‘Street Art’ Category

February 12th, 2015



“I was born and raised to Brazilian parents in Philadelphia and initiated into this culture at an early age. In 1985 I was 10 years old. I got into break dancing. In Philadelphia you have row homes. One block is 24 homes. I lived on the end house. Older kids would breakdance on the corner. While my mother asked how my homework was going, I was looking at them out of the window.”


“It was the biggest thing I had seen in my life: people spinning on their heads, spinning on their backs, doing tricks with their bodies. The cardboard they spun on was covered in symbols and tags. I wanted one of my own. I quickly wanted a name.”



“Philadelphia has its own tradition as far as graffiti is concerned. It’s epically known. We called our signatures slams, wickets, top to bottoms, bogies, gangster script, flares, simples and prints. Philadelphia birthed these and New York, LA, Seattle, Chicago and Baltimore adapted them.”


“S.A.B.I.O. stands for Supreme Articulation Bouncing In Orbit. It means I’m an articulate person in a universal setting. In English, “sabio” means “someone who knows”. I’ve always been attracted to questions of history, culture, language and anthropology. Where do people come from? What does this language or symbol mean?”



“It’s important to understand why people write graffiti and what their motives are. There’s always a deeper meaning: the will to do good, the quest to know oneself as a person and articulate that knowledge through this energy. To “bomb” or risk one’s freedom must come from somewhere within. For myself and many others, a quest to understand why we are here on earth, to “mark” your existence. This leads to questions. Why do you want to contribute? What do you want to share on earth?”


“Graffiti is one big story. Stories are what make culture. Graffiti is the voice of the streets. The streets are the cities; cities represent civilization. Graffiti is the common denominator, the bottom of the barrel. Graffiti saved my life. It’s my identity. It’s what I was born into, what I grew up with, and what I continue to flourish in.”



[Images: Damian Platt/Sabio]


Naples is an uncommonly interesting place. I had only three days to navigate its hilly, winding alleys. Thanks To Zu Toni I had already eaten spaghetti con vongole [a good omen, but that’s another story] and deep fried pizza. So I felt as if I had done the gastronomic thing.


On day two I stumble across a visual treasure trove of train graffiti, just near where I am staying (the remarkable Casa Corragio). MonteSanto has an underground station, an overground station, and a funicular railway [look it up!]. The overground service, called  Ferrovia Cumana, runs wonderfully rickety trains out to the beaches were Neapolitans can attempt to escape the heat. Outside the station Indians sell groceries, Cape Verdians prop up the bar drinking beer and uniformed carabinieri sip coffee and watch the world go by. It’s a terrific spot. Passing traffic consists of whole families stacked onto a scooter, or solo children on motorbikes. No one is wearing a helmet. Inside the pizzeria there is only one God and there is a framed photo of him above the counter. His name is Diego Maradona.





The trains in the station look as if they have just returned from an internship at an Indian holi festival. The sides, backs fronts, tops – probably the bottoms as well – are caked in layer upon layer of paint. Pink over silver over black under green smudging into yellow and white, blue or orange. I take one without knowing where it or I are going. Signatures, letters, symbols and words fly by in a thunder of noise and colour. The modest trains only have six doors and two cars each but to me they are Chinese dragons in full flight. People step on and off like human inhabitants of a Roger Rabbit universe.






On day three I spent my free time sweatily tracking down a Caravaggio painting. Eventually I arrived, paid ten Euros, squinted dutifully at it for twenty minutes and that was that. When I left Naples I felt a sense of loss. When I go back I’m sure the Caravaggio will still be there. The technicolour festival of the Ferrovia Cumana, maybe not. Because graffiti is just a moment in time and space. When it’s gone it’s gone.




Grazie Tony, Costanza e tutti gli amici Casa Coraggio. Ci vediamo prossimamente!

November 19th, 2012


Anarkia is turning stereotypes upside down again. Graffiti is traditionally a man’s game: dirty, dangerous, competitive. Girl graffiti writers few and far between: accepted by the boys, provided they play by the rules.


Google images for ‘graffiti boys’ and you will find plenty of images of graffiti, or boys doing graffiti. Google ‘graffiti girls’? You will find hundreds of images of girls covered in graffiti. Done by boys.

