Street art is normally connected with graffiti, a method of superimposition whereby the artist sprinkles or paints over some kind of openly viewed surface, so it’s no wonder that Portuguese urban artist Alexandre Farto, who goes by the moniker VHILS, has accomplished worldwide acclaim for his groundbreaking bas-relief carving technique that essentially does the opposite: instead of joining extra layers on top of existing ones, he decreases from what is previously there.
His meteoric rise since the early 2000s, which has seen his work showcased through many single and group shows around the world, has directly consummated with not one but two solo shows operating concurrently is Paris.
Created in collaboration with Magda Danysz Gallery, “Fragments Urbains” at Centquatre is an energetic, kaleidoscopic art exhibition of the artist’s oeuvre showcasing some of his trademark forms of work as well as a variety of works in new tools that reflect on globalization and the creation of modern urban civilizations.
VHILS likes to explore with new mediums and methods shown by the wide range of works on display, from carved wooden doors, Styrofoam sculptures and engraved metal, to layers of carved posters, acid painting and videos. At the same time, “Décombres” at Magda Danysz Gallery works as a project room for the work at Centquatre, with a unique art installation on the ground floor and new works on the first floor.
VHILS began his profession in his hometown of Seixal, an industrialized area across the river from Lisbon, where as a teen he graffiti-ed his way around the town both as a response to the area’s tumultuous rise and as a means for his creativity.
In his quest for a more significant synergy with the urban fabric, he came up with his trademark method of mining into the many layers of posters, dirt, and plaster that had piled on the city’s walls to produce relief portraits through a method that can be defined as a backward stencil.
Applying chisels and jackhammers in the beginning and later going on to acid, bleach, breezy tools, and even explosives, VHILS’ carved portraits of unknown characters uncannily resemble both ephemeral and timeless.
Although they look fragile and accidental, at the same time it’s as if they were always there, hidden under the surface layers of the city. In this sense, VHILS can be contemplated to be a contemporary urban archaeologist, exposing what rests behind the obvious and revealing the city’s history that has been superseded by the violent force of the now.