Interview with Alexandre Farto aka Vhils

fluoro spoke to Alexandre Farto aka Vhils about his unique reverse stencilling method and the connection he holds to the cities whose buildings he transforms.

Alexandre Farto was born in Lisbon, Portugal and has been expressing his visual poetry under the name of Vhils since the early 2000’s. He sees his style of “peeling away” as a form of symbolic archaeology, “carving through them reveals past events advertised in older posters that form part of the city’s recent history, but the same can be applied to other material and non-material forms.”

His work exposes the hidden features and remains from the past.

(f) Why did you initially move into the field of street art?

(AF) It came about naturally. I never really moved into it, it was more like growing up in it.

I started out quite young as a graffiti writer, painting trains and walls in the suburbs of Lisbon, Portugal. Graffiti was my first art school. It made me realise the potential of art and direct visual communication in the public space. It also gave me room to learn, developing techniques and work processes.

Much of what I do today is still connected with what I picked up from my graffiti days. I still work with many tools which I first came across when I was involved with the more extreme side of it, such as etching acid, the scratching and so on. I sort of moved on to other types of work because I’ve always been interested in exploring new languages and I also wanted to reach out to a broader audience.

(The street) …is both the most demanding and most rewarding of venues.

(f) Removing layers rather than adding them is a unique process that started in your Scratching the Surface series – tell us more about how this technique came about?

(AF) In Portugal there is a habit of letting the pasted billboard (advertising) accumulate. Some of these become really thick agglomerates. There are thousands of these around Lisbon, and they had always fascinated me.

One day I realised they would make a good canvas, as I could use them to carve stencilled images. As I started cutting into them, I realised that fragments of older posters were revealed, as if I were bringing something of the city’s recent past to the surface. I also realised I had seen this before while I was growing up and had witnessed the contrasting visual dialogue created between the old political murals which had been painted after the 1974 revolution in Portugal and the more recent adverts that had been pasted over their decaying remains. I was struck by how this simple phenomenon expressed the fast pace of development we are barely aware of, how the chaos of urban life creates these fossils of contemporary visual culture.

The “Scratching the Surface” series, is based on the idea of reverse stencilling – peeling away at the layers that form things to reveal what lies beneath the surface and bring to light something that was lost in the wake of development and change. 

(f) You’ve been quoted stating “that in a symbolic way everything and everyone is formed by layers.” How does this concept affect your work?

(AF) It is one of the main premises behind my work. When I began working with stencils, I became aware of the process of creating through the addition of different layers to create depth and contrast. This made me look at how material things seemed to be formed by different layers, registering the changes that affected them throughout time. I became aware that by peeling away at some of these layers I could expose something of the past that lay hidden beneath. This is also true of people and how our personalities are formed by the sum of our experiences in a symbolic way. 

(f) What is the relationship between your surroundings and your work?

(AF) My work offers a reflection on life in the urban environment and the model of global development that is making cities and people worldwide increasingly uniform.

There is always a connection with the city I’m working in, however it might not always be apparent.

There is a link with the subject, the colours and the materials I use. I mainly use discarded things that have been collected from the city, like old posters, wooden objects and so on. The walls, of course, are clearly a part of the city, but the people portrayed are also closely connected. The are mostly based on photos I take of strangers in the streets. All of this aims to reflect the energy and vitality, the chaos and waste the city gives us.

(f) What is next for the future?

(AF) I’m currently in Sydney working on my first solo show in Australia. I’m very excited about this. I will then travel to Fremantle, Australia to work on a wall or two, and then fly out to Puerto Rico for more walls. From there, I head down to Brazil to work on another solo show in Rio and to publish a book on the project I carried out there last year.

I’ve also just finished setting up my new studio in Lisbon, and from what we can tell, my team and I are going to be quite busy for the rest of the year.

Vhils’ (Alexandre Farto) current exhibition ‘Dissolve’ is on display until Saturday 6 April 2013 at The Rocks, Sydney. For more information on the exhibition visit

Related articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

HTML tags are not allowed.

152,308 Spambots Blocked by Simple Comments