Photos: Provided by Tiago Silva
First time we have met with Tiago was the day of a grand opening of the studio of Vhils (Alexandre Farto aka Vhils – a Portuguese street artist, a founder of the project) where they were showing the documentaries about street art pieces in different cities.
Here is the one about Hong Kong, my favorite:
Being a member of an influential street art family, Tiago is reveling the secrets of their project, the idea of their art and explaining how this everything is related to Banksy.
We sit by the huge wooden table of their studio in Wong Chuk Hang and I notice a dissonance in the look of Tiago. Smiling and kind eyes, gentle manners, soft English meanwhile total black look of a severe man: black T-shirt, black jeans and sneakers, black beard and a tattoo «Invisible» on his right arm (of course in black color). One sip of a good black coffee and our mutual black sense of humor comforts us and we start.
M8H: How did you get to Hong Kong and started working with Vhils?
Tiago: Actually I have sport education. I was working as a basketball coach for teens and then set up a fitness club in Porto, my home town. But after a while I got tired of it. I had a really nice life, but I needed changes.
I decided to study marketing and production of events in Lisbon, I have accomplished a couple of big projects and found out about Vhils, that his team is expanding. There were around 200 people for 1 place. I didn’t get that job but after 2 weeks Vhils called me to be the manager of an art store in Lisbon, the Underdogs Art Store, I was not working directly with Vhils at that time but 6 months later he invited me to move to Hong Kong to open a studio and start producing his first exhibition in HK.
M8H: By the way, what’s the meaning of the word ‘Vhils’?
Tiago: Alexandre has started with train graffiti at the age of 14, it was illegal. He got the nickname of Vhils without any meaning behind. It’s just easy to write and run from the cops after. 😀
It was the time after the revolution in Portugal, when country started recovering, lots of people returned back home. Meanwhile, the new brands entered the country promoting themselves with posters on the streets.
Actually the walls in the streets became a kind of the background for people to express themselves. That time Alexandre was on his own and got an idea of wall carving and also using different materials, in particular posters.
He studied in London and was always fancy to create new stuff. He’s met Banksy who was impressed by Vhil’s works and encouraged him to have an exhibition in a real gallery. In 2012 he made his first solo show in Lisbon.
It was a boom. He started expanding his team, opened a gallery which is called Under Dogs. This one is to support young talents.
He also has accomplished a big project for U2. —>
He is one of the first artists to go from a street to a gallery. He demolished the border between street art and contemporary art and changed the attitude to street art as something criminal and illegal.
M8H: What’s the idea behind the works?
Tiago: To make the invisible visible. Make unknown people visible. And also to pay the attention of people to social problems.
So besides commission works where the most of our income comes from, we do some community projects fully financed by us. For example, during World Cup in Brasil we launched an art project to support people who were cruelly thrown from their houses. The place was considered to be used for the construction of shopping malls and other facilities.
We carved the faces of citizens on the walls of those houses and brought the attention of the media to this situation. The process was somehow stopped.
M8H: Sounds like a really strong instrument of fight! How about the art scene of HK and China? What’s special about it?
Tiago: In HK it’s difficult to to work mainly because the space is limited.
Street art in China is growing but Chinese are not free to express themselves because of full control of the government.
We had an exhibition in Shanghai and there was a group of people controlling our work. One of the art pieces was referring to the people who are against the current political regime. And we were asked to remove this piece from the exhibition.
M8H: Any problems of street art you face here in Hong Kong?
Tiago: We had a project with HK walls, we created a piece which was removed by a local in 3 weeks after we finished it. He thought that as we carve the wall it will be very easy for burglars to get into his shop by drilling it. So weird!
M8H: You know, when Invader (a street artist from France, – M8H) came to HK his works were removed immediately.
Tiago: Yes, it can be called illegal at some point. But he explained that he was creating art pieces and now you can see him everywhere in Hong Kong. Anyway we have some illegal works too. For example, we do pasting on top of the posters which is prohibited.
M8H: How about the posters you collect for works? Where and how do you get them? And how long does it take to create one piece of art?
Tiago: Its a secret! *sighs and smiles* But ok, I tell you. We have a map with some spots in Hong Kong, where the posters are thick. 1 poster takes 1 day to accomplish. A wall craving – 3 days of actual work.
M8H: In the end of November you have launched the solo exhibition of Vhils. Tell me about it more.
Tiago: This is a first one in 3 years. We were devoting our time to commission projects and an exhibition in Hong Kong is a kind of accomplishing stage for us. The collectors are hunting the works. We posted 300 pieces online and they were sold out in 1 hour. The gallery is handling the selling process.
M8H: How much is one piece?
Tiago: It depends on the media but it established between the gallery and the artist. Let’s say it can go from 150,000.00HKD to a little bit more.
M8H: If you had to leave HK, which place would you miss the most?
Tiago: Lamma Island, definitely, HK is a great city, but living on Lamma Island is just an amazing experience I’ve never dreamt about.
You know, also Lamma Island has helicopter service. In emergency cases they drive you to the hospital located on Hong Kong Island for free. It can be used only once. Before I leave HK I should use have this experience. I’ll pretend I’m sick on hiking.