Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Wholetrain

Today I met one of the most famous graffiti artists in the world, although I’m not quite sure which one it was.  His name is either Otávio or Gustavo, and the reason I’m being vague is that he is one of two identical twin brothers known as OsGemeos, or ‘TheTwins’.


I heard a few weeks ago that OsGemeos were coming to town as part of a project they have been working on for a few years called “Wholetrain” where they arrive in a Brazilian city (they’ve painted all over the world, but this project appears to be limited to Brazil) with a bunch of other artists and paint the local trains.  I read about it and thought it sounded awesome, and made a Facebook post to that effect - despite Brazil being a tremendous source of world class graffiti artists, most of them live south of here and rarely make it to our fair(ish) city.

I actually found out about the whole thing because another graffiti artist, from here, posted about it in the context of complaining about the fact that none of these projects ever seem to go to local artists.  There were a lot of comments agreeing with him.  I re-posted the news, from a much more positive “hey isn’t this great that this is happening” point of view.  I got some positive responses, but the majority of the comments I received were by people that ran the gamut from unimpressed to indignant.  The nature of these comments were threefold:
  1. The aforementioned lack of local talent involved
  2. The shocking amount of money the government must have invested in the project, when there is no money available for any arts related projects right now
  3. The fact that the train is getting a cosmetic makeover when what it really needs is a complete rebuild as it’s a slow, unreliable, piece of shit and an embarrassment in a city that really needs better public transport. 
There are some groups on social media related to the local graffiti scene and apparently there was a royal shit storm going on on them - I only heard about this second hand as I just don’t have the patience to participate in groups like that.  When I brought up the project with my customers there was a lot of bitching and moaning that went on, and surprisingly little support for the whole thing.

Last week someone asked me if OsGemeos had arrived yet, and I was startled by the question - usually things happen at such a snail’s pace here, I didn’t expect them to show  up for months, or even a year.  He sent me a link telling me they were due this weekend.  And they were arriving with some major global talent in tow.

As I read the article I learned a few things about the project. The most important thing I learned was that this project is entirely funded by the artists, and does not involve the allocation of tax dollars, which dispenses with item two in my previous list.  I spoke to a friend of mine, one of the few graffiti artists in the city who makes a living at it, and he had been asked to participate along with a couple other local artists, so there was to be some local participation.  As for item three on my list, yes, the trains are horrible, and should be modernized.  But if a group of the most famous graffiti artists are coming to town, and want to paint your train, for FREE, wouldn’t it be kind of silly to turn them down?  "Sorry guys, could you come back in ten years and paint the trains once we've got them fixed up?  Thanks!"

I also had been thinking a lot about item number one on my list.  When I discovered that this was a project that OsGemeos put together a long time ago, and have been working on over the course of years, in lots of cities in Brazil, it just made sense to me that Salvador should get its turn.  Indeed, lots of big cities the world over have world-class graffiti pieces, many by OsGemeos, shouldn’t we get one too?  It’s not like the city government is shelling out 100 grand to bring these guys here when the cash could go to local artists, they did it on their own.  And they made it happen - they came up with a project and executed it.  Most of these local guys don’t have it together to do so.  So quit yer bitchin’.

Why should I even have to defend a project like this?

I messaged my friend yesterday to see if the crew had arrived as promised.  He had been so put off by the shit storm going on on social media that he was seriously considering not participating despite being invited.  Turns out they had arrived as scheduled, and he’d gone, and he’d painted.  I lamented the fact that I hadn’t tagged along, but he explained that they were trying to keep it quiet and had told him not to bring anyone with him.  I told him I really wanted to meet the guys, but I probably wouldn’t close the store on a Monday to make the trek down to the train station - it wasn’t close by.  Then he convinced me that I should make the effort.

I should mention that the article I read last week included a list of artists that were to accompany OsGemeos, and a couple of them stood out.  One is Nunca, who is another of the most famous Brazilian graffiti artists, and who also met my brother in Mexico a couple years back.  I mostly wanted to meet him to let him know this, which is a little silly, but I think if you’re going to meet famous people you should make the most of whatever personal connection you can.  The other name on the list was Aryz.  Now, I think OsGemeos are great.  I think Nunca is great too.  But Aryz, no joke, is one of my absolute favorite graffiti artists in the world.  I really wanted to meet him.

