In the last few years, street art has gone hand-in-hand with bankability. Although figures such as Banksy, Shepard Fairy and Space Invader may have once mounted their cultural critiques from the shadows and alleys, their work now graces coffee table books, political campaigns and everything in between.
But Dissolve, a new collaboration between Skalitzer Contemporary Art, the Rocks Pop-up and Art Month Sydney, is set to allay any cynicism about the state of street art today. The show, which will unfold in a 220-square-metre space underneath the MCA, features the work of Vhils (aka Alexadre Farto), a young Portuguese artist interested in the way cities shape our identities and the poetry of decay.
“We’d been speaking to Alexandre about doing the show for some time. It’s his first time in Australia and I think he jumped at the opportunity to show here,” says co-curator Kelly Reiffer, a former investment banker and art dealer who founded Skalitzer Contemporary in Berlin with partner Rory Schmitz in a move to champion the city’s dynamic graffiti scene.
“We’re both originally from Perth and have been in Berlin for four years. The gallery started in a small basement three years ago as a tagging gallery. We absolutely love tags – we think it’s the purest form of expression. When we first got to Berlin, we were really surprised that it was one of the biggest centres for graffiti in the world, but there was no one taking graffiti seriously as an art form. For us, tagging is where most of these guys start,” she explains.
However, Vhils’ work combines the frenetic energy of tagging with a technical ambition that’s rare for a street artist. His portraits, produced using chisels, acids, explosives and bleach, are best read as literal and figurative excavations of identity and history.
Although Vhils’ etchings – which are largely inspired by the faded revolutionary stencils of 80s and 90s Lisbon – have appeared in Brazil, Moscow and New York, he achieved global reach when one of his works was featured in Banksy’s Cans Festival in 2008. Dissolve will also play host to his Sydney debut – a portrait of activist Jack Mundey.
“Vhils’ walls, which involve detailed carvings into bricks, are among the most interesting features of the show,” says Reiffer. “But the exhibition will show a range of mediums and play with the idea of public and private space.”
Dissolve runs until April 6 at The Rocks Pop-up. 140 George Street, The Rocks, Sydney.
Tues to Sat noon–6pm