Vhils: The art of urban decay

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The 25-year-old Portugese street artist who uses peeling billboards and abandoned doors as canvases

To most city-dwellers they are an everyday eyesore, but to Vhils, peeling billboards and crumbling walls are things of beauty.

The Portuguese artist, born Alexandre Farto, has been using urban decay as his canvas for as long as he can remember – chipping away at plaster and bricks and slicing into advertising hoardings to create his eerie giant portraits.

Now 25, he started as a graffiti artist, “bombing” trains in his native Lisbon when he was just 13. He adopted “Vhils” as his tag because they were his favourite letters to spray but by the age of 17, he was already tired of the scene. “I started to look at walls in a different way”, he says. He found that they told the story of his country.

Click here or on "View Gallery" for more pictures

After the Carnation Revolution in 1974, which brought down the right-wing dictatorship which had ruled the country for 48 years, the Portuguese people celebrated their freedom with bold political murals. By the 1980s, when Vhils was growing up, they were fading or had already been pasted over with adverts. “In the same street you would have billboards selling consumer goods and utopian socialist murals. Advertising was pasted on top of the murals and graffiti on top of that”, he explains. “The walls were getting fatter over time.”

“I didn’t want to be just one more layer. So I thought of how I could use all of the layers to reflect the changing times. I started to carve into them. You can find billboards from five, 10 years ago, if you go deep enough.”

Using scalpels, hammers and pneumatic drills, Vhils now retools billboards from Berlin to Shanghai, Moscow to Rio, replacing the usual politicians, models and celebrities with the faces of “everyday heroes” that he sketches on the subway or glimpses at flea markets.

Having studied art at St Martins, one his earliest works for London featured alongside a Banksy in the graffiti artist’s Cans Festival underneath Waterloo Station in 2008. Two years later, he made headlines when he carved a likeness of the American con-man Bernie Madoff into the peeling plaster of the same tunnels for Steve Lazarides’ Hell’s Half Acre exhibition.

His new show, at Lazarides’ Soho gallery, crafts beauty out of debris and waste – old doors stencilled in gold, chunks of scrap metal, wood and Styrofoam vividly etched with faces in bleach and ink. And as usual, he is leaving his mark on the city with four new faces across East London: an old man on a corner of Hewett Street in Shoreditch; another on the wall of a derelict diner opposite Pontoon Dock DLR station.

“Some are gone the next day, some stay for six years. I like it when the work is two or three years old and has started to age and blend with the texture of the wall. It captures the ephemerality of city life”, he says. “I never have and never want to have absolute control over what I’m doing. In the end, I’m just another layer on the wall.”

To 17 Jan, Lazarides Gallery, London W1 (www.lazinc.com)                              

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones