Vhils: The art of urban decay
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.
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)
A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend
A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 The way the police have treated Cliff Richard is completely unacceptable
- 2 Michael Brown shooting: Amnesty International sends team within US for first time as National Guard deployed
- 3 Michael Brown shooting: Ferguson police shoot and kill second young black man
- 4 James Foley 'beheaded': Isis video shows militant with British accent 'execute US journalist' – and warns Obama of more to come
- 5 Reading Festival 2014: Tesco branch replaces salad and potatoes for Jagermeister and vodka
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness
JK Rowling releases new Harry Potter story on Pottermore: Introducing Celestina Warbuck, the 'Singing Sorceress'
Reading Festival 2014: Tesco branch replaces salad and potatoes for Jagermeister and vodka
The funniest joke at Edinburgh Fringe 2014: Tim Vine wins for second time
Kate Bush: Previously unseen photographs reveal new side to comeback star
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Crisis? What crisis? A visiting US doctor gives the NHS a rave review
Russell Brand calls for Israel boycott: Comedian urges big businesses that 'facilitate the oppression of people in Gaza' to pull funding
Ukip MEP calls for reintroduction of death penalty on fiftieth anniversary of last deaths
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head