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.