Endless high-rises, paved-over rivers, a maze of under- and overpasses, sidewalks broken up by tree roots or simply washed away by the tropical rain, not to mention the brutal ups and downs of its hills: São Paulo is hardly a pedestrians' paradise. But there is plenty to discover for those that head out on foot, especially when it comes to street art. And no neighbourhood concentrates quite the same quality of work in such a compact space, as in Vila Madalena.
When compared to the quiet streets of its street art counterpart in Cambuci, Vila Madalena's hustle and bustle, with its shops, bars, restaurants and galleries, is quite a contrast. And while the kings of Cambuci's scene are quite obviously OsGemeos, Vila Madalena's streets are the test lab for an overwhelming number of artists, creating a constant turnover of artworks and making any kind of territorial hierarchy near on impossible.
Nonetheless, certain artists’ trademark styles are easier to recognise. Take the work of Pato, for example – a well-known name on the circuit, his figurative works with colourful long-nosed characters are visible on several walls throughout the neighbourhood. Spot one in front of the entrance to Beco do Aprendiz.
|Beco de Aprendiz|
What’s referred to as the beco, or alley, is actually a paved-over river that runs parallel to Rua Belmiro Braga. The water may pass underneath the asphalt, but colour overflows above ground. Those who walk the eighty or so metres through the alley will spot every colour in the spectrum. To find your way into the Beco do Aprendiz, head in through the basketball court in the Praça Aprendiz das Letras (opposite Rua Belmiro Braga 188) or through an alleyway opposite Rua Padre João Gonçalves 107.
On our visit, guided by artist Thaís Beltrame, we see grafiteiro Boleta painting alongside a design by Vitché. The artist recently painted the Big Brother Brasil house for media giant O Globo, generating media attention, as well as criticism – just one example of graffiti’s paradoxical power in São Paulo, as an illegal but also celebrated, and sometimes lucrative, occupation.
|Beco do Batman|
Head uphill on Rua Luis Murat, alongside the cemetery, then turn left into Rua Medeiros de Albuquerque, and left again on Rua Gonçalo Afonso until you hit the so-called Beco do Batman, the city's premiere open-air street art ‘gallery’.
It may be a long, thin, winding alleyway but it's teeming with life – we're there with students holding an impromptu party, hipsters clicking away with their cameras and families in their entireties, stopping to gaze at the works of artists like Dask2, Ninguém Dorme, Speto, Tumulus, Profeta and Vado do Cachimbo, not to mention our guide Thaís Beltrame, whose pencilled white bear cub can be seen being gobbled up by a skull-shaped figure, by artist Ciro Schu.
'That one is by Pato. I can tell by the style.' It's not Beltrame’s voice this time, but that of a 10-year-old kid talking to his parents. At least in his eyes, Pato is the boss around here.
Vila Madalena street art map
View Time Out São Paulo walks: Vila Madalena street art in a larger map
This feature was published in March 2013