Portuguese street artist Vhils aka Alexandre Farto is the latest artist to be commissioned by the asssociation, Le M.U.R.. Vhils sits at the top of the street art hierarchy, travelling ceaselessly, usually by invitation, making large-scale solo exhibitions generally, including at museums (see, ‘every artist’s wet dream’).
The name Le M.U.R. is derived from the French word for wall, mur, but in this case the word is an acronym, standing for Modulable, Urbain et Réactif. The project revolves around a three-by-eight metre billboard in the gentrifying Oberkampf neighbourhood, in Paris’ 11th arrondissement, set aside by the local council, or mairie, with the primary purpose of acting as a ‘project space’ for graffiti and street artists to produce and exhibit outdoors with authorisation.
Vhils’ portrait is made using collage and a cut-out paper stencil and is unusual compared to his normal practice – he has become famous for creating work by subtracting from plaster and brick walls. To make these expressive faces into stone surfaces, usually, he uses hammer, chisel and pneumatic drill, ordinarily, but has experimented with explosives, always aimed at revealing the different layers, or histories of the walls.
The portraits and the media he uses to communicate his art in public space are most often a way to reengage our attention onto formerly empty spaces, adding a new sense of place. The subjects he tends to depict are either the faces of strangers or local people he meets. By showing the expressions of common people, he creates a discourse on living in urban space and the interdependence between people and their environment. The destructive brutality of the technique and the vivid aesthetic quality it achieves makes for a unique and poetic end result.
From roots growing up in in Lisbon, in a household where he was exposed to the political left by his activist father, and after painting classic graffiti on trains, Farto went on to attend the prestigious London art school, Central Saint Martins. In 2008, at age 21, he was invited to make work at the three-day ‘street party of stencil art’, The Cans Festival organised by Banksy. The carved portraits made by Vhils for the show were featured on the front page of the British newspaper The Times, and he immediately became globally recognised, achieving representation by Banksy’s former gallerist, Steve Lazarides.
Every two weeks, a different artist is commissioned to make work at the wall, with every old artwork being covered by the new, mimicking the ephemerality of street art. The project was conceived by artist, Jean Faucheur in 2003 and has hosted new work its billboard every two weeks since 2007. A look at its website reveals the staggering number of artists who have joined with in the project.
Visit the website of Vhils aka Alexandre Farto, here.
Visit the website of the association Le M.U.R., here.