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Vhils Solo Show

Alexandre Farto transforms the individual to an icon and talks about his new mult-medium expo

When Alexandre Farto aka Vhils looks at a wall, he doesn’t just see a plain old wall. He sees a surface with a history, and to this end he will chisel his large scale images of faces through the surface, uncovering different layers of paper, paint, plaster as he goes, incorporating them firmly into the rubric of the past and breathing life into them for future generations to enjoy.

The people portrayed in my work are mostly unknown, even to me. Many of them are based on photos of people I have taken from magazines

Not only has he has created eight of these chiseled images across Shanghai to celebrate the opening of his new expo, but he has also been using other materials to create these detailed and beautiful images of the unknown.

Dazed Digital: Do you or the walls have any connection to the images?
Vhils: The majority of portraits I've created in this series have been based on anonymous, unknown people I took portraits of in the street. I was explaining the project to them and if they accepted we shot their portrait straight away. I value the idea of turning ordinary people into icons, to contrast this with the need people seem to have of creating icons in the first place.

Instead of creating icons out of people who have changed history or are celebrities of some sort I take an ordinary person and try and make other people think about themselves reflected in this person, who is also struggling to get by in this day and age. There is an untapped source of wealth in the individual, the unknown everyday heroes we all are in the massive struggle of life.

DD: What is it about the human face that makes you want to continue to re-create it in your own unique way?
Vhils: The people portrayed in my work are mostly unknown, even to me. Many of them are based on photos of people I have taken from magazines, from photographer Sebastião Salgado’s work or my own photos. I take an ordinary person and try to make people think about these ordinary citizens who struggle everyday to live in contemporary society. With the “Unknown Icon” series I was aiming to reflect on these people who can survive with very little in this system. There is an untapped source of wealth in the individual, the unknown ordinary individual we all are in the massive struggle of life.

DD: What can we expect from your gallery work, I know you have experimented with a lot of different mediums for this show?
Vhils: The show will feature many different artworks so the people see the different processes I like to use. There are the walls that I just did but also pieces carved in wood. The wood comes from antiques markets and is also the essence of what Shanghai is. There are also pieces in metal, done with nitric acid. As I do on wall by scratching the surface, here there is also a notion of decay, that in the end makes things appear. There are also pieces on paper from huge ones to smaller ones. And I am also preparing a huge 3D installation. 

Text by Helen Soteriou

Vhils, until 6 May, 2012, 18 Gallery Magda Danysz, 188 Linqing Road (x Pingliang Road), Shanghai