Now is probably a good time to post some links to these guys: OsGemeos, Nunca, Aryz

I’m really not much of a, what do you call it?  A Famous Person Chaser?  A VIP Schmoozer?  A Starry-Eyed Fan Boy?  You people have a word for this in English and I can’t think of it right now.  Basically I’m trying to tell you that I was kind of dreading putting myself out in this way, uninvited, showing up out of the blue to meet the famous graffiti artists.  There’s a great phrase in Portuguese for this kind of behavior, it’s called ‘Cara de Pau’ or ‘face of wood,’ someone who just doesn’t give a shit what anyone thinks.  I’m not what I’d generally call a cara de pau, although I’ve gotten a bit better at it over the years living here in Bahia.

So I went.  Closed the store in the middle of the morning and caught a cab to the train station.  When I arrived I promptly ran into another friend and local graffiti artist.  He had also been invited to participate in the project.  Now I had an in!  I had brought a bag of spray can caps with me as well, on the off-chance that they might need some, my plan B was to use them, in true Cara de Pau style, to talk my way past security if need be.  Didn't look like I'd need to.  My friend told me he’d try to introduce me to the famous people and disappeared.  He seemed kinda amped up, which is how people act around famous people I guess.

I stood there for a minute and then decided to pay the train fare and at least get onto the platform.  It was only 50 centavos.  Best investment I’ve made in some time.  The trains were already in use, so I checked them out - there were also people on the platforms who were obviously graffiti artists, most of them wielding cameras.  I started to talk to them, my inner Cara de Pau coming out.  One of the guys told me his name is Blue, and I later wondered if he might have been Blu, another of my absolute favorite artists.  Turns out it wasn’t, but Blue’s work is great too.  Then I saw my friend come out of the big shed where they keep the trains, along with a group of people including OsGemeos.  He waved me over.

I think my friend wasn’t sure which one of the twins he was introducing me to, which is why he didn’t introduce him by name.  I (belately) welcomed him to Salvador and thanked him for bringing his project here, and told him if they needed any paint I could help them out.  Turns out they didn't - they'd already sent 500 cans, unused, back to São Paulo.  It was a brief conversation and I only made a mild fool of myself, the whole Cara de Pau thing abandoning me in my time of need.  I didn’t ask for an autograph or a photo, which makes me feel noble and less groveling, but here I am writing about the whole thing in great detail on my blog, so maybe I am a Starry-Eyed Fan Boy after all.

After that I had an even more brief encounter with Aryz, but I did manage to shake his hand and tell him I love his work.  I got the impression he hears that a lot.

And Nunca?  I completely forgot about Nunca until I was on the bus back to the store.

I must say I had expected much more elaborate paintings on the trains, but it appears that the artists went more for an old school 70’s NYC style approach, which may be part of the whole idea, I’ll have to read up on that when I’m back online.  There was only one really elaborate car, painted by OsGemeos themselves, at least that I saw.  I got this great video of it as it was pulling out of the station:


I didn’t see anything painted by Aryz, so I’ll have to see if I can spot it online.  Unfortunately I don’t live anywhere near the train line (although it does go to Paripe) so I won’t have the pleasure of seeing them go by, but at least I got to participate in a tiny way.

I’m glad I decided to close the store and make the trip.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Mil Muros 2.0?

Hummm I never did write about our 24 hour painting, and it certainly looks like I'm not going to right now - who has time to write anything anyways?  But I will post a photo:


I will let you guess which part was my contribution.  Cool project, except for the dubious anatomy and the hideous faces on the principal characters, but I wasn't going to write about this was I?

Instead I will write, briefly, about the fact that it appears I am moving the store.  This just after I got written up in the magazine Muito, which is included in the Sunday edition of the local paper A Tarde.  Kinda like getting written up in the New York Times Magazine, except that A Tarde is not the New York Times, just like Salvador is not like New York, just like Largo Dois de Julho is not the East Village, as much as I might wish it was.  Here's a picture of the article:


Somebody told me a full page ad in this magazine costs 10,000 reais although I have not been able to independently confirm this.  Goody goody for me!!!  They sought me out to write the article.

So what am I doing right after getting this great free publicity?  Well, it looks like I'm moving the store about a kilometer away from its current location.  Why, you may ask?  In short, because the people who run the building where the store is currently domiciled are idiots and assholes.  They are bloodsuckers, incompetents, and shysters.  They are morons, sycophants, and carpetbaggers.  They should go bankrupt and then they should go to hell, in that order.  I hold them in low regard.

