Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday is Street Art Day - Once Again

"Não Pode," or you can't, the guy said to me, looking a little worse for wear with his missing teeth and marginal flip-flops.

"Do what?" I asked, but I knew very well he was telling me not to paint where I was painting, wich was on some plywood surrounding a construction site.

"You can't paint there," he said, but he used the verb pichar, which is used for the Brazilian form of tagging. Most of the rest of the construction enclosure was pretty well covered with tags.

"But I'm not tagging. I'm painting." I explained, which was quite literally true, I was using an actual paintbrush and acrylic to fill in a drawing that I then outlined with markers. "This is much nicer than tagging. If I paint this here, the taggers will leave it alone." This was all true, even if the first part is my opinion. Pichadores respect the work of others, for the most part, and vice-versa. It should also be said that you can pichar with normal paint too, although this is generally done with rollers and not 1/4 inch paintbrushes.

"What is it?"

"A machine"

"What does it do?"

"I don't know."

"Huh- you're the one painting it and you don't even know."

With that dismissal he crossed the street and sat down with the Shovel Guy. These two were apparently 'employed' watching over the construction site, protecting it from Pichadores and other miscreants like myself.

Evani doesn't like it that I go out by myself to paint on Sundays. She thinks it's dangerous, and she's probably right. Even though the spot in question is on one of the primary streets here in Salvador, and during the week it is swarming with people and vendors, on Sunday is is essentially deserted and left to the homeless and other charming fellows like Shovel Guy and his scruffy companion.

Shovel Guy proved Evani's point when he got my attention about a half hour earlier by banging a shovel against the curb just behind me. He wasn't trying to knock any dried cement off of it even though some did come off, and he wasn't planning on doing any digging either. The shovel was clearly meant to intimidate and/or scare me off. Ask anyone who's been hit over the head with a shovel if it's not an effective weapon. And this guy had gotten right up behind me with it and I hadn't even noticed- that's what Evani's concerned about. I get all involved in what I'm doing and I don't really pay attention to the people who might want to threaten me with a shovel, so they are forced to bang it on the ground until I notice.

In response I said "Tudo bem?" or How's it going? in my most disarming, naive gringo manner (not entirely an act) and he crossed the street to sit down in a beat up chair, declaiming loudly "Desgraçado quer riscar as coisas dos outros," which means Bastard wants to draw on other people's things, more or less, which to some people might be fightin' words, but I'm not a fightin' type. I just kept painting, as he sat down and glowered at me, and I tried to paint faster.

As I worked to finish up the piece, I was thinking about what I should do, and what might happen to my nascent piece of street art. I wondered if I would be able to finish it, and if so, what the expected life span of the completed piece would be. These two guys were clearly not impressed with the fine artwork I was creating, but on the other hand, they hadn't stopped me, at least not yet. They sat there staring at me and I wished I had my camera with me so I could take a picture in case they decided to paint over it right away. I was only about a ten minute walk from my house but these guys were clearly aggrieved. I thought how I could possibly defuse the situation- maybe offer to buy them some beers but I didn't know how I should go about it. I painted as quickly as possible, and then started outlining everything with a sharpie.

All of a sudden, Scruffy called out to me - "Ei," he said, and motioned me over. Here it comes, I think, and go over to where they are sitting.

"Give us 100 reis," he says, or at least that's what I think he says: the words Cinco and Cem are theoretically confusable and he has no teeth in the front of his mouth, plus I'm partially deaf. "That guy that was over there checking you out is in charge of the construction and he's not happy- he's going to tell us to paint over all of this, maybe even today, but if you give us 100 reis I'll talk to him." I had noticed a guy, much better dressed than these two, but if he was annoyed by what I was doing he certainly hadn't seemed it. If he was in fact the guy in charge.

I could have told him that painting over it was pointless, that the pichadores would just tag it all over again, and so it was in their best interest to leave something attractive there and be done with it. I thought to mention that the Guy in Charge hadn't looked too upset to me, but I didn't feel like arguing and they wouldn't have cared anyways. I was being shaken down and I knew it, so I did a quick mental calculation of the money in my pocket versus the potential temporary reprieve for my painting, and I said "One hundred reis??"

"Five reis. And we'll talk to the guy." All reasonable now, no more glowering. Glowing a little bit even, knowing victory was at hand.

