A Portal Into Another World: An Interview with OSGEMEOS
"Everything you see is our book. What we illustrate is our history. Every day is a new text that you need to illustrate. Sometimes it's a drawing, sometimes it’s sculpture, music, dancing, painting… everything. So we have to keep going as long as we live," OSGEMEOS told us when we last interviewed them for the Summer 2018 issue. Based out of São Paulo, Brazil, one of the countries hit the strongest by the ongoing pandemic, the artists equally known for an insatiable hunger for traveling, exploring, and evolving, fueled by endless creative energy, managed to open another major international presentation following their large exhibition in Seoul. On view through October 31, 2020, the unstoppable force that is the twins Gustavo and Otavio Pandolfo, have opened their second solo exhibition, Portal, with the Lehmann Maupin in New York as they continue to illustrate that history.
Following their introduction with the gallery back in 2016, As the brothers continue to explore and imagine their ever-expanding and universe, informed by a dynamic upbringing in the multicultural melting pot that is the district of Cambuci in São Paulo and their deeply rooted love and respect for Hip Hop culture, the story of OSGEMEOS, or Twins, is one we love telling over and over. Initially influenced by the New York graffiti and hip hop movements of the 1980s and the ingenuity and resourcefulness of their surrounding, OSGEMEOS decided to make public work that was accessible to all. In 1993, following a studio visit with Barry McGee, the twins developed an ongoing studio practice, creating smaller paintings and objects, while continuing to produce graffiti and large-scale murals. Almost 30 years later, they are having a gallery and institutional shows lined up worldwide, and are equally, if not more passionate about their work than ever before. Eager to share their influences, dreams, and visions with a wider audience, they continuously write the walls of their bustling hometown, painting monumental "giants" murals around the globe, as well as making studio works that synthesize all those influences into gallery-format pieces.
The Portal exhibition currently on view at Lehmann Maupin is another chapter of this ongoing story. With 13 new large-scale paintings on view, OSGEMEOS introduces captivating snapshots from their vibrant world. Although yellow dominates, their multi-skin toned characters populate a surreal universe void of any rules of logic, physics, and common sense, tripping through a life filled with wonder From perspective defying points of view, over borderline psychedelic patterns, to experimentation with unorthodox, often folk art techniques, the Portal is indeed, passage to an unfamiliar and challenging new world. Their ability to create a path built of reality and dreams is matched by their ease in bridging the underground world of graffiti with the realm of high-end galleries and fine art institutions.
Always ready to share in their dazzle, we reached out to our friends in Brazil to talk about their current show and still growing practice.
Sasha Bogojev: Coming from the graffiti world, what is your reaction to being referenced in the realm of fine art?
OSGEMEOS: Yes, we came from the graffiti universe in the mid 80's, which was when we got to know the culture of graffiti and hip hop in the city center of São Paulo. Hip hop became a fashion, but for us it was a learning experience and it has become a way of life until today. We learn what is respect, what is union. We think that art has to be where the people are, and graffiti arose out of that need, and in a very natural way. We are twin brothers who need to express ourselves, and graffiti was the most direct and truthful way that we have found to manifest, to materialize this. We always understood graffiti to be art, as well as work that we produce in the studio. It is a language to express what we believe and what we have always dreamt of. Art is something we have to feel and be open to feel. Although many cannot understand and many feel others cannot, many people do get it. The most important thing for us is to materialize what we believe, what we dream of, and if we can make someone see what we produce, that is great, it is perfect. Otherwise, there really is no problem because, for us, art is a necessity, a way that we found to talk and transform. Whether it is understood or not depends a lot on the viewer.
Do you think that the lack of a formal fine art background is an advantage or difficulty?
We don’t believe that the fact that our background came from a different way, autodidact, through the learning experience that we had on the streets, makes it difficult. On the contrary, it helps. We usually say that the streets are a university, and the Graffiti World has taught us so much; the people, the sites, the achievements, the challenges. And it keeps teaching us, as the graffiti on the streets is a lifelong learning experience. This kind of stuff is only really known by those who live or have lived in a world that is unique, for those who really love and understand Graffiti. We came from this background, and we keep doing Graffiti, we respect a lot in this universe. Our work aesthetic has been strongly influenced by this because it emerged on the street, which implies time, quality, and quantity, all part of the development and the creation of aesthetics and style, all of which makes the work to be created in a certain way.
We used all these elements to develop our own style. Parallel to this, we have been creating our own reading of our universe: Tritrez. The formation of the style comes together with the need to build the universe in a way that people could participate, visualize and dive into, in understanding what goes on inside our heads. It is an exchange, in the same way that you learn that of all these teachings, the most important is respect in that you can also learn how to give back and return the gift to the people. It is a timeless learning.
Do you feel any sort of pressure when opening shows like this, with you having such strong roots in graffiti as well as recognition in the fine art world?
This question gives us the opportunity to explain how we see things. As we have already said, we believe that, as the graffiti universe happens outside of the institutions, galleries and museums, it is unique when we produce an exhibition. It is not a graffiti show, it is an art show. The exhibition context is different, and though it can have the same elements and techniques, a show inside of an institution or a gallery is no longer graffiti. For us, graffiti happens when we get the spray paint on Sundays or at night, and go out to the streets to paint without anyone telling us how, where or why to do it. This, for us, is the graffiti essence, with freedom and without any commercial character. The gallery works as the construction of the universe that we see, live and try to show to people. We try to materialize this physical universe that for us is imaginary, and to give people the opportunity to dream inside this universe too. We consider two different things: one is OSGEMEOS graffiti and the other is OSGEMEOS fine art, since we also have inside us a very strong music universe, the dance universe, and illustration universe… It is all clearly separated to us. It is so clear that we respect both universes. There is no, “You left the streets and went to the galleries”. Those who do graffiti know, only those who are on the streets know what they are doing.