Here's the deal: the only good thing about where the store currently is is that it's cheap.  Quite cheap.  It's hidden away in a basement and nobody can find the place, the building gets no maintenance and we don't even have anyone to clean the bathrooms.  The owner basically bleeds off the rent that comes in and ignores everything else related to the building.  The stores are bad, and apparently the apartments upstairs are worse.  Yesterday, the steel staircase that leads down to the dungeon where the store is located finally rusted through one of its primary rails; collapse was imminent, until I shored it up with a piece of wood.

But you want to know something interesting?  According to the 'super' of the building, these problems are our (the renters) fault and responsibility.  Apparently they did a big renovation about 10 years ago and we didn't do our part to maintain the building.  Their solution?  Charge us for the overdue maintenance.  To the tune of 1500 reais each.

There are some shared bathrooms in the building for our use.  The doors to these bathrooms are literally falling apart as they are completely infested with termites.  They have holes in them.  From a conversation with the 'super' on the topic:

Me: "You mean to tell me that we, the tenants of the building, are responsible for replacing the bathroom doors?"

'Super': "Yes!"

From a subsequent conversation last week:

Me: "Have you spoken to a lawyer about what you're trying to charge us for?"

and:

Me: "You're going to lose me as a tenant over this."

later:

'Super': "Well if that's your attitude, I suggest you start looking for another place."

Me: "I already am."

Did I mention there are three empty stores in the building that they have not bothered to try to rent?  I tried to move into one (more expensive than my current store) a year or so ago and I was informed that "The owner doesn't want to rent it at this time, she'll let you know if she changes her mind."

Whaaaat?  And you're complaining that you don't have money for building maintenance?

Dude, I'm a hothead at times, and this was one of them.  I wanted to move out this year but decided not to because the current political crisis was just beginning to unfold.  I started to change my mind a couple months ago when this bullshit started to manifest, but I still owe a bunch of money from our graffiti event and didn't have anything in reserve for a move.  But last week, when the 'super' showed up with a notice that they'd start charging for the 'maintenance and conservation' of the building I decided it was time to go.  I got all charged up and started taking the first steps: finding a new space and scraping the walls.

Scraping the walls?  Well, for the last three years I've been letting my clients write on them, and I have to return the store in the condition I received it to get my security deposit back.  I decided to make a game out of it:



As you can see it's not just my clients who contribute to the walls.  It's actually been a pretty cool collaboration between me and my clients, and I wish I'd documented it a bit more carefully.  Now my son has decided he's going to do the scraping, as I told him he could earn 50 cents for each tile he cleans off:



He's hoping to earn enough to replace his cell phone that just was stolen, but that's another story.  Special thanks to my second oldest brother (you know who you are) who provided the scraper which is being put to most vigorous use on this project.

I found a space, in a small shopping center not far from here.  It's smaller and more expensive than my current space.  But it's easy to find and it has a window.  And there's a full time employee to do cleaning and maintenance.  And the super is actually a super - she's responsive, pleasant, and actually shows up from time to time at the shopping center.  I expect most of my clients will follow me there, although I will certainly lose a few.

Now I have to wait for the !@#$ local bureaucracy to approve my change of address.  This, apparently, can take up to 45 days, during which I'd basically be a fool to move although I may do so anyways.

Last night I lay awake in bed listening to the rain and wondering if I hadn't made an impulsive, expensive miscalculation.  It's going to be a lot of work to move this damn store, and to a spot that is about half the size and almost twice the price?  I don't know.  But the wheels are in motion.

And here I was thinking I'd spend ten minutes on this post, over an hour later.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

BTC 2015



Well, it's Easter Sunday and I'm at home by myself.  I've gotten a couple decent night's sleep and I've watched all the episodes of Game of Thrones and House of Cards that I hadn't had a chance to watch for some time, so I find myself in the odd position of not having anything better to do than write a blog entry.  And I have been remiss in not writing about our graffiti event, so I will do so.  Actually we had two events, let's see if I can get to both of them.

But first!  I spent the day today riding my bike through the city with a backpack full of spray paint - I left a whole bunch of 'bombs' (quick, simple, graffiti paintings consisting of a fill color and an outline, at their simplest) along my route.  I have no pictures of my adventure, as someone 'borrowed' the memory card of the phone I brought with me to record the event.  Blast!!!  Not that they are very exciting as individual paintings, but they get more impressive in the aggregate.  And why was I biking across town?  To go to the police station to pick up a copy of the police report from my accident that I had revised.  I went there last week and did the actual revision, and I had to go back today because they had no toner for their printer at the time.  I decided that since I had to go, why not take the bike and some cans?  Easter Sunday was the perfect day to ride around the city, as there was very little traffic.  I don't like traffic, especially when I'm on a bicycle.