Just handing them the cash seemed too demeaning, and plus I now had my opening. "You guys want some beers?" I said. They liked this idea, liked it a lot actually. Suddenly they were all happy and we were all friends. Scruffy told Shovel Guy to get some cachaça for himself and beers for the rest of us. I gave him six reis and he left. Scruffy told me to go back to my painting, in the most encouraging manner possible.

Shovel Guy left and then he came back, without the beers. Scruffy had already disappeared back within the construction enclosure. I finished painting. I would have liked a beer, but I certainly didn't expect one. I considered just waking off, but that seemed really stupid- I had face to save. So I went over to where Shovel Guy was sitting.

"Couldn't get the beers, eh?" I said."

"No, the other guy is getting them. He'll be back in a minute."

"Well I'm done painting. I'll be back in fifteen minutes." I planned to run home and get my camera- I wanted a photo of my handiwork as soon as possible.

"You going to take a shower?" Shovel Guy is now my best buddy. Super friendly.

"Yeah, I'm going to take a shower. I'll be back in fifteen minutes to get my beer."

Man, these Brazilians are so clean. I have never met a people so taken with showers. They may be scruffy, like Scruffy, or barefoot, like Shovel Guy, but they'll take two or three showers a day if they can.

I came back with my camera and of course Shovel Guy was gone. That's okay- I certainly wasn't surprised. The important thing was that my painting was still there, and here it is:

I have mentioned before on this blog that I consider Salvador to be a graffiti/street art utopia- you can go out during the day and paint a wall for several hours and nobody will bother you- all the Graffiteiros and Pichadores and street artists like myself all respect each other and don't paint over one another's stuff. In the developed world, where this sort of thing is considered a crime, artists who want to paint in a very public, high-traffic area like this one either do tags or throw-ups, since they can be done quickly, or they do the hard work at home making stencils or preparing wheatpastes that can then be put up quickly. What I was doing would be completely impossible without express permission from the owner- hand-painting a piece that would take me an hour or more due to its complexity. My mistake was that I did it on private property. I would never paint on someone's house, although I consider temporary structures like the one I worked on fair game and much improved as a result of my efforts. If I'd done the same thing on an abandoned building, or some retaining wall or underpass owned by the city, nobody would have bugged me and I wouldn't have been out six reis. But the way I look at it is: this is a prime spot on one of the main drags in Salvador. Hundreds of people will see this painting every day, until it gets painted over or the enclosure is taken down. It cost me six reis, and I think it was worth it.

In other street art news, when I went home for my camera I grabbed some stickers that I finished a few weeks ago. I put them up too:

Last week I did my first 'graffiti piece,' or 'spray-paint mural,' depending on how you choose define these things, in a couple months. I have been planning this one since before I went to the United States in July, and finally it is finished:

My collaborations with Lucas are ongoing:

And finally, I have prepared some pieces for the Street Art Without Borders project, which I will be sending to Paris, where they will be distributed across the globe:

More info about this project at

And post-finally, I got an invite to submit work to a street art show in Tehran! How cool is that?


markuza said...

update: I walked by the spot today to see if my painting was still there- it was. I stood there for about five minutes waiting to see if anyone would check it out- nobody did.

Fábio Bossard said...

Hey Markuza,
I check your blog every once and I while and I think it's cool. It's interesting. This time I noticed you might have mispelled a word in portuguese: "Desgraçado quer arriscar as coisas dos outros". I guess you meant "riscar". Arriscar means "to risk".

markuza said...

Valeu Fábio! I will correct it now. Glad you are enjoying the blog and please feel free to correct me anytime!

Leo said...

Great story Mark. Good idea to use beer to diffuse the situation. I have been seeing some of your pieces up around town. Keep it up man!

John Singer said...

Tehran! Excellent! And nice post.

markuza said...

Thanks guys. And to clear up some confusion: I have not been invited to Iran, I'm going to submit work by mail. Was working on some sketches last night.

John- was curious if you were still following the blog!

Leo- Beer: the great diffuser.

michelle said...

Love this post! I would say that machine piece was definitely worth the 6 reis. Your work is hitting a new level. Nice!

markuza said...

thanks Michelle! Wait until you see the foolishness I'm preparing for Iran...