Exclusive Feature on Claudio EthosJuxtapoz // Friday, 17 Jul 2009
Text by Gabe Scott
When contemplating the significance of Claudio Ethos' artwork within the current population of "Grafiteiros" in Brazil, the sheer scale and diversity of the southern hemisphere's largest megalopolis must be carefully examined. São Paulo, now considered by many to be the center of the global urban and street art movement, is an incredibly complex example of 21st century city sprawl. Counting Ethos as merely 1, it is the third largest metropolitan region in the world, with an estimated population of 21.5m with some sources have speculated that São Paulo is to reach nearly 25m by 2020.
The broad spectrum of both national and international cultures that live in São Paulo is also beyond the comprehension. People from different pockets of the indigenous population share concrete with millions of others having roots in Africa, Portugal, Italy, Japan, Spain, Germany, Russia, and all over Latin America. All these ingredients combine in the inner-city pressure cooker to create intense socioeconomic anxiety between the residents inhabiting São Paulo's 31 recognized boroughs and outlying areas. It is the conscious and unconscious processing of these factors that provide the backbone of Ethos' bodies of work.
São Paulo's identity as a 20th century industrial giant has much to do with providing a veritable "canvas" or at least a surface for the outdoor artists of the city. São Paulo was forced to develop very rapidly rate due to a gigantic population boom with which urban planners were unable to keep pace. As a result, the face of the contemporary city endures a rapid recycling of urban decay and renewal, resulting in many buildings slated for replacement. Subsequently, many have since served as blank billboards over which artists and the city's governing bodies are engaged in a constant battle. As walls of this concrete jungle are tattooed with images and pixação in every possibly conceivable area, rooftops, faces of high rises, and sewers are similarily blanketed. Only subway tunnels and trains, secured by guards, are exempt. Otherwise, any surface that can be humanly reached is potentially fair game. Although the city is quite diligent about covering as much of the graffiti as possible, the reality is that being outnumbered and out-resourced makes this battle nearly a lost cause by local government.
Only recently have the mayor and other members of city council considered preserving certain murals due to their shear beauty, appreciation by the public, and celebration by the international art community. São Paulo Mayor Gilberto Kassab created the Cidade Limpa (“clean city”) law, which prohibits or restricts all forms of external media within the city’s limits. And certainly graffiti and pixação has had a series of "unofficial" restractions in respect to certain panels within the city. After much complaint, Mayor Kassab seems to be more receptive to allowing some sanctioned work, although there is yet to be a criteria for such.
In order to see how Claudio Ethos fits in to this massive arts community, inspiration and influences are the key. Ethos was born in São Paulo in 1982 and currently lives in the city of Birigüi, which is located in the interior of the São Paulo state. He began putting in work around the age of 15 with spray paint as well as ballpoint pen, which to this day serve as his primary tools. Highly influenced by many of the usual suspects from the Brazilian scene, Os Gemeos, Vitche, Onesto, and Herbert Baglione, Ethos’ style has taken its own highly unique state and individual genesis.
Many in São Paolo today still prefer the stencil technique, or are part of large pixação crews with their own signatures, but Ethos has absolutely carved out his own niche amongst the muralists. His large-scale outdoor murals are less impulsive in origin than many of his contemporary's work, but no less stunning. His flawless conversions of his ballpoint pen drawings, usually from 8.5'' x 11'' or smaller make absolutely remarkable transitions from paper to concrete, almost as if an image has been transferred from transparency to projector. While using a thread technique, amongst others, the amount of detail with his outdoor portraiture has captured the attention of countless art enthusiasts, his peers, and gallerists around the world. His penchant for replicating to scale the fine details of his ink and pencil drawings onto large walls has become his lasting signature.
The content this work, both indoors and outdoors, is inevitably related to the struggle of day-to-day existence that Paulistas experience. Population density and the constant strain of urban anxiety become the subjects for many of Ethos' narratives. Ethos' characters have undeniably become some of the most recognized all throughout Brazil with his ephemeral work at times straddling the line of the figurative and abstract. His elongated, flexible, and strained figures have an almost liquid quality to them; one foot firmly in the school of the surrealists. He also displays a solid grasp of textiles in the use of patterns. Huge black balls serve as eyes for the exhausted and maligned residents of the concrete jungle. These characters are a mixture of dreams and fragments of everyday life within the city.
Ethos' international exposure came to a height in 2008, as his work was an integral part of Studiocromie’s exhibit at the FAME Festival (followed by a solo show at Studiocromie’s gallery in Puglia, Italy). This was followed by solo shows at San Francisco’s 111 Minna last December ’08 and at Christopher Henry Gallery in New York City this past Spring. In particular, the United States debut at Minna, titled Insomnia, proved to be an impressive one, receiving much praise from both peers as well as a number of members of the city's museum community. Insomnia was a quintessential mixture of the artist's key components. Ethos said at the time, "The binary states of consciousness (wakefulness and sleep) prompt in us a condition of temporary lucidity. In a series of paintings and drawings of one universe in relation to the other, the Insomnia collection shows us small breaches; letting out signs of this mutual influence between subconscious and its inability cease activity."
Both facets are seen in these Claudio Ethos' works as they take shape in the urban atmosphere that provides his creative basis. Awakening from a state of insomnia poses an untiring progress, the way of the viewer, which generates a third ephemeral phase, unfathomable and never sleeping.