A brave proclamation for what many would consider a graffiti writer, Nuno Viegas’ Instagram bio read ‘THIS IS NOT GRAFFITI’. This could easily be a throwaway phrase, another attempt at a trend - but if you look at the Portuguese artist’s most recent works, you’ll see that it’s actually one step removed from graffiti, an interpretation of the form's symbols.
Think of René Magritte’s ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’, and the iconic accompanying image. It’s a meta-depiction, a symbol of a pipe, but it isn’t a pipe. If you tried to smoke it, you’d simply be burning valuable art. Back to Viegas and his claim. Writer III is a 3D-printed resin sculpture - part of Underdog’s new Dream Edition - that switches the focus in graffiti from what is painted to who is painting it.
Depicting a hooded and masked painter, paint can in one hand and bag in the other, Viegas has flipped the script, creating something that is parallel to the art we’d usually expect. In doing so - making the artist become the art - he is able to examine graffiti from a new perspective. This also substantiates that claim in his bio - a modus operandi for his way of thinking.
Alongside the sculpture, the artist has created an accompanying screenprint. Whilst very similar, the more nuanced details like the trainers give it a more lifelike feel, as if it is a portrait of a specific painter, a semi-autobiograhical examination of their semi-legal existence. That this outlaw figure has become art would have been unimaginable two decades ago, when graffiti itself was considered to be of very little artistic merit, let alone those that wrote it.
In a similar vein, the ‘Shirt Mask’ series by Viegas, from his LA or King of Hearts incarnation, once again glorifies the masked, yet faceless visage. In a contemporary social climate of worldwide political upheaval, these images resonate as much as one of protest as within the context of a graffiti artist hiding his identity from the public.
Acrylic on canvas, these depictions are deeply textured, with a three-dimensional presence that urges our mind to fill in the blanks. Whose face do we imagine in there? If our own faces were covered, would we be compelled to behave differently? To express ourselves in a new way?
Building a body of work that puts disembodied figures in the spotlight, Viegas’ work functions within the remit of street art and graffiti culture, but takes an alternative look at it. Picking apart the discerning characteristics of each, he has developed a recognisable artistic language, where absences and spaces are as important as the spaces filled.
A move into sculpture provides a whole new territory for the Portuguese artist to develop this interesting line of work, offering him a way to create something tangible and confrontational that can develop the physicality of his paintings that had previously been limited by the medium.
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