The vibrancy of Brazilian culture informed your work strongly over the years. Does it feel like the rest of the world is still catching up to the multiculturalism and the energy of everyday life there?
Today, the world has become one through the media, everyone knows everything, what happens, what you do or do not do, who you are, who you are not. Everything is transparent. We come from a time that there was nothing like that, and our communication was the street. If you had gone out to paint, sometimes you could take a picture, but sometimes you couldn’t; someone could see what you have done, and sometimes not. Very often, the painting was erased by the city hall, which made it impossible to even register in a photograph. And this happens until today, this repression of art in Brazil, so there is still this persecution of street art, to fight graffiti. City hall paints it in gray. Brazil has a very unique cultural strength, not only in graffiti, but the language itself. The Brazilian manages to do a lot with little, has the skill of improvisation and even with few resources, gets a good result. This is already in our blood, we have grown up in a neighborhood of São Paulo City, where there is a huge diversity of nationalities and of people from different regions of the country. Brazil, a place where each corner seems like another country, has a very rich culture, and there are a lot of very talented people on the street, painting on the street, making music, dancing, so this is something that always influenced us. We are proud to know that we are a diverse people, rooted in our cultures and languages, which often create even global trends. This can be found in our work too, this diversity of languages, messages and stories. In our daily routine, we live this cultural multiplicity, so when we leave our home and go to work, we can already see many interesting things which inspire, characters, paintings, music. The Brazilian finds ways to live and survive with creativity.
Obviously, things in Brazil aren't all fun and games. You've been addressing those issues in street works, but do you include commentaries on the socio-political situation in your studio pieces?
Working for us has always been the best way to stay alive, spiritually, and socially, a very simple way to learn and grow in life. Work gives life, opens doors, closes doors; you can build your own stairs with the number of steps you think is necessary to be able to climb. From the moment we felt the need to produce inside a studio, either in the beginning in a small room in our parents’ house, or in the studio we have today, we always have seen these works as spiritual treasures. We are materializing a playful and imaginary universe, making others imagine and dream as well, and creating opportunities not only for those who work with us, but also for other people who visit the studio. We are part of a big family, a dream factory. The idea is to keep alive this dream factory, where you have to wake up, live, compare and then dream again. Within this, we have the games with the Brazilian problems and the situations we’ve been through. It is always a game, you always have to be dribbling, and at the same time, keep your foundation, your dreams, the doors opened,and help people in need. It has always been a struggle, and it will always be. But as difficult as it may be, art has the power to transform, and every time we see it happening, it gives us motivation to continue and not give up. For example, we have a great exhibition ready at the Pinacoteca do Estado de SP, one of the top museums in South America, but it is closed due to the pandemic. We are just waiting for the Governor’s and the Mayor’s authorization to open. It is amazing to see how long it takes to set up an exhibition like this in Brazil, but we understand that things happen when they have to happen; overcoming this barrier that exists within art is an achievement not only for us, but also for everyone who believes in art, including all who are starting in the art world.
An exhibition of this magnitude in such an important museum, by artists like us who came from a completely underground world is an open door for everyone who is beginning and believes that they can succeed. And they will.
It's a cycle, there were artists who have opened doors for us, graffiti artists from the 1980s in NYC, who have started the first graffiti exhibitions that took place in the 1970s, then the other galleries like Fashion Moda. Keith Haring, Basquiat, Barry Mcgee, artists like the collective “The beautiful losers”, or exhibitions like “Art in the streets” produced by the Los Angeles MOCA museum. All of these have been extremely important for the art scene to change the point of view and to open more doors for new artists.
How is the pandemic influencing your life and practice, which usually includes a lot of world travel?
The pandemic surprised us all. We were installing the exhibition at Pinacoteca de São Paulo, and in March, had to stop and close the museum, which is still closed, with no opening date. We had to plan everything again, work and travel schedules. During the pandemic period, we opened two exhibitions abroad, one in Seoul, at the Storage by Hyundai Card museum, and the “Portal” exhibition at Lehman Maupin gallery in NYC. Of course, we were unable to participate in any of them personally, due to the travel restrictions and the social distance protocols.
But, fortunately, the exhibitions took place, and following the protection protocols, people can visit them and can have some moment of interaction with the works, a moment of breathing for those who were stuck at home. This is a very important moment of entertainment, not only our exhibitions, but many others that are opening. It is a new scenario for everyone, and we are all learning a lot. It is so sad to think of all the lives that have gone because of the pandemic, of the many wh people have not had the resources to protect themselves against the virus. In Brazil, there were more than 100 thousand deaths because we do not have organized, concrete support from the government, but on the other hand, we have seen many people doing actions to help, many friends doing social work. At the studio, we've been doing these social support actions since March, when the pandemic started, and we haven't stopped until now. From tons of food donation, to institutions and communities of people in situations of social vulnerability, to donations of protective equipment, such as sprinklers for recyclable garbage collectors. We have donated more than 100,000 masks with designs developed by us and produced by the textile group Rosset, and in partnership with the Pinacoteca museum as well, both in the northeastern and northern regions of Brazil (mainly in indigenous villages) and in the Southeast, where São Paulo is located. The work in the studio was divided into two: production and social work. In this way we will continue until things get better.
We thank Juxtapox, a magazine that we have followed since the beginning, and that we admire so much! See you next time!