Street Artist Zezão Champions the Long Legacy of Street Art and Graffiti in Brazil

Street art and graffiti are pervasive in urban centers of Brazil, essential elements to the fabric of cities like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. The Brazilian government decriminalized street art in 2009, presumably a reaction to the thriving scene and overall acceptance of it by the country’s people.

One such example is Zezão, a São Paulo-based street artist who began working in the Pixação style, a form originating in Brazil and characterized by large, cryptic lettering. Like many of his graffiti counterparts who have entered the world of fine art, Zezão was not formally trained. His style is informed by early experiences with poverty and struggle, and the strong community of graffiti artists in São Paulo. The defining characteristic of Zezão’s work is a “logotype” or symbol, a blue form that he named a “flop,” which he began painting in the underground sewers of São Paulo. He posted a photograph of his subterranean work on Flickr, and eventually drummed up a good deal of media interest. Now Zezão has completed several street pieces and indoor commissions. His signature form is in sharp contrast with its bleak origins. It is distinctly alive: bright turquoise, dynamic and lively, sprawling over its surfaces like an amoeba or ocean waves.

The artist’s current show at the Zipper Galeria in São Paulo contains large-scale assemblages composed of materials that evoke his experience of São Paulo’s streets: scraps of wood furniture and building materials, bits of street signs and advertisements, and various found objects. Zezão also uses wooden headboards as canvases, nearly every piece emblazoned with his signature blue form. He considers his fine art practice an extension of his craft, but wants to retain the spirit of his street work: “I don’t want to paint canvas, I keep the roots of the street alive and I can travel and have good opportunities with the commercial part of my art. I like my atelier, but I love the streets.”

—Makiko Wholey

Zezão” is on view at Zipper Galeria, São Paulo, June. 14th–Aug. 8th, 2014.

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