The renowned Portuguese artist shares a first draft
The son of a dissident in Portugal’s Carnation Revolution, the Lisbon-born street artist Alexandre Farto, a.k.a. Vhils, first rose to prominence when one of his portraits appeared next to a work by Banksy at the 2008 Cans Festival in London. Now, at 24, he’s the youngest artist represented by Banksy’s agent, Steve Lazarides, whose gallery website says Vhils is “taking Vandalism as art to its logico ad absurdum conclusion.” Though he works on wood, metal, walls, and billboards, and with a variety of media—most recently a mixture of ink and bleach—his subject is almost always the same: the faces of anonymous city residents. Exhibited at shows like “Grifters” (London, 2009) and “Shadows and Reflections” (Paris, 2011), these depictions of steely-gazed urbanites occupy billboards and walls once reserved for a a certain kind of "1 percent": celebrities, models, and politicians.
Here, Vhils shares a sketch for a portrait, and describes the “Scratching the Surface” method he uses to translate his works from paper to walls, and to create art through destruction.
THE IDEA OF CARVING WALLS evolved when I was growing up in Lisbon. After the revolution in '74—a coup that took down the right-wing dictatorship—there was this big movement of people doing murals, mostly political ones. But by the beginning of the ‘80s, the murals started crumbling and fading away, forgotten somehow. Then there was a big construction boom. Billboards went up over the murals, and then came the graffiti. In the space of 20 years, the city grew fat with these layers.