Scratching the Surface

Riley —  April 5, 2011 — Leave a comment

Alexandre Farto is a Portuguese street artist better known as Vhils. While most street artists work by painting or pasting over urban facades, Vhils breaks this paradigm by instead chiseling away at his medium to obtain the desired effect. The result is a work of art that seems almost to have arisen naturally, as though it’s a part of the building and the neighborhood around it. Check out this collaborative project by Vhils and and Portuguese band Orelha Negra:

The above video is incredible, but if you’re doubting the plausibility of using near invisible explosives to carve out walls, I think you’re on to something. The shots in the video were likely achieved by carving the images by hand, filling them with small explosives, and masking them in plaster. I don’t think that this less effusive artistic process detracts from the work at all, but the explosions are cool enough that I wish they could actually be used to make art. Here’s another short video by Vhils that focuses on his real process for creating his work:

I like this work a lot because it actually uses the urban environment not just as a canvass but as a medium. The images he creates become something inherent to the walls they occupy, not superficial images that simply coat them. Of course, the flip side to this (depending on your perspective) is that unlike conventional street art that can be ripped down or painted over, Vhils’ work is permanent. It would take some serious time and expense to “repair” one of his installations. This makes it more vandalistic, but it also makes it more meaningful, at least in my mind. Whereas the work of someone like Banksy is aware of it’s own temporary existence, Vhils’ work is meant to be – has to be – a permanent addition to a neighborhood. And I think that’s okay, because the things he’s doing are beautiful.

We could get into a whole discussion from that about whether rebel street art is something to be encouraged or condemned (irrespective of it’s aesthetic result), but I’ll leave that for the comments section. Personally, I’m supportive, because I think it represents a human expression of beauty that’s actually as valuable for it’s illegality and brashness as it is for the content. That said, I’m talking only about street art, not tagging or marking of territory. When someone risks jail time to make an artistic statement to the world, I think they deserve to be heard. But whether you like it or not, Vhils remains one artist who has stamped his images in cities around the world. And his work is hard to ignore.

Sources:, ArtistADay.



Riley MacPhee is a recent graduate of Pomona College with a B.A. in Environmental Design and a minor in Philosophy, and has been writing for the JA blog for the last 3 years. He is passionate about architecture and design, and will be applying to M.Arch programs in the fall.

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