There's David Blaine and Derren Brown. Illusionists. They're people who captivate an audience by deceiving their eyes. They're also showmen, aided with subtle tricks and sleight-of-hand techniques. Portuguese street artist Odeith, on the other hand, is a true master of illusion, using nothing but paint and a remarkable capacity for perspective to create barely believable art on the street.
Odeith has been at the top of the game, one of the true kings of street art and graffiti, for a very long time. He's never faltered, always, always pushing himself to new limits - seemingly with every single piece. Now illusionists and magicians live by the maxim, 'A magician never reveals his tricks', but Odeith is willing to, with videos on his own Instagram and YouTube channels that reveal to mere mortals exactly how he does what he does. Not that it matters. Who's going to be able to emulate him anyway?
Such is the comfort of the strata he inhabits, that there are so few in his milieu performing at this level. In football, Lionel Messi defies expectation year-on-year, displaying an unparalleled ability to move with a ball. Many people call him an alien, so inexplicable is his on field prowess. If there's anyone in any field similar to him, it's not in sports, but the arts - and it's Odeith.
As a younger child, flicking through pages of Graphotism and using the early Internet in order to influence my own, very limited, forays into street art, seeing Odeith's work in his native Portugal seemed exotic. Although New York was geographically further, the idea of Portugal might well have been a different world entirely. Couple that with the insane anamorphic works I was looking at, and it was too much for a young mind to comprehend. His work with a can seemed beyond what a human should be able to do with one.
Born in 1976 in Damaia, Amadora, an impoverished neighbourhood Northwest of Lisbon, Sergio Odeith picked up a can as if it was a rite-of-passage to becoming a teenager. When Portugal's graffiti scene, along with its hip-hop scene, grew hand-in-hand and started to boom in the 90s, with some names managing to break from its national borders and into international press - onto the world's eyes and ears - he was one of them. His place on the vanguard has rarely been disputed since.
Covering walls of greater Lisbon's social housing schemes at eye level, with his unique, three-dimensional murals, tags and anamorphic animals, Odeith found that his name quickly spread. He was the guy that made paintings that looked real. With perspective and shading, a wall seemed to have dimensions that were naked to the invisible eye, housing some of his work, rather than just hosting it. Bees, spiders and his name levitated off the surface. From a distance, it looked as if you could pick it up.
Years later, I walked along the same streets as he had, working in Lisbon around the Alfragide area. Here was my first exposure to his artwork in real life. Just like the magazines and grainy pictures online from over a decade before, their artistry was difficult to conceive. Some people talk about being reduced to tears standing in front of a Rothko, or feeling the rage that consumed Jackson Pollock in his kinetic expressionist artworks. I felt bewildered and awe-struck, standing and studying the lines and formation of the figures, only becoming further away from ever being able to understand it.
After working as a tattoo artist, international acclaim pushed him into embarking on his own quest for newfound growth. To do so, he had to leave the comfort of familiarity, of a language spoken and of the faces of friends and family, onto something new and hopefully greater. In that zone between the order of life at home and the chaos of the life that lay ahead, was the most fertile ground for creativity. In 2005 he moved to London, one of the world's artistic capitals, to learn more about graffiti and street art as it was beginning to emerge onto a new frontier.
No longer were artists cowboys, but the lawmen, demanding gate fees, painting content for brands. Being a graffiti artist was in demand, publicly. Although illegal, it was tolerated. Odeith's audience changed too. Now in a city where everything is documented all of the time, he had a responsibility to himself - growth through challenges and expectations.
Granted, he didn't invent the style, but he did contribute to its growth, perhaps more significantly than any artist alive. That's why, when it comes to three-dimensional, optical illusion and anamorphic designs, he is the original name, the pioneer. London was the new stage.
The style branded 'sombre 3D' is de facto an urban form of expression. It's mood is overcast, it's realism comes for the photographic expertise of the execution, but its feeling comes from a life spent working on the streets, surrounded by people, watching them and learning about humanity as manifest in a multitude of conditions.
Having a dimension of social commentary imbues his work with a depth that is initially easy to overlook, when one would usually be considering the technique and talent behind each piece. These two types of art seem to be separate entirely from each other; the bright and audacious lettering and the photorealistic paintings that examine key historical figures in an intimate manner.
However, their separate lives influence each other, even if it isn't initially clear. The nous developed through practicing one helps contribute to the other. Through symbiosis, these styles coexist with each other, but also his life in general, one that's taken in a youth spent painting trains, to a career as an artist working with some of the biggest brands in the world. It's a story that Odeith has chosen to write in one of the most unique ways the graffiti and street art movement has ever seen. Still active, still pushing boundaries, it's a story that continues to write itself each day and one we are lucky to see.
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