Nuno Viegas paints everyday objects with a graffiti twist, concocting a meta-style whereby he interrogates the form, style and significance behind his artistic foundation of painting on the streets.
Founder of graffiti crew Policromia, Viegas was a dyed in the wool graffiti artist - embracing all that entailed. Tags, throwups, challenges, rivalries and prestige. He was part of a system that views those on the other side - the ones making money and making a name from painting on walls - as a sort of sell-out. Graffiti's siege mentality has produced a great deal of artists that have thrived under the banner of street art. Yet, none are quite like Viegas.
Many who make the transition from pure graffiti to street art do so out of necessity - it's their way of turning a skill and hobby into a career. These artists will use what they've learned on the streets, turning their artistic style into something heavily inflected by graffiti. It is, after all, a lifestyle. Everything about it is bound to bleed through at some point.
Rather than the colour, shapes or lines, Viegas' graffiti heritage manifests very literally - with subtle and often humorous additions to his street art pieces, in an almost ironic ode. Tending towards the depiction of everyday objects, the graffiti slant occurs like the defacement of some grander piece of art. It's clear Viegas doesn't just want to show something, but to say something about it.
Sometimes these everyday objects overlap with the tools of his trade - with his depictions of paint cans or paint covered objects turning his paintings and sketches into a homage to graffiti style and attitude.
Recurring motifs say a lot about his evolution over the last decade. Stones, hands and paper aeroplanes. One is a symbol of permanence, a textural biography of life itself, documenting the story and timeline of particular places. Then, there's the paper aeroplane, often daubed in graffiti lettering - having the appearance of a mischievous reminder that this is all still a bit of fun, all something that we can make ourselves. The power is literally in our hands, the future ours to make.
Then the hands themselves. Sometimes they seem serious and attached to a body. In these moments, they're tender, sombre and powerful. A human hand symbolises connection - the bridge between two lives. Graffiti and art, old and young, the past and the future. Then again, the hand can also contain humour, posing as a back-to-front 'fuck you', as occurs in one of his most popular pieces.
In playing with these artistic contexts, Viegas reminds us of the old dichotomy involving street art and graffiti - the notion of it being high-brow and low-brow. This distinction, almost entirely erased, was never particularly relevant, not beneficial, to either. Graffiti's greatest developments all came from within the scene, until the advent of 'street art', which completely re-routed the movement's trajectory.
Having come from one, and now to another, Viegas toys with these ideas, asking his audience to make up their mind - equipping them with a substantial argument for both.
In his Instagram bio, Viegas has written, "Ceci n’est pas du Graffiti" Just like the famous pipe, from which this phrase has been adapted, his art is, admittedly, not graffiti, but a representation of - a meta project used to examine where graffiti fits into a rapidly shifting artistic landscape. It might already have a place, but that doesn't mean that it's its final destination.
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