Thursday Spotlight: The Parallel Worlds of PIXOTE
A common thread in Pixote’s work is its massive size, matched by ambitious height. His tags are hard to miss. I’ve seen his unique graffiti everywhere—from billboards to high walls all over Brooklyn and NYC—so often that it seems ubiquitous.
A piece that always comes to mind is the tag on the pale yellow wall on the popular corner of Bedford and Nassau north of McCarren park. The giant writing, juxtaposed by the Aaron Swartz memorial mural (by BAMN) seems so iconic that I associate the entire intersection of Williamsburg and Greenpoint with the sight.
My curiosity grew stronger as I learned more about the artist behind the famous tags, the influence of his Brazilian roots, and the mysterious Pixação. We met in a coffeeshop in Greenpoint, and our conversation went far beyond graffiti, as we talked about spirituality, music, and social consciousness.
Greenpointers: Can you tell me a little bit about your background and what influenced you artistically?
Pixote: I grew up in Brazil, in a family of artists. For me, growing up with my parents was my art education. Just absorbing everything that was around my house. My father is a writer. My mother is a video artist. She’s done a lot of conceptual art in Brazil, very Avant Garde. I grew up watching very weird movies!
My mom also had tons of books, and a huge collection of records. I fell in love with Jimi Hendrix when I was 7, and locked myself with a guitar. I’d say he was my first guru.
My whole life was dedicated to music for a while, playing, jamming, touring, and its funny, I used to think about music very visually, like textures and colors. Because of the music industry though, I got kind of clogged, and I began to lose what got me into music in the first place, which was freedom.
GP: So what brought you to graffiti?
PIX: Graffiti has always been a part of my life. I was very intrigued by the developing Pixação style in Brazil, which uses a very distinctive typography and cryptic symbols, inspired by letters from ancient inspirits. It’s very interesting and very powerful. I was really blown away by that.
I loved Pixação but I was never really involved in it back in Brazil, more of an observer. When I moved to New York, the style here was very different, mostly traditional graffiti style.
Other stuff started happening in my life. I was maybe.. not so happy. So I started writing my name – Pixote. I adopted that name, which is very Brazilian, I wanted to represent my country and my origin, and I began to incorporate some of the Pixação into my writing.
Pixote is also the name of a beautiful movie from Brazil which has influenced a lot of other films, like City of God, and many artists. Its about a street kid, and his brutal day to day reality, very beautifully filmed. There was something about the name that I found very interesting and profound, I liked the letters and the X.
So it started from this sadness, and this hard time that I was going through, and I picked up a form of expression that was going on in the streets, it was almost like therapy. I started tagging my name and it really connected me with myself. It made me realize this inner energy that I have in me, and the need to express it. It’s a kind of mantra, this repetition, it keeps you going. The name started to grow, and I started doing it bigger and higher.
GP: You’ve since transitioned from graffiti into doing more fine art, can you tell me about each process and how the two connect for you?
PIX: When I work on the streets, I’m very aware of everything, I also study locations very well. For me its very important to respect the streets, so that you can work on the streets. I choose my locations and walls carefully. And that relationship shows in my other work.
I try to have a close relationship with the canvas, from the time I stretch it and take the wrinkles out. From that moment it becomes a kind of a dialog between me and the canvas, and the art it becomes. Deciding whether I gesso it or not, sometimes I like to work on just raw canvas, that begins the process. Then I start feeling the piece, and I like dancing with the canvas.
GP: Literally dancing?
PIX: Yeah! I like to have my own body’s gesture and motion to translate into movement in the painting, it’s another level of connection. I’ve been painting really big like 5 x 7 feet or 6 x 9 feet, so I can use my whole body to create large strokes and movement. Its very meditative.
The work on the streets also has the same energy, because to me its very spiritual, and its coming from the inside, but the dynamic of creating it is different. It has a lot of adrenaline, a faster pace.
I think in a way my fine art paintings and my street art are parallel and they complement each other. They both have the same symbolism in them, and both connect to my deep inner philosophy and my spirituality.
GP: Are there other artists you draw inspiration from?
PIX: Jose Roberto Aguilar is a fantastic painter, and sort of an outside mentor to me. My whole house growing up was completely covered in his art. I didn’t really get to hang out with him much, but I feel like we did through his paintings. Very profound guy. I think I learned a lot from just looking at his paintings all the time, subconsciously using them as guidelines.
I mentioned Jimi Hendrix as a big inspiration. Also, Filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky is an amazing person, director, guru. He has a really good sense of surrealism and spirituality in his art. Writer Carlos Castaneda, painter Antoni Tápies, Picasso. He made so much work, and he lived it. I believe when you understand the deep down elements of different art forms, they are all very connected.
GP: Is there something you are trying to accomplish through your art?
PIX: My big goal is definitely to make some kind of a positive change on the world.
I really connect with children’s issues. I believe children are so pure and genuine, that I feel like its very important to help them keep that, and to protect them, to guide them in the right place.
I believe art can be used for this. I did a kids workshop at a farm in Nicaragua once with some local kids. I wasn’t paid or anything, but I stayed at this farm, and we did some really cool art projects. We painted this giant canvas together. Those kids taught me so much. I hope they learned something from me too! It wasn’t just about art, we talked about life and bigger issues while working together. I’d love to do more work like that.
To be an artist, is a beautiful tool that we have. We are shamans in a way, we can connect to and reach people through our art, and manifest awareness about our deep interconnection. Our society is so different from old civilizations, who respected all those things. They were a lot more elevated and a lot more aware. In our society, with all this progress, and all this technology, people are separating from each other, and from their Mother – Earth. Instead of just taking, we should also give back to her, plant seeds that will become trees, protect the Amazon, animals, and natives. I hope my art can inspire this feeling of connection and unity.
GP: Can you tell me about your future plans or projects?
PIX: I’ve had some exciting stuff in the works recently! I’m working on a new body of work, and plan on doing some exhibitions in the future. I was also recently approached by Jordan Quellman and Stephen Small-Warner, two filmmakers who were intrigued by my work in the streets. We started talking about my art and life story, and it quickly grew into a much bigger project. They started documenting my work in the streets, and in my studio, and recording my story. We even hope to go to Brazil and do some filming there too. Its a really exciting project, but I gotta stop butting in to constantly give them my creative input!
GP: Is there something you’ve wanted to accomplish artistically but have not yet been able to?
PIX: I’d like to take my work further across other disciplines. I once did this series of sculptures, years back, for my first gallery show, and I am still very proud of them. It would be nice to experiment with that again. Every time I see scrap metal on the streets, it feels like it’s pulling me in.
I would like to eventually get back into making music, maybe more on the acoustic side, or installation sounds. Do some experimental, unconventional music, have the sound flow into the visual.
I would definitely love to work on more children’s projects too. That kind of work really resonates with me and I truly believe in its importance.
Pixote is a street artist and painter, who works out of his studio in Brooklyn. You can see more of his art and follow him at @themrpix