Reconstruction of the destruction


Videos watched for analyzing Vhils’ technique:

Scratching the Surface by Vhils

Location: Torres Vedras, Portugal

Graffiti Street Art – Vhils

Location: Venice, Los Angeles, USA

Prior to the reconstruction of Vhils’ work, I’ve seen his “Scratching the Surface” video that showed the process of one of his pieces in Portugal. From watching that single video, I was immediately interested in recreating his work that he was well known for, which were his wall art. So I’ve chosen the piece from a group show, Viva La Revolución. I chose this one because I liked how the piece itself appears on a separate wall, as if it’s piece on its own instead of being in a corner of building’s surface because I found that the blank space surrounding those spaces, took away from his work. Therefore, seeing this piece stand for itself was a statement for itself.

In the beginning, I had planned to get clay and carve in the design of the piece and allow it to dry, hoping it would be a similar process. When arriving to an art store, Deserres, and asking an associate for some advice, she had advised me to try a gel that is usually used in addition with gesso when priming a painting to help add texture to the painting. From the video, I understood his idea of layering, so I had layered paper that had a brick print on it and placed a mixture of a course and fine pumice gel surrounding the brick paper print. Through this I had primarily planned out areas that would be left alone and others exposed with brick. This would significantly imitate the look of his work, though realizing it did not imitate Vhils’ well-known technique of destruction.

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Process work for first attempt of Viva La Revolución piece

After watching several more videos on his work and analyzing his technique, I had taken note on his process. He does find a surface, which he primes with what I’ve assumed was a concrete-like material. He then would paint on a design, usually of portraits of local people, and use it as a template for his followed up technique of destruction. Later he would either add more detail to the portrait by spraying on a different coloured paint or allow it to drip down the wall or he would do this after when he drills into the concrete-like material.

To imitate this process, I was given a piece of tile and advised to try using plaster. Through this it would reflect the two main layers, the tile being the base and the plaster being a covering. Then I painted grey onto the plaster for another layer. Afterwards, I had printed out a detail from the specific piece I had chosen in the beginning, and focused on the detail of the eye. I then created a template for my piece by cutting out significant parts of the paper where it was drilled down to the base. From that, I had placed it on my already plaster-coated tile and painted in these areas. Once dried, I cut into the plastered areas that I’ve marked with a wood cutting tool. Realizing that it was difficult to cut into, I took a hammer to assist me in a quicker process. While doing this, I’ve come to notice how delicate the process truly is because as I was chipping away the certain areas, the surrounding parts would also fall out. This was a concern I had in the beginning, but I continued on with the process. I later on began peeling away some of the paint since not all of the concrete in the actual piece came off but it exposed under the paint. Once finished, I added in detailed by dripping a white paint to the gray-painted plaster.

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Process work for second attempt of Viva La Revolución piece

In the end of the process, as I tried to bring out more detail into the painting, I ended up chipping away more plaster, and pulling away too much gray paint. To try and fix this, I noticed I can’t fix the chipped away plaster, so I had leave it as is, but for the peeled paint, I had only repainted the areas where I should have left the paint. Although I’m not sure if this is what Vhils would do to fix a mistake in his artwork, I understood how much care and consideration would need to be put into making these works especially because it something that can’t be redone to its original state.

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Process work for second attempt of Viva La Revolución piece

As an addition in case this piece was too fragile to work with, I decided to also focus on his wood artwork. Vhils would find old rustic-looking doors or cabinets that have aged with use. With the condition it’s already in, he would again paint on his template which would be an outline of someone face, but instead of painting out the complete facial features, he would only do them in short line work. He would then carve away at these areas and create a design in the surface of the door and exposing the wooden design underneath the paint or varnish of the wood.

Again, understanding primarily how destructive yet delicate his wall pieces are, I had this in mind to do in case I’ve failed the wall piece. So as a reconstruction piece, I’ve chosen a piece from his series, Devoid, which is a blue door that consists of a portrait of a woman. I chose this piece because I liked the blue door, the colour made a statement and contrasted the paint from the exposed wood underneath.

For the reconstruction, I went to the woodshop in the Architecture Building and went to the scrap wood pieces, and chose a relatively small piece so I can focus in on a specific detail in the piece, which was the eye. I then painted the wooden block blue and had a template printed out where I had cut into the larger areas where I would have to carve away at. Once I placed the template onto my wooden block and painted in those areas, I waited for it dry, and when dried I experimented with wood carving tools and a rotary tool. While using the wood carving tools, I found this to be a lot of labour, similar to when I had to cut away in the plastered tile. Though, I did find myself enjoying to make this piece than the plastered tile because, not only was it less of a mess, I found myself to be almost calm and relaxed while carving into the wood. I also found myself less stressed because, unlike the plaster, I didn’t have to worry about carving in too deep or carving out too much. So there was less of it to worry about it, and even if I found myself carving too much out, it still added to the design. With the mechanical tool, I found that I was able to get the detail and precession I wanted. Though, when it came to carving out larger areas, it did take much longer because the point of the tool was only restricted to carving out a certain amount. Afterwards, I had decided to use the rotary tool to outline the larger areas and carve out the smaller details. To carve out the main areas of the larger areas, I had use the wood carving tools because they were capable of taking away a larger area than the rotary tool.

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Process work of first attempt of Devoid piece

Overall, through the two pieces, I’ve come to see how difficult the process is. I’ve understood the difference between layering in pieces in certain areas to avoid cutting away too much, from subtracting from an entire layer made. I found that even though laying down the specific areas were easier, it was completely different from Vhils’ technique because it challenges you since you’re not able to go back and fix your mistake. Once a cut or carve was made into the surface, it’s permanent and the only thing you can do is to accept the change you’ve made.

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