VHILS is on a longstanding mission to create artworks that raise awareness of globalization and its effect on cultural diversity. More importantly, he hopes that his signature chiseled portraits of locals from all across the globe combat today’s rapid pace of cultural homogenization; or the idea that dominant culture invades local culture, resulting in a significant decrease of cultural diversity as a whole.
We sat down with the Portuguese artist who is currently preparing for his first solo exhibit at the fledgling Over the Influence gallery in Los Angeles, California. Titled “Annihilation,” the showcase reflects upon themes of identity, urban development, and sustainability. Additionally, insightful quotes on the status of street art and graffiti are observed in our exclusive Q&A below.
Read on to learn more about VHILS’ latest exhibit, check out select artworks from the show, and expect “Annihilation” to launch this February 23 at Over the Influence.
The concept of annihilation explored here is connected with the process of cultural homogenization.
Tell us about your upcoming show in LA.
I’m very excited, as this is my first solo show in LA, despite the fact that I’ve worked here before and have been coming here for years. “Annihilation” looks into many of the issues I’ve been exploring with my work in recent years, namely in connection with the present human condition in globalized urban societies. It will feature a new body of works created specifically for this show. It also marks the opening of the new OTI gallery in LA, so it’s quite an honor to have been chosen for this.
What is the subject you are focusing on in these new artworks?
The concept of annihilation explored here is connected with the process of cultural homogenization brought about by the dominant model of development that’s being implemented around the world. It concerns the impact it’s having on local identities and the erosion of cultural uniqueness we’re witnessing today but also the impact of mass consumption and material growth and the absurdity of following a model that is mathematically impossible to sustain, possibly even in the short term.
If we leave everything for the market forces to solve, we are doomed.
How do you decide on which subject you want to portray?
This depends on the nature of the project at hand. For this exhibition, as the subject revolves around the idea of dissecting various local urban realities from around the world in this new global era, both the subjects and the materials have been mostly sourced from various cities I’ve been working in over the last few years, including Los Angeles, Lisbon, Hong Kong, Paris, Rio de Janeiro or Beijing, among others. The idea is to both confront and establish a visual dialogue between these varied realities, exploring similarities and differences. This patchwork also mirrors the interplay between elements of different origins and cultures we can see at work in any large city today, expressing the increasingly homogenized environments we live in.
Are there any messages or causes you want to relay with your artworks?
The main themes present in my work are mostly connected with a reflection on the complex reality of the urban spaces most of us live in today and the globalized model of development we are following, how we are losing touch with our human nature by following a path that seems to be leading us to annihilation for the sake of profit and exploitation. Development and growth are good, but not only should they be based on our needs and not on our desires, they should also be inclusive and sustainable in the long run and oriented towards the well-being of the population. I’m greatly concerned with the sustainability of the world if we keep following the current model of development – both in terms of resources and the environment. If we leave everything for the market forces to solve, we are doomed.
Abstract entities will never come up with a sustainable solution for the only world we have to live in. This is a major issue for my generation and the ones to come. A comprehensive, rational and practical discussion and organization is needed globally to tackle the issues the world will face in the next few decades. I see my work as being deeply connected with this discussion and these issues. I also look into the notions of identity and how people and the places they live in are locked in a cycle of reciprocal shaping through which they develop a shared character. I further explore the themes of randomness and the ephemeral nature of things, both of which are deeply connected with what I do and how I do it.
Is there a new material you are experimenting with? Or a technique you have never done before prior to this show?
The show includes some pieces that expand some of the techniques and mediums I’ve been using, such as the new series of carved wooden doors with inlaid wooden overlays, and a series of massive pieces with hand-carved advertising posters removed from the streets, among others. It will also include two new concrete cast sculptures that are conceptually linked with the styrofoam pieces of the Diorama Series I’ve been exploring since 2012.
When you work in the public space you are competing with the visual clutter already present in the city.
What’s it like seeing your work inside a gallery versus a public space? Describe the process.
I think that working in the streets and working in a gallery can be complementary, although the fact that you are creating in different settings demands a different type of approach. When you work in the public space you are competing with the visual clutter already present in the city and therefore you must work hard to create an impact on people who, at least in theory, will be more indifferent or busy when confronted with the work. The street is also a more unrestricted environment, where you can basically do what you want, but you have less time to work on a piece.
Gallery work serves another purpose. You can create more detailed work, as you have more time to produce it and people will have more time to see it. People will also come with a different attitude and approach to it. You can establish a closer rapport with them, focus more on what you’re trying to express and the subjects you’re trying to convey. Overall I make no distinction between them, regarding both simply as art. I adjust the work to each specific setting, but for me, there is always a connection between these two environments.
What are your thoughts on the current state of street art? Graffiti?
Art in urban contexts seems to be booming nowadays. This has both positive and negative aspects to it: on the one hand, you have lots of talented artists out there interacting with their cities and creating fantastic artwork; on the other, the growing popularity inevitably attracts those who seek to profit from it. In some cases, it seems to be viewed as the new goose that lays the golden eggs. The present urban art scene seems to be split along the legal and illegal seams, and in both contexts, people are creating very interesting work. Illegal art will always be rough and vibrant, while in recent years we have seen a huge increase in the number of large-scale murals works being produced in cities around the world, and the majority of these works are legal, commissioned works that can be viewed as a new form of public art. This reflects an increasing awareness, acceptance, and desire for these works.
Graffiti is a different kettle of fish. Its energy comes from the fact that it’s illegal.
In this respect, urban art projects can contribute directly to help renovate neglected areas of a city, embellishing them, but this, in turn, can also create new interest for outsiders who are mobilized to come and see the new art. This interest can help draw attention to the communities, it can generate a new respect and acknowledgment for these areas and their communities, and it can bring tourists and foster the local economy. Graffiti is a different kettle of fish. Its energy comes from the fact that it’s illegal. It’s done by writers for writers. And that’s how it should remain. Illegal, rough and raw.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m working on a variety of projects which I will divulge in due time. For now, I can share that I’m working on a new big museum solo show in Paris, that will open later in May.
How long do you see yourself creating artworks? Do you have an ultimate end goal?
I’ve never given it much thought. Who knows? I’d like to keep on working for as long as I’m able.
Over the Influence
833 East 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013