We recently visited Zezão at his studio in São Paulo, a Brazilian street artist who cut his teeth in the Pixação scene in the city limits. In the past, he worked in degraded and abandoned spots, such as, the sewers of this megalopolis – during a period when he suffered with depression.
His famous signature, the Flop, a light blue organic shape, contrasts with these inhospitable places, bringing “life” and a sense of purity to its environment.
An engaged artist, concerned with social exclusion and still deeply connected to his roots in São Paulo’s deprived suburbs, Zezão “adopted’ a homeless drug addict at the end of last year, whose rehabilitation involves the opportunity to work, and learning how to make art.
Since his Flops were discovered by the media in 2003, Zezão has displayed his work in New York, London and Paris, amongst others. However, while knowledgeable about graffiti, he is also involved in the making of photography, installation and video art.
Photo: Fernanda Hinke copyright 2013
I started to do graffiti in 1995, in that moment it was considered marginalized by society. But before I used to be skateboarder also, I used to make “pixação’ and I have always been involved with the urban movement. I’m from the third generation of graffiti in Brazil, after the second generation composed by Os Gêmeos, Speto and Binho.
Can you explain the concept of the flop?
Flop is a signature derived from flow-up and from the word vicious. It’s my own logotype. A blue organic abstract form with tribal influences that I used to contrast with the inhospitable places I used to work.
Why did you start to work on the underground sewer?
Graffiti was the reflection of my life. I grew up on the periphery. I didn’t study that much. I lost my parents when I was a teenager and I used to work as a motoboy (motorcycle courier). I never had opportunities in my life.
On the 90’s, there was a lot of repression on the city. In 1998, I started to paint at Moinho Matarazzo (nowadays a favela place) with the intention of being far from the repression.
Later, I started working on the sewers of São Paulo. I was depressed, and the place was depressive too. I used to use the art for my own cure. This isolated place was perfect for my own isolation from the world without feeling the repression. I closed myself for the world and I did the most important reflections about my life. Everything was embedded. My depression used to be very strong when I came for the underground. But I it wasn’t brave enough to kill myself and I thought: Maybe, slowly, being in that place, something could happen and kill me. I was on the hole with rats and cockroaches, but art saved me. In the dark, I found my path.
You used to work in hidden places, so how people discovered you?
In 2003, I put my first picture of graffiti on Fotolog. I showed people: my graffiti is that! People started to ask me where it was and I used to joke, “just under your feet”. When the media discovered what I had been doing I needed to explain myself. In that moment, I realized how my work could make a contribution for society. I decided to be an agent even if it was in a transgressive way, but I wanted to contribute with my own city. I showed them that my message was about peace. I want to be the Robin Wood of art. I will bring art for my fellows that don’t know what art is.
Photos: Fernanda Hinke copyright 2013
What happened after the media discovered you?
After this experience at the sewers, I felt the need to go out of the walls and try another object, without the ambition of being an artist. I was curious about the brush, acrylic paint, the tablet. I’m a curious guy. I love garbage, photography, paint, graffiti, installation, video/art, writing. I didn’t want to fall into a routine. Graffiti was always inside of me, nothing compared to the synergy of the streets, the performance and the risks. But then I decided to try something new.
Later, I met Mariana Martins, the director of Choque Cultural, the first street-art gallery in Brazil, that was trying to insert on the art market rebel artists like Os Gêmeos, Speto and others.
In 2004, I had the first opportunity to be inside of a gallery, to sell my work, but not on canvas, because I always painted in the garbage I found on the streets.
I have my own opinion. My roots were strongly marginalized and nowadays I sail in the ocean of art. But I know how to walk in this two worlds.
For me, graffiti will never fit on a canvas or in a museum.
How do you find balance between street and studio?
Nowadays, I’m 41 years old. I look to my life and it is unbelievable. I used to know bandits and today I know all the mainstream guys. I fell in a very mature moment on the niche of art but I keep my respect for the street and for the “maloqueiragem”. I don’t’ want to bite the hand that feeds me. I don’t want to paint canvas, I keep the roots of the street alive and I can travel and have good opportunities with the commercial part of my art. I like my atelier, but I love the streets.
Pixação and graffiti are the same things for you?
We are living a polemic moment trying to find answer about the difference between pixação e graffiti. In my interpretation, what is different is the esthetics. Graffiti and pixação are both about the purity of transgression, vandalism, revolutionary art. Both break all the rules of classical art: come rain or shine, it’s illegal, explicit freedom of expression, sometimes it is beautiful and about peace, sometimes it is about monsters and very aggressive message. In the concept, graffiti and pixação are the same.
Tell me about Índio, the homeless that you “adopted”.
I’m in a very important period of my life in terms of concept of values. I brought this guy Índio, that used to be a homeless and a drug addict, to work with me. I’m rediscovering the concept of my work. I used to be a garbage collector. I used to live on the favela and nowadays I have someone that came from the Cracolândia, same felling of the “maloqueiragem”. I grew up inside this “malandragem”.
He brings garbage for me. I told him that I needed bed headboards and he brought me more than 30. I will pay him a commission of each peace that I sell. Our work together is social and spiritual. It’s a mutual help.
It’s strange that I have been feeling prejudice by people that I never imagine to feel. OK, when I used to work on the sewers, it was normal that people avoided me. Nobody wanted to go to the sewers. Now, years later, I want to adopt someone from the street and I want to transform him into an artist and people are prejudicing me? This is the true, Zezão. This is the essence of my work. I can’t throw stones onto the cross. I have love for these people. That’s my “maloqueiro” side.
Some street artists are in galleries, museums, main stream, and are losing their underground roots, they purity. I can’t say that this is a decadency, on the contrary, is an evolution. For the conservative society, before we used to be marginals, nowadays we are selling canvas for 30.000 reais. Before, we used to be marginals and nowadays we are dear people. It’s not my case, this can damage my career as an artist, but I will never change my ethic and my true. I want to give a slap in the face of these fake people.
Índio (on the left) and Zezão, at his studio in São Paulo
Photo: Fernanda Hinke copyright 2013
Currently, Zezão, has an exhibition in Brazil, at Athena Contemporânea gallery, Rio de Janeiro.
In May, Zezão will be in London, invited by the former curator of the Tate Modern, Cedar Lewisohn.
Afterwards he will be in Hamburg taking part in ‘Living With Water’, to raise money for environmental projects in developing countries.
Then, Basel and Frankfurt, where he will make an intervention with other Brazilian artists, including, Os Gêmeos, Nunca and Speto.
Visit Zezão’s website, here