Artist Analysis: Vhils


Alexandre Farto, otherwise known as Vhils, is a Portuguese street artist. He has taken part of many different shows around the world, for example, his Scratching the Surface Series in Lisbon 2007 started off in the Visual Street Performance group show and later on displayed in the Cans Festival in London. His technique as a street artist involves many different techniques, such as acid wash, stenciling and explosives, but he’s significantly well known for his carving technique. Which has been described to be a simple technique but very complex and harsh. In addition to these methods of art, he incorporates layering to create structure to his work.

His technique was influenced by several different ideas. First of many is his technique expressing human emotions between their struggles and their goals. Another is graffiti being a creative conquest by a person over a public space. The transformation of Lisbon’s suburbs spreading across the countryside. The reason why this would be an influence because it made him concern by the idea of replacing the elements present in nature, such as colour, peacefulness and freedom, by monotone designs of urban structures which he sees as an expression of a social and economic example of a process to bring in a uniform design in modern cities around the world. Another city he sees this in is Shanghai, China, while here, he witnessed an urban renewal process applied by the government where gentrification was focused on city centre property. As well as in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the city government enforced a major renewal scheme to renovate some of the run-down areas in Rio for the 2014 Fifa World Cup and the 2016 Olympic games. Vhils had heard concern from residents of these areas. This leads into this idea of lost essence because he makes the effort to indicate their story.

These ideas reflect an idea of lost essence that is inputs into his work through the process of carving. He sees this as contemporary form of urban archaeology because his act of removal is an abstract way to see the different layers that creates us, individually and collectively. He also looks into the theme of unknown icons because he likes to highlight the little importance a person has in a certain environment to contract the simple lives of people between the “godlike” people in advertisements. He sees that when he does this, it’s a sign of restoring humanity to undervalued and damaged urban areas.

A few images I’ve chosen that I thought best represented the research I made were from “Ez Situ” group show in Paris, “Scratching the Surface” in London and Shanghai, China.

(images left to right)

Ez Situ group show Paris Scratching the Surface London Shanghai, China

The first image, which is a billboard piece made for the “Ez Situ” exhibition in London best related to the research I found on how Vhils focuses on portraits of ordinary people instead of well-know people. I found that it best reflected it because he uses a billboard poster to create his work, and I found this ironic because the billboard posters are usually meant to be used for advertisements, and most of the time, it’ll be of famous people modelling products in the ad. Instead, Vhils redirects the use of these posters into a sense of portraits of people in the community. It is as if Vhils is making the attempt to change the role of model of people and getting them to focus on the inspiring people around them, instead of someone who they may not come in contact with.

The next image is of work that was part of Vhils’ “Scratching the Surface” series that first part of the Visual Street performance in Lisbon, and later on appeared at the Cans Festival in London. These works best represent his main technique’s focus which is destruction to create something beautiful. The way Vhils set up his work is amazing because he still incorporates the actual display of the work by how it may look in its original place. He does this by placing the torn away concrete at the bottom of the wall carved pieces, making it seem as if he had just completed the work. It also displays his other billboard pieces in the back. I found this to be related to his technique because he truly sticks to his own style especially when transferring his work from one location to another. It proves that no matter where he goes, he’s able to integrate his own personal touch anywhere.

The final images, which is a piece he had done while working in Shanghai, China reflects the idea of the urban renewal process taking over the city to bring a unison design throughout the world. In the background of his actual piece which is in an area that looks in ruins, are several different urbanized buildings lit up. I found this reflect the gentrification scheme because it truly contrasts the different between the reconstructed areas and the areas that have been ignored and decaying. This is important because the gentrification scheme is what influences him a lot to work in these parts and bring out the best of who lives in these areas.


There are a few themes that I’ve found while exploring Vhils’ work and reading through his biography. One of the first themes I’ve found was an exploration of an individual. This is found through the two pieces I’ve worked on because he does incorporate layering that connects to the different parts that make up a person. He sees this as looking at their uniqueness, especially since he does work based off of unknown people instead of celebrities and world-known figures. He see this as a way of identifying unknown icons in their own community, which is why most of his work consist of people who would have had an impact in the area. As he does this, he views it as a way to restore humanity because he is highlighting the simple lives of regular people instead of looking at the characteristics that advertisements try to put out.

Another theme that I’ve found was the idea of replacement. This relates to Vhils’ influence on the gentrification scheme that he’s seen around the world, especially in his home, where the countryside is being taken over by the suburbs areas. While these suburbs expand, he sees this as replacing the colours, calmness and freedom that is natural given, and being replaced with the oppressive, urban designed buildings. This replacement is seen to be a process of creating a unified design around the city. This is a theme that comes in his work because as an attempt to bring out the run-down, ignored communities, he attempted to bring the best out of them.  He does this especially through his wall carvings because he tries to highlight the memories of community and instead of leaving them as run-down, he puts more emphasis on the look and brings it to his advantage.

A final theme that I’ve found was graffiti. Although this is a very general theme, it was one of his inspirations because he sees graffiti as an individual’s creative take over in a public space. Since most graffiti is down through spray paint or some sort of application. Vhils does the reversed practice of this, instead of applying, he likes to take away and look at the layers. Seen in both of his works, he goes through an extreme process viewed as a visual vandalism because it is visual piece done through destruction and damage. The idea of graffiti has influenced him and inspired him to be able to leave his creative mark. Not only does he use carving as a technique, he also looks at using stencils, acids and explosives and applying it through a brutal process to create his work.