WALL TO WALL
While preparing for his first solo show in Hong Kong, Alexandre Farto speaks to Margot Mottaz about his art and his mysterious tag name
nspired by the urban environment, Portuguese artist Alexandre Farto, widely known as Vhils, uses cities as his canvas. Known for large-scale portraits carved into walls, he gained international attention when he created a work alongside a piece by Banksy at the 2008 Cans Festival in London, which was organised by the British graffiti artist. Since then, his murals have appeared on walls in cities around the globe, including Lisbon, London, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Las Vegas and Shanghai. By carving out walls, drilling into concrete or cutting into billboards, Vhils reflects on the relationship between places and people. The artist, who recently established a studio in Hong Kong, will be taking the city by storm this month. The Sheung Wan restaurant Bibo will be hosting a series of exclusive dinners from March 16 to showcase some of Vhils’ latest works. His most ambitious project yet, Debris, a city-wide exhibition developed with the Hong Kong Contemporary Art Foundation, includes a showcase of work atop Pier 4 and the customisation of a tram. It runs from March 21 until April 4. hoca.org Where does the name Vhils come from? I started as a graffiti writer, painting on the streets. It was just the typography, the letters, that I liked most and the fastest that I could do in one go. And I was lucky enough that it doesn’t really mean anything in any language.
Do you still practise graffiti art? Yes. It’s my background; it’s my school. Graffiti gave me a lot in terms of perseverance and creativity.
What do you do when you’re not creating? It’s just that everything you do, walk by or see is part of the process because you never really turn off your head, your office. I love to read, I love to travel, but it’s difficult to say what I do for leisure or for work.
What’s your fascination with Hong Kong? It’s the chaotic energy of the city that gives poetry to my work. It’s like my colour palette. Why the focus on eyes for your mural at Bibo? To be honest, it was quite natural. Eyes have a lot of meaning; they are the windows to the soul. I guess I was trying to give a soul to the wall, to humanise it by exposing its layers.
What happens when you make a mistake? I incorporate the mistakes, which are in fact not mistakes. It’s just the wall dictating a little bit of what you create. It’s like a dance with the wall, with the materials, with the layers. I don’t control every aspect of what I do.
If you could collaborate on a project with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be? The late American artist Gordon Matta-clark. He’s an artist I really respect. I think he was one of the first artists to approach the public space and reflect on our buildings’ architecture, on how you can actually use it as a medium to create art.
Street cred Portuguese artist Vhils executes his work on a wide range of surfaces, including walls, billboards and doors