while also helping to put the focus on places and communities which are undergoing huge transformations that are detrimental to the safeguard of their identity. You can say that my work speaks of human identity, of effacement and resistance in this overwhelming environment, exploring the connections and contrasts between global and local realities. In essence, the objective is to help make visible the invisible that lies buried beneath the surface of things.

New artwork by Vhils for Nuart Aberdeen 2019
Vhils – Nuart Aberdeen 2019

Where do you get your inspiration?
Inspiration comes from everything in life: cities, contrasts, people, identity, struggles, visual culture, graffiti, art, films, music, travels, nature, ideas, life’s mundane details… I find it hard to dissect all the elements that have inspired me in one way or another. Anything and everything has the potential to do so. Even the most insignificant episode or event can leave an impression on you and eventually contribute towards defining who you are. I simply like to absorb everything that life has to offer. I’m interested in history and in cities, in landscapes and in travelling. I like to experience and come into contact with other cultures, with people who have different life experiences from my own. I like the chaos of the urban environment, its asymmetries and contrasts, the layers present on its public walls, its textures and ambiences. I like to feel like a foreigner in a city while I observe what takes place around me, with no rush. I like to observe and learn.

Can you tell us a bit more about your artwork in Aberdeen?
I’ve always been interested in using public space as a way of participating in the life of the city but also to help humanise it. For me, giving faces to walls is a symbolic act of recovery of the human dimension that is absent from so many of these spaces, a way of drawing people’s attention to that reality, and to the everyday heroes who drive cities forward while being driven by them. In some cases, I research the history of the place and browse through public archives, trying to find interesting faces or events to provide inspiration for my work. In this case, it happened when I came across a photo of seaman John Londragan, who encouraged his Spanish counterparts to go on strike in order to claim what was rightfully theirs. From May to September 1936, a group of 33 Spanish seaman on board the steamship Eolo, berthed in Blaikie’s Quay, Aberdeen Harbour, went on strike and turned off the steam so their cargo of grain couldn’t be unloaded. And a bond was established with the locals, who encouraged their efforts to fight for their rights. This story brought together the people you see in the portrait: John Londragan with American soldier Peter Fry and the daughters of Spanish seaman Juan Attaro. It happened eighty years ago but it encapsulates the solidarity of the Aberdonians in particular and, in general, the solidarity which human beings are capable of. I thought it went well with the “Weaving all the city’s stories” theme.

amazing mural by Vhils . In scotland , Aberdeen.
Vhils – Nuart Aberdeen 2019

Is there a dream place worldwide where you would like to create an artwork?
There is. But I would rather not speak of my dreams, to make sure that they come true.

Do you have any exhibitions or upcoming art festivals?
Yes, I’m currently very busy with lots of projects in hand, but I’d rather not make them public until they are finalised. You can always keep track of what I’m up to through my social media accounts and website.

Thanks a lot. Would you like to add anything else for Streetart360 readers?
Thank you. Enjoy NuArt, and see you around!


More about Vhils: WebsiteFacebookTwitterInstagram –  Weibo

More about: Nuart Aberdeen 2019


Vhils Artworks:

Vhils mural artwork
Vhils Artwork
Mural by Vhils in Hong-Kong
Vhils artwork in Hong-Kong
amazing mural by famous street artist Vhils
Vhils artwork
amazing artwork by Vhils
Vhils Artwork





Photo credit Vhils 

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