São Paulo artist, Leiga painting at Nationale metro in Paris’ 13th arrondissement, an area noted for its vibrant street art muralism, made with the encouragement of the townhall, led by mayor, Jérôme Coumet
Could you please tell us about your art.
I developed my style about eight years ago. Before that I was going out with my friends, everybody was discussing whether to do a character, what kind of style to paint in, whether to use 3D, etc, and I was saying nothing: “what I am going to do?”. I grew up in a city called Guarulhos, which is a part of greater São Paulo, and began skating around 1994, which was when I got into street painting, but just tagging, what in Brazil we call pixação. I discovered pixação from the people with whom I was skating. I fell in love with it. I was blinded to any other type of painting that existed in the street. I did pixação until 2012, from 1994 to 2012.Example of pixação calligraphy (top of picture) at the São Paulo workshop of Jerry Batista
In 2000, I started to know graffiti [street art] which was until then always a secondary thing, I never thought I’d belong to that culture. In 2012, I really started to paint in the street but in a different way, much more similar to what I make today. Before that, I used to paint in an amateur and freestyle way. For many years, graffiti was for me something I used just to decompress, it had nothing to do with what I do today, which is my professional job.
You studied art and design at the São Paulo school, Panamericana?
About Panamericana, I was already into graffiti when I started to study design, but I didn’t see graffiti with an artistic vision, I saw graffiti as something that was about vandalism – it was vandalism, it was about doing something on people’s property that they didn’t like, illegally. I did not see that as something artistic and when I entered Panamericana – while already working in a publicity agency, a job I did just because I needed a job – it was important because it coincided with the colours and the development of my work. What I studied there, design or art or colours, everything made my work have a larger vision compared to what it’d been before. It was very important and I use today in my work the principles I learned during that time, but because it gave me an important base.
How did your work change from having attended Panamericana?
It was radical. Before I was an amateur, really an amateur. It was more about expression only, doing something illegally. I knew nothing about colours, composition, everything. My work is all constructed on colours. The design helps me, has always helped until today, it’s about the construction, to look at a space and have the dimensions, to put the form into it. It has changed my work a lot I think.
With my style, though, it doesn’t come so much from my studies, I think. I spoke about geometric forms. I used to use these in the work I did in advertising and publicity. And even then, I’d say fashion has more of an influence on my work today than my experience in publicity, and graphic design. When I left these areas, I think it was fashion that was closer to my work than what I studied at Panamericana.
On your website, you describe yourself as the “joker”, what do you mean by that?
My work reflects a lot who I am. If you take my works today, you will see the work of a happy person, my work reflects positive things. I don’t paint thinking “fuck I need to pay my bills…”, like my work, the person who sees it, I want her to be happy. So the “joker” maybe comes from this. I am a positive person, so maybe my work reflects it. I believe it’s more that.
Back to the São Paulo street art culture, can you name any particular artists who influenced you early on?
When I first started, it was all about the Galeria do Rock, a shopping mall located in the heart of São Paulo, because it’s the meeting point for the pichadores [those who create pixação]. I would hang out and observe what was happening. You could see the grafiteiros [writers], and you look and say to yourself “fuck…”. I had a particular guy as a reference who I copied when I began, his name is Tinho. I used to copy him. I copied him at this time, in 1999, 2000, graffiti was mostly about imitating New York lettering, but Tinho was the only person I knew who was doing work with typography that was different. He also had a very simple character, which looked like an angel. So, Tinho was my model as a writer and today he’s actually become my friend, too.
During that time, he actually called me: “God! Tinho is calling me!” I thought he was going to say something like, “You’re copying me, man,” but in fact, he called to invite me to paint! The situation was like a beautiful Japanese girl ringing me to propose we go on a date so we can kiss. Do you want to? So, Tinho was a model for me.
Back to your paintings themselves, you talk about your style as being composed of bubbles?
I give to my work the name bubbles, I’m going to give you an example. Bubbles are like the internal part of an object. You have for example a spray can, which if I cut it in half, would not have the liquid of the spray, it would have these forms, it would be like if it was the object’s gear. It would be the internal part but in a ludic way, like for example, Alice in Wonderland. She lives in a normal world, she falls down a hole – my idea is exactly this, my work is not real… I have to read it: “abstract propositions in which the viewer sees his own illusion”. Here it’s a liquid but it can be something else, so in my idea, inside the internal part of the object are the bubbles. So that’s it, my work is about falling into this ludic world.
The work is at the same time both concrete and abstract and the parts confuse themselves, they mix together. There are concrete parts that are solid, a hard part, in the work and other parts that are more liquid. It’s like cells mixing together: sometimes you can see in my work parts that are painted with a texture, you can feel the movement, and you can see these hard parts that look like vectors. These cells would be the bubbles that grow in these concrete forms. About Alice in Wonderland, when I began to think about my concept, I took this story as a reference to explain it better. It’s a jump into the surreal. When I’m painting, people say, “man, you take a lot of drugs, you take LSD?”. I say no, but that’s my intention. It’s a work that lets people create in their mind their own world, like jumping into something that does not exist.
Detail from a large site-specific work made inside an abandoned convent in São Paulo, as part of the ten-day artist residency ZAT (Zona Autônoma Temporária) in January 2016
What’s your process for making a painting?
Firstly, it’s the same when I paint in the street, as when I’m in the studio, I always begin like this: I create a form in my mind and it will appear gradually, it will develop itself as I’m working. It’s a work that grows, each form that I make grows in that moment, it’s not been imagined before, it’s spontaneous, and when I look at it at the end I’m surprised. When I start a painting, I try to listen to a song and then I can begin, it gives the flow you know, I put the music on and let’s go.
Where does the term ‘bubbles’ that you use to describe your work come from?
The origin of the word bubbles is quite funny. I was on my way to paint in the north of São Paulo and a friend came to me and said, “Oh! you did bubbles in my grandmother’s street”. I thought he’d confused my work with somebody else’s, so I just pretended not to hear. Then he came another time “God! You did bubbles in my girlfriend’s street,” but he didn’t say bubbles exactly, he used another strange word. A friend who called my work ‘bubbles’, that’s it, there was no deep study to find a name. Artwork by São Paulo graffiti-street artist, Tinho from São Paulo, at artist residency ZAT (Zona Autônoma Temporária)
Who and what would you say has influenced your work a lot?
I like Klimt, especially, I like street art, I like Tinho , the artist that influenced me at the beginning, who I’ve already mentioned. I had a study group at the beginning that was very important, too. It was me, Sliks, Enivo, Jerry, Tinho, Lobot, Tché, we were a group of artists, we used to meet and we still meet every Monday to speak about contemporary art, about the market of street art. It brings me influences, references and also new, how do you say, new inspiration, “stimulus”, you know. The main influence though is the daily life. I already said that seventy-percent of people surrounding me are artists or come from the world of art. So you are with people from the same middle, living the same thing. I think it’s really important that the artist is lives with other artists. It’s like being a painter, and you hang out with someone who plays hockey. I think for an artist it’s good to be with a photographer for example, with other artists too, because it makes you be creative. When I left my mother’s house in Guarulhos, I told myself, I’m going to live my own life, it made me very happy. You see the others working, it motivates you, I’m going to do it too. So I think being among other people gives you courage, for you to continue in this road, which is not easy too.
São Paulo street art work painted illegally by Leiga close to a homeless community