You could say that if there is one name that truly represents urban art culture, that name could be ‘Os Gemeos’.
The Brazilian tandem are recognized around the world as generators of highly artistic work, they participate in important urban art events, surprising with their gigantic murals and, as if that weren’t enough, they are respected by the most orthodox section of graffiti, thanks to their involvement with writing which makes them constantly present on the street in the more classic formats, like tags, throw-ups, and train pieces.
With that in mind, it isn’t too bold an act to concede them the title of definitive urban artists, since in these three facets of urban art, they stand out with their quality and quantity.
So… what are you guys? Are you painters, urban artists, or graffiti writers?
We are simply Os Gemeos. We hate labels and so we just like to classify ourselves as artists…we only do what we like to do and each part of our work is as important as the other. We can’t define ourselves only as urban artists or as writers, because one without the other would mean that we weren’t who are: Os Gemeos…and we wouldn’t be making our dream a reality.
How did it all begin?
First came the drawing. We’ve always liked to draw. It was a way of expressing ourselves and a language used to communicate with each other, the people that surrounded us, and our family. While we were growing up, the hip-hop culture arriving to where we lived, and then the graffiti fever appeared (1986). So we started painting, to be everywhere at once. The necessity then arose to develop our creativity painting, and one thing became as important as the other.
Are there more artists in your family?
Yeah… without going into it, there’s our older brother, our mother, and our uncles.
What does your painting consist of? Does it have a place in contemporary art?
The characters and atmospheres which we create in our paintings are, on one hand, related to people which move about our world and, on the other hand, the world of fantasy. Throughout the years, our painting has lead us to search for our roots, the culture which we came from, that which we live in, and that which surrounds us. Our style is completely timeless, we live in this moment and we paint what we feel in the now. We don’t think art needs to be classified. We don’t believe in laws or norms, art is as free as people are, and someone can create what they will without being labelled. The media uses labels to explain what it can’t understand. But there are a lot of things that don’t need to be explained or understood, just observed…
Many people identify with the universe which we represent, and that’s the most important part of what we do. In our expositions we try to tend to the smallest detail: when we’re exhibiting somewhere, selling the pieces is the last thing we think about. We try to give the most of our creativity, doing whatever it takes, sometimes investing more time than is logical. But doing things in this way has made it so that our exhibitions attract all types of people, including many people who maybe have never been in an art gallery before. That’s probably the best part of it all; giving people the opportunity to enter into a parallel universe and, for a moment, forget about their problems, their worries, their responsibilities; letting them dream and live the experience.
What makes you value a piece of art?
The emotion. When what you see excites you, you get goose-bumps. It’s that simple, and it could be a painting or a song…or seeing a train painted. If what you see generates an emotion within you, it’s a good piece of art.
And with graffiti?
One of the things which we value most in graffiti is the style and attitude. You have your name, and with graffiti, you camouflage it. You add things to it, you put arrows on it, and your name becomes protected behind the style. Graffiti is a language as well, though not everyone can understand it. Streets speak. When the whole world has gone to sleep and everyone is quiet, the tags remain there, and the throw-ups remain there, and if you see them, they speak to you. Graffiti is like a key which opens the city’s doors to you. If you grab the key, you have a way of controlling the city, if not, the city controls you.
That’s what is great about graffiti, you choose what you want to do and where you what to do it, you leave something on the street. Some will like it, others won’t, but you decided to put it there, and someone will see it. What has always fascinated us about graffiti is this total freedom on one hand. And on the other hand is the concept of respect, within that liberty the feeling of respect is so important, and it’s a fundamental value which you have to understand if you paint. For example, we never step on other people’s toes, we never cross out work…we believe that there is space for everyone on the street, you just have to search for it.
Where you’re from, those that paint are often quiet humble, no?
Yes, we really admire humble people, people with simplicity.
At the moment, there are constantly exhibition and urban art events. Do you think that this is taking advantage of the essence of graffiti and turning it into a show?
It depends on who is organizing it, and for what purpose, you know what I mean? But it’s easy to see when there is a positive end and a negative beginning. There are also people who, to gain some fast fame, get involved with big companies which take advantage of the artists. But there are also lots of artists who participate in these events just for the pleasure of painting, to get paint, or simply to have the opportunity to do their piece of graffiti.
There are lots of people who see graffiti as a way of making money or obtaining easy fame over another person. But for us, the essence of graffiti is being free, changing the city’s routine, and having fun! Respecting the other tags already on the wall, being with friends, and creating smiles. Being alone and with an objective, nothing will change your mind until you paint what you want to paint. To do graffiti, all you need is the desire and motivation to do what you want to do, and put your name where you want to put it. But nowadays, things are changing, and we still believe in real graffiti; throw-ups, trains, tags, anti-government slogans! (illegal things). You know when you can really tell that you love graffiti? When you see yourself in a situation and you ask yourself, “I could be in my house with my family, relaxing, and here I am, running around endlessly with serious security chasing after me, just so I can paint? Just so I can do what I love? Fuck! And we’re going to do it again and again and again and again, because it keeps us alive!” (Laughs).
There are lots of exhibitions nowadays in galleries which people would call ’street art’ or ‘graffiti exhibition’. We don’t classify that as ‘graffiti’. Graffiti is outside, on the street. The moment it enters an institution, a museum, a gallery, it loses the environment on the street and it becomes an art expo, a mural. We think that there are many opportunities these days for everyone but a lot depends on what you’re ‘planting’ for yourself!? and what way you’re ‘planting’ it! You’ll one day reap everything you sow.
The quality of your work can be seen in the characters you paint. But there’s quality in your lettering too. Why don’t you paint pieces at urban art events?
Our universe is ever expanding, opening new windows and horizons. We’re always concerned about the quality of what we’re doing, whether it’s on a canvas or on the street. But we separate slightly both universes; for us, characters and scenery work better in the galleries and streets, and it’s what we need to create our universe. Lettering works well too, but only on the street, on a wall, a train…we haven’t managed to sell a letter piece in a gallery, it doesn’t go well with our work proposal.
What is the worst part about painting?
Graffiti? Uhm… difficult answer. Probably people without respect, when someone thinks they’re better than someone else. Normally people that talk and boast the most, do the least. But the real graffiti artist always recognizes what is false. And worse still is when time passes, without us realizing, while we’re painting a piece, lost in our ‘creativity’.
And the best?
Friendship. The friends we’ve made in all of this. Meeting people who turn out to be friends for life. Following the right path. One of the most important things that the streets have shown us is following the right path, doing things well or for a good cause! Where we’re from, if you follow the wrong path, you could end up dead. Do the right thing, love and care for the people that matter to you, without dirty games in play…if you manage that, you can do anything you want.
A little while ago, after painting on a wall for hours, we stopped to think about everything that had happened behind us while we painted. When we’re painting, our backs are turned to the world. How much time had we spent with our backs to the world? When you’re painting, you forget about everything that’s happening around you, you’re just in front of the wall or the train and you work. You turn your back to the world but you’re opening a door, a window in the wall. On that surface, an entryway opens up to another dimension. That’s the power of creativity.
(More photos in Goodfellas.)