Street Art Duo OSGEMEOS On Their “Extended Studio,” the City of São Paulo

São Paulo, birthplace of identical twins Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo (or OSGEMEOS, pronounced “ose zhe’-mee-ose” and Portuguese for “the twins”) might be the only city in the world that can claim the street art brothers as natives—but it shares their art with the rest of the world. Since the ’80s, when they first began painting the walls of Cambuci—a São Paulo neighborhood once filled with hip-hop and b-boy dancing and still inscribed with their ubiquitous markings—OSGEMEOS has taken a world tour; and their work, best known for colossal characters with wide-set eyes and yellow skin, has left a trail. Beginning in Brazil, where they once painted the length of an entire train, they’ve traversed the world: in Athens to paint a mural for the 2004 Olympics; London, to cover the façade of the prestigious Tate Modern; Scotland, to paint an 800-year-old castle in psychedelic graffiti; and New York City, to hit the landmark wall at Houston and Bowery (first painted by Keith Haring in ’82) with a mural commissioned by Jeffrey Deitch in ’09. (And nearby, their work hangs in the studio of artist and friend JR.) During last fall’s Frieze London, they ranked first place for most popular work at the fair; and this week, as the fair circuit hits São Paulo for SP-Arte, we checked in with the brothers to reflect on the Brazilian city they’ve called home for 40 years and a street art culture they’ve largely defined.

Artsy: Can you describe the São Paulo that you knew growing up, and how it might have inspired you to begin making art?

OSGEMEOS: Being born in São Paulo exposed us to an environment full of creativity; we had lots of fun in the streets of our neighborhood Cambuci! There, the hip-hop culture was very strong during the ’80s, putting us in contact with various types of art like music (hip-hop), dance (b-boy) and paintings (graffiti). We felt the need to show this to people—through our art. All this happened very naturally to us, like meditating and getting in contact with our spiritual side. São Paulo is a very creative city. In several segments, we grew up learning a lot about improvisation, how to work with only a little and do a lot—to filter things and return it to people in a positive way! 

Artsy: Your work first became known on the streets of São Paulo—and later on Brazilian trains, and now scales public walls and galleries and museums all over the world. What are some of the most memorable works you’ve made in São Paulo—from your earliest days painting in the streets to more recent projects?

OSGEMEOS: We believe that everything we do—from a simple drawing in a notebook, a giant on the outside of a huge building, to our work in institutions such as galleries and museums—it is all connected, part of a balance, of a bigger context. It is almost like we live in a big stage, and we consider all the elements memorable and important. In a museum, between white walls, we can open a window to our universe and completely transform the space without sculptures and installations. For us, our universe is playful and we are very happy to be able to translate it to everyone else in a palpable way. This is such an important goal of our art, to allow people to forget for some time about the real life problems, and dive into our universe. We believe that everyone has a playful side, which sometimes life just takes away from us. For this reason, every work and exhibition we have done in São Paulo is very important to us. Our last exhibition in the city for example, “Vertigem,” in 2009, brought so many people to the museum—people of all tribes and social conditions. 

Artsy: What is it like to live in São Paulo as an artist? Where is your studio located? 

OSGEMEOS: To live in São Paulo means to survive every day, to absorb the city and give back to it what it offers us. São Paulo made us what we are—we chose to use the city, instead of allowing it to use us. We see it as our extended studio. 

Artsy: What is exciting in the Brazilian art scene right now? How does it compare to other cities around the world?

OSGEMEOS: Brazil is such a rich country in terms of culture. Our people are so creative that we are often so touched by simple details—plaques painted in a bar, the ornaments hand painted on a truck, the way that cardboard collectors interfere artistically with their carts, between other millions of details offered by the city. We think that a big difference between Brazil and other countries is the freedom we have here... we have a lot of freedom to create and be ourselves! São Paulo has an amazing contemporary scene, and lots of artists that interfere in the urban space are now also developing a parallel work with galleries and museums, like Nina PandolfoFinok and Nunca. São Paulo is a chaotic city in constant transformation, and now a new generation of artists is choosing to transform the chaotic experiences in amazing works.

Artsy: What projects are you currently working on?

OSGEMEOS: We have a big exhibition in production to be opened in the end of June at Galpão Fortes Vilaça, the shed of the Fortes Vilaça Gallery. We are putting all of our energy into this project; we are showing many new works, challenging sculptures, and it will certainly be an immersion in our universe—we are very glad to be able to open our portals once more!

All images copyright Ig. Aronovich/ Lostart 

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