Questão, Reiv, Filó - Salvador
So - the graffiti event that we spent months planning and almost didn't happen.  There was a fair amount of drama leading up to the event, and fairly little drama during the event, which was good.  We almost didn't get any money to put the thing on, which added greatly to the drama.  At the last minute we were promised some 20 thousand reais, with some conditions.  That was all the money we needed to put the event on, but as things stand right now that's all we got: a promise.  It's money from the city government, so it should eventually come through but then again the government hasn't been doing so great here lately... more on a national level but why let yourself off the Anxiety Hook when you've got such a good reason to be hanging from it?  So essentially a lot of people (myself included) took an IOU and invested out of pocket to make the event happen, but hopefully within a few months or so we will be reimbursed.

As I write this I am finally uploading the photos to my poor, neglected Flickr account - if you think this blog is neglected you should check out my Flickr.  It's pathetic.

I don't know how much this post is going to be a blow-by-blow of how the event came together, I didn't strike when the iron was hot and the brain has moved the experience out of short term memory - perhaps for the best.  Nah, it wasn't that bad.  It was fun!  I was actually a bit removed from a lot of the action as I had to deal with my store and the paint and the aftermath of my car accident but that's okay.  I don't really like being too much in the middle of the action.  I spent most of my time trying to sell paint, but since we were given 900 cans of paint to distribute amongst the participants it turned out that there wasn't much demand for more, much to my chagrin - I had estimated that we might sell two to three thousand cans in addition to the 900 donated, which turned out to be WAY off target- if I sold 500 it was a lot.  But I ordered over 3000 cans, which I now have to pay for, and I have so much paint on hand I don't know what to do with it all.  I tried a big old promotion, but the results were tepid at best.  I'm swimming in paint.  It's freaking me out.

Quinho with Limpo and Nick Alive
I suppose I could give you some background instead of just rambling on, you know, why we did it and all... now might be a good time.  Essentially it's this: there is a tradition of big graffiti events in the major cities here in Brazil and Salvador has not had one in a very long time.  There was one 'International' event in 2008 (you can see the pictures from that here) but we haven't done anything since then.  And by the way, this one was not at all international, unless you count me and my Swiss friend and this Mexican guy who was taking photos.  Actually, my Swiss friend is the only one who counts as he's the only one who painted.  Next year we'll try for international.  This year we are just happy that we pulled it off.

When you put on an event like this, you invite people to participate.  In this case, since it wasn't international (we actually did invite one of the best graffiti artists in the world from Germany, but she said she couldn't make it), we invited people from Salvador and people from the rest of Brazil.  We got about 150 submissions on our website.  We picked 90 of them, which was probably too many.  We also decided to put the event on for four days instead of three, which was probably too long.  Lots of people grumbled about who we chose.  I grumbled about who we chose.  This might be a good time to mention that there were five of us organizing everything up until the last minute - we are calling our collective Vai e Faz, which means Go and Do It. Some of us did more than others.  Some of us did almost nothing.  I did some things, but could have done more.  At a couple points I decided that I would help out this year and then be done with it, leave the collective.  Which I may yet do, although I haven't decided for sure yet.

So once you get the people, and the paint (which came together quickly thank goodness, once we were promised our 900 cans of paint we knew we had an event to look forward to) then you need to arrange food and housing and scaffolding and such.  Costs money.  And nobody was giving us any.

The other thing we needed was a wall to paint.  It's tough finding a really big wall that lots of people will see on a daily basis that the owners will let you cover with graffiti for free, but we had our eye on one from the start.  There's a ferry that runs from the island of Itaparica to Salvador, which has a massive wall and it fronts on a major road into the center of the city.  Perfect.  Better yet, one of our organizing team had already painted part of it.  And the owners of the wall were all for it.  Unfortunately, not everyone who had previously painted the wall thought it was a good idea.

Sank, Salvador
There's a somewhat odd concept in graffiti, at least here in Salvador, where walls become turf.  People who have no idea who actually owns a particular property will talk about "their wall" and if anyone else tries to paint there it becomes a problem.  This became a problem for us with our perfect wall.  Admittedly, we screwed up - two people who had painted large portions (some 60 yards) of the wall were not consulted before we announced that the painting would happen there.  Worse, one of the guys is one of the most problematic in the scene, and the other I found out (to my surprise) is not far behind.  They got pissed that we wanted to paint their wall without asking, and made vague suggestions about reaching some kind of arrangement.  It's pretty clear that what they wanted was money, although they wouldn't admit it, and probably a lot more than we could afford to pay.  We had a much easier time negotiating with the pixadores, the taggers who had also painted the wall.  We gave them some cans of paint, let them participate in the event, and they were happy.  These other guys weren't interested in the same offer, so we left "their" section of the wall alone and painted the rest.