In her eatart exhibition, Anarkia reverses the game, exhibiting pieces elaborated on a series of compliant male bodies. Swapping the walls of the city for walls of living skin, she asks questions about modern gender roles.

Just who is consuming whom, exactly?

October 19th, 2012

Vhils in Providência

“When I work I build a relationship with space and people. I’ve been working here in Providência for 3 weeks.”

In October 2012 I meet Portuguese artist Vhils in Providênca. The first favela in the world is now the centre of Rio’s “Big Leap Forward”. I haven’t been here for months, and I can’t believe my eyes. The praça, always centre of social life in the favela, is now a dystopian twenty four hour building site. An enormous pillar, a support for Rio’s latest cable car project, has replaced what used to be the sports court. This was where everyone met, where parties took place and where children played. It’s development at breakneck speed, and as usual, favela residents appear to have been granted antlike status in the process. It is a timely moment for Vhils to chisel his moving portraits of residents into the rapidly disappearing walls.


Vhils says:

“Between 1920 and 1974 Portugal lived the Salazar dictatorship. At the end of this the country swung to the left. Growing up, the first art I saw in the street was fading, decrepit murals painted by supporters of the socialists. In the years after Portugal joined the European union in 1986 there was a capitalist boom. Now two competing visual languages covered public walls. Billboards encouraging consumerism surrounded the political murals.  Much of the advertising was illegal. Then graffiti began to appear in the mid 1990s. There were more adverts. The authorities began to remove graffiti.”


“I noticed accumulated layers of imagery on the walls, which reflected changing times, and began to work with this.  I dug through the different layers, like an archaeologist. Sculpting faces from the walls, I noticed how much images influence us, although we might have no notion of this at the time. I worked with advertisements, covering them with white paint. Peeling this away, I created images to reflect the fugacity of consumerism, and the dangers of living a lifestyle of credit and extreme consumption. Working in a boom in Lisbon, people were looking at the shiny new buildings, without paying any attention to their long shadows.”


“Travelling shows how globalised we are. Digging into buildings around the world I perceive how similar people’s lives can be. In Shanghai, like Rio de Janeiro, infrastructure projects are forcing people out to the suburbs or into big housing condominiums. Such new construction programs are linked to development and speculation, not social improvements for people who live in these places. The processes occurring in China and Brazil reflect what happened in European countries in the 1970s as they lifted themselves out of poverty. History is repeating itself.”


Looking at Vhils work, I can only wonder what Providência will look like four months from now.


October 17th, 2012


1986: Hate, Ink 27, Pain 73 (Foam) and Cazbee. West London Pioneers. Laid up at Edgware Road

In 1982 I took a subway journey in New York City. My mother’s hand closed tightly on mine, her step quickened. She was scared. Then there were the trains. Covered inside and outside, as if by one mysterious superhuman hand. The writing obeyed no rule or pattern I had ever encountered. I asked her why, but my voice was lost in her fear and the thunder and rumble of the system.

1987: Flo 2 and Snatch on the ledge at Royal Oak

I grew up in Ladbroke Grove, the birthplace of graffiti in the UK. The Westway provided unlimited concrete canvass. The first piece in London was painted there, by Futura 2000, who made a rap track with locals The Clash. Henry Chalfant took the iconic picture of the nascent London graffiti scene yards away on the Westbourne Park footbridge.


1987: Crame (Just 12, WozDoz, Demo, Cade) at Latimer Road

1988: Cazman by Cazbee at Westbourne Park

I was incompetent with paint and pens, slow to learn and bad at art. So I took photos. Graffiti was all around me, and growing in quality and quantity. My daily return journey to school offered me the opportunity to learn about everyone who was writing their names, how old they were, where they came from. The trains were a bulletin board; every journey, an adventure of discovery.


1989: Westward Ho! Push from East London rolls out of Ladbroke Grove

1989: Storm by Prime at Edgware Road

For those who participated, the inner stains remain indelible. Middle-aged men with children and jobs use their graffiti names on Facebook. Some moved on, some stayed involved. Some even manufacture and market their own paint, which they sell in their own shops. Using such paint, a new generation films itself in action, and posts the results to the internet. The act was once carried out in secrecy, with only the work remaining to be seen. Today graffiti is removed so quickly, all that remains is the act itself.