Known for the extreme risks he takes to create unique works of art in Brazil’s subterranean tunnels, Sao Paulo-based artist and urban explorer Zezao comes to San Francisco’s Ian Ross Gallery for his solo exhibition “Life As It Is,” an interdisciplinary, site-specific project that shines a light on global poverty and environmental crises.
The exhibition will be divided into three levels, starting with an underground mural within San Francisco’s sewer system that will continue the series of subterranean artworks Zezao has done in Brazil. An immersive installation modeled after the rag-tag architecture of a Brazilian favela will be built inside Ian Ross Gallery’s atrium, with new mixed-media paintings and photo documentation of Zezao’s underground work hanging in the main exhibition hall. And finally, an abstract, architectural installation will take over the gallery’s mezzanine, symbolizing the Brazilian upper classes’ flight to high rise buildings in order to avoid the abject poverty and resulting crime on the streets.
Zezao first discovered graffiti in the early ’90s as the influence of the New York art scene spread to Sao Paulo. This period was a time of great personal struggle for the artist, who was on the brink of homelessness and battling depression. He began to escape to Sao Paulo’s underground sewer system to find solace away from the city. Down in the dark tunnels, guided by the light of his torch, Zezao began to paint what began as a tag and morphed into an ever- evolving style of abstract, calligraphic graffiti. Amid the stench of rotting trash and excrement, the artist forged his identity. He even befriended a family he discovered living underground and risked his life several times over in the uncharted terrain when the sewage water flooded or his flashlight battery went out. Though he painted in areas that no one could see, his documentation of his tunnel painting garnered attention online in the early aughts and soon enough, Zezao became a prominent figure in Sao Paulo’s art scene.
Despite his renown in the artworld, Zezao has never stopped painting underground and in the slums. His repetitive, monochromatic blue symbols, which he calls “flops,” serve to draw attention to areas of Sao Paulo that are often overlooked and excluded from Brazil’s economic progress. With his art as a vehicle for humanitarian aid, he has partnered with clean water initiatives, taken homeless youth under his wing as assistants and even converted his home into a veritable animal shelter.
While Zezao’s work has been focused on drawing attention to his country’s struggles, his message especially resonates in San Francisco, where the widening income gap has displaced many long-time residents and rendered many homeless and without access to resources. Zezao hopes his art will inspire a more conscientious society: “I do believe that art has the power to transform and confront people. And that this confrontation hopefully makes them act towards good,” he said.
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Collectors only preview Saturday October 18th, please email: email@example.com