There were other problems with the wall involving official authorization by the real owners, which were complicated and stressful and I don't want to get into it - let's just say that we didn't have it sewn up until the very last minute, and there was a situation involving a big section of the wall that was in dispute right at the last minute, the very morning of the event.  Thank goodness it all worked out in the end.

Viber, Minas Gerais
So I've mentioned the funding - up until about 10 days before the event all we had in the treasury was about 100 reais we earned from a raffle we put on.  This was not only the result of procrastination, although that certainly played a part.  We had a contact in the city government, who suggested that we put on the event in March to coincide with the city's birthday.  We, in our ignorance of how this was intended to work, chose to put on the event in the beginning of March rather than the end, which is when the birthday actually happens.  We did this so as not to conflict with the next graffiti event of the Brazilian calendar, which happens in the neighboring city of Recife.  It was a mistake.

Even though we started planning for the event in November, we were forced to take a long break from our planning; first because of Christmas and New Year's, and next because of the all-consuming Carnaval, which requires more than a month of intense planning before it happens.  This left us with little time to get things sorted.  Additionally, a new political party was voted in this year and they were in the middle of the transition, which added to the chaos.  We had a number of last minute meetings to get some funding which ranged from inconclusive to disastrous, and we found out the hard way that we weren't going to get any money from the city government if the event didn't coincide with the actual date of the city's birthday.  It was too late to change the date - we'd already made our selection and a number of participants had purchased airline tickets.

Much to our astonishment, as we were in the midst of resolving the authorization of the wall and riding in my late automobile, one of my co-organizers received an email stating that we were to receive twenty thousand reais, but only if we put on two events instead of one.  The way they were able to finagle it was to give (promise, rather) half the money for the big event if we scheduled a second, smaller event at the end of the month to coincide with the city's birthday.  We were so surprised I don't think either of us believed it was really happening, and since we still have not received any cash it still maintains an element of unreality which I would be happy to see dissipate say, this afternoon.  I have bills to pay.

So if you've gotten this far you know that we pulled it off, albeit by the skin of our teeth.  So how did it go?  I think it went great for most if not all the participants.  We had an opening event with a round table discussion in which yours truly was on the panel.  It had a theme but I basically ignored it and talked about my experiences with graffiti from the perspective of a foreigner arriving in the scene.  I definitely got the most laughs.  I followed little of what my co-panelists had to say, Portuguese turned to Greek for me in that auditorium.

Mutirão in Itinga
The next day, a Friday, we spent in the neighborhood of Itinga, doing what we call a 'Multirão.' I've written about these events on this blog before.  A Multirão involves getting everyone together and going into one of the humbler neighborhoods in the city and painting people's houses.  These are always fun, although this time instead of painting I spent my time minding a stack of boxes filled with paint and selling little, trying to keep the brutal tropical sun from baking the paint inside their cans.

The weekend days we spent painting the big wall, which of course was the highlight of the weekend and it came out great.  We had some very talented people participating, and the wall was big enough to let all comers paint something.  The section of the invited participants is fantastic, the 'all comers' section of the wall is... less interesting.

Finally we wrapped things up with a show in Pelourinho with a number of rap artists, DJ's, break dancers, you know - the whole hip-hop thing.  I was hauled up on stage with the rest of the Vai e Faz crew and had to speak again but it was okay to bask a bit in the glory of the whole ordeal, I mean, we did pull it off and I was a part of making that happen.  And we learned a lot about how to make it better for next year.

So - I'd hoped to write about the second event we did at the end of the month but this went longer than I expected, so that will have to wait for another time.  Here's hoping I get to it soon, because if not, it will never get written.

The photos have finished uploading to Flickr, have a look if you want to see more.

One last thing: an American guy I met came into the store last week, I was telling him about the event when I remembered that he lives on the island of Itaparica, which means he arrived on the ferry and walked by all the paintings with the paint practically still drying on the walls.  He didn't even notice.

This just in!!  There's a video of the event that just went live, check it out!  It's in Portuguese of course.