A Brief History
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When is graffiti art, and when is it vandalism? That is a question the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil has been wrestling with for the past three decades. On one extreme, there are those who believe any form of outdoor paint appropriately expresses the energy of Sao Paulo. At the other end are those who see disrespect and destruction in the painted images. For now, it appears Paulistanos have settled somewhere in the middle, where their internationally famous street art is both tolerated and celebrated.
Sao Paulo’s street art can be separated into two basic categories. pichacao and figurative graffiti.
Pichacao, or “pixo” for short, is characterized by angular black script inspired by the artwork associated with heavy metal bands of the 1980’s. Pichacao messages could be the name of the pichador, the crew name, or an angry phrase. As a political statement, pixo messages convey a disdain for the vast disparity between social classes in Brazil. Competition exists between pichadores who dare to tag the highest or most inaccessible surface on a building, and those with the most tags claim the most fame. Pichacao is illegal, and practitioners risk arrest with every tag. But in this sprawling city with a seemingly endless supply of surfaces to paint, picadores continue to leave their mark, literally, in Sao Paulo’s streets.
Sao Paulo is also famous for its colorful, figurative graffiti that has transformed hundreds of bland surfaces into unique art. Like pichacao, figurative graffiti started as an underground movement by disenchanted youth. And, like pichacao, some regard the work as an improvement over the mundane; others say it cheapens the city. A recent mayor even ordered an elaborate mural along a major Sao Paulo highway to be painted over, saying it was an eyesore out of character with his plans for a more beautiful city.
Lately, much of this graffiti art is being “legitimized” by cooperative agreements between the artists and the building owners. Street artists who have developed their own recognizable styles draw fans and tourists who seek out their latest installations.