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Adres - An Old Head In The Game

Words:

Edd Norval
July 24, 2018

Adres is somewhat of an enigmatic figure in Portugal's street art scene. He's always there, yet he never really is. His work is unknowingly seen by almost everyone entering Lisbon by plane. His style is like Banksy's, but because it isn't, it's far less palatable. People don't like to feel uncomfortable unless it's worth a huge amount of money.

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Around the time of the last major economic downturn, Portugal was voted as one of the saddest countries in Europe. It had reason to be. Particularly underdeveloped compared to its fellow Western countries on the same continent, it struggled greatly with the crash. Even as of 2016, Portugal rank 93rd of 157 countries on the UN's World Happiness Report. That's just behind Lebanon.


The Portuguese relationship with 'sadness' and joy is complex, giving rise to the now well-marketed term saudade. It's a stylish and elegant way to embrace heartbreak and it permeates most of what the country does. Adres was struck with an idea. As the plane descends from the sky to land at Lisbon's airport, there's a huge circular roof of a building that's easily visible. He painted the whole thing yellow and turned it into a smiley face. It was part well-intentioned irony, part creative mischief.


Adres made his name as an active figure in Lisbon and Portugal's street art scene, starting out in graffiti before leaving it behind after he lost the feeling for it. As so often happens when life gets in the way, something has to give. But days spent behind a computer looking at Wooster Collective drew him back in. His return also marked a shift in his style.

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Under the influence of Banksy, stencils caught his eye as a way of communicating political and social ideas through his work. Essentially, insights into Portuguese life. Paradoxically, these interpretations of what's going on around him were both a help and hinderance. His existence is paradoxical. On the one hand, his highly critical and often political work is his appeal. But the unpredictable nature of the work, that it is dictated by current events, means that giving him free reign is dangerous at art festivals and similar events.


A purist, he requires this freedom to be able to create - it's a part of his ethos. If those conditions aren't met, if events try to censor his work too much, then the poignancy of the message is lost. Adres is no longer Adres. The artwork becomes theirs and not his. It's not always like this, sometimes the artwork that strikes him upon hearing something on the radio or the television isn't going to make people feel uncomfortable, like the smiley face. The fact remains though - the option always has to be there to create what he feels.


Feeling is important in his art. Several years ago, before a move to Barcelona, his reputation in the Lisbon street art scene was more formidable. His name was well-known and his art resonated with people. Despite good-willed protestations from his friends, he left the cans and the razorblade behind. He wanted to spend time with his family. If he had to force himself into doing it, as a means of simply retaining momentum, that would be the same as a festival dictating his art. It has to be natural and it has to make sense to him.

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We met in a basement studio in Xabregas, a location that would be easily overlooked on the outside. You'd walk on by blissfully unaware of the internal marvels that were looking out at you. It's in this space that Adres has been reigniting his spirit and work ethic, basking in the limitless timeframe of clandestine operations. There are future plans now. Maybe not world domination or a blue tick on Instagram, but there are ideas. It's just a case of the right time and the right place. The reemergence of Adres feels imminent.


The label of 'Lisbon street artist' is now coveted in the way being a street artist from London once was. The city's name has become something of a buzz-word when associated with creativity. This gives Adres an option to reach more people online, yet also stands in his way in Lisbon. From the govenment down, there are many layers of bureaucracy that are tricky to pass for an artist working independently. He notes that artists have arranged themselves into groups or collectives as a way of leveraging power, standing stronger in numbers. That's also given them a monopoly over walls - their carefully cultivated relationships with government bodies mean that you're with them or you're without a wall.


Adres is one of those complicated figures. He's an artist because he likes art and enjoys what it is capable of doing. That's rarer than you might think. Now artists are brands from the very beginning. They tap into a signature style and maintain it. It works, but it also means that the more reckless and spontaneous days of being an artist for art's sake is being left behind. His position of being both insider and outsider, gives him a unique perspective on the growth and purpose of art in Lisbon.


What manifests as being a public service for the greater good is also a means of showing face and capitalising on Lisbon's booming reputation. Like I said earlier, Adres is a purist and difficult to pigeonhole. People don't like that kind of person too much. Unpredictability is scary and if you've got a brand with a budget to look after, you can't risk that. So, instead of risking it, art is becoming increasingly safe. It was Banksy that got Adres back into art, but it's also his influence as a global phenomenon that's made it increasingly unlikely that we'll see another one. Street art is becoming too valuable an industry and people that want to do it their own way are finding it increasingly hard to find their place in it.

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