CR Blog

Scratching beneath the surface of the streets


Posted by Mark Sinclair, 26 October 2011, 14:58    Permalink    Comments (6)

Scratching the Surface project, Cali, Colombia

Portuguese street artist Vhils makes portraits by hacking, drilling and ripping into buildings. His first monograph has just been published by Gestalten and contains some striking imagery of his work...

Vhils is the moniker that artist Alexandre Farto uses for his street art, which has appeared on – or rather, out of – walls across cities all over the world.

In their preface to the new book, the Wooster Collective's Marc and Sara Schiller write: "By removing bits of plaster and paint, by peeling away layers of history, Vhils reveals the emotion and humanity of his subjects, who are largely unknown – photographed on the streets of Portugal or London, or pulled from old magazines and newspapers found at local flea markets.

"This excavation, often a process of violent removal, stands in sharp contrast to the delicate portraits discovered hidden underneath."

Scratching the Surface project, Los Angeles, US (collaboration with JR)

Scratching the Surface project, Nu Art Festival, Stavanger, Norway (photo: Angelo Milano)

"In Vhils' hands, vandalism becomes an act of creation," the Schillers continue before concluding with a quote from Vhils himself. "In this act of excavation," he says," it's the process which is expressive, more than the final result. It's a process of trying to reflect upon our own layers.

"My aim is not to come up with solutions but to conduct research – to confront systems, materials, processes, elements, to create friction and confront the individual with the process."

Scratching the Surface project, Kashima (Gunkan Jima), Japan (glue and ground dirt)

Part of Scratching the Surface exhibition, Lazarides Gallery, London

From Museum Ruins show at Mace Contemporary Art Museum, Elvas, Portugal

To Have Or To Be series (billboard posters dipped in resin, white paint)

Detail of portrait from Scratching the Surface project, Cali, Colombia

Vhils is out now from Gestalten; £37.50 and available to buy, here. More of Vhils' work at


CR in Print

Thanks for reading the CR Blog but if you're not also reading the magazine in print, you're really missing out. Our October issue includes the story of Blackpool's Comedy Carpet, a profile of Jake Barton whose studio is currently working on the 9/11 Memorial Museum, plus pieces on branding and the art world, guerilla advertising coming of age, Google's Android logo, Ars Electronica, adland and the riots, and loads more.

And, if you subscribe to CR, you also receive our award-winning Monograph booklet every month for free.

If you would like to buy this issue and are based in the UK, you can search for your nearest stockist here. Based outside the UK? Simply call +44(0)207 292 3703 to find your nearest stockist. Better yet, subscribe to CR for a year here and save yourself almost 30% on the printed magazine.



Fascinating work. I especially like the 3D aspect to it. It's great when someone literally breaks the mould and starts creating inspirational works like this.

Best regards, Paul.
Paul Gillard
2011-10-27 12:12:02

I love it when artists find yet another ground-breaking and original niche. The work at the Lazarides Gallery, London is particularly exciting as it is a new viewing experience, stepping round the debris at the base of the wall. The genius of the artist is clearly evident and has brought interest to an otherwise crumbling and dilapidated surface.
2011-10-27 12:32:21

Reminds me of the face photograph taken by (then go to featured galleries/commercial 1 - first image) some other good work here too!
Mike Curry
2011-10-27 13:22:20

Did he recently do a piece in the Old Vic Tunnels?
2011-10-29 00:52:52

This is the result of the creativity + originallity and I like the results.
2011-12-07 00:03:12

2012-02-29 11:29:05

Tell us what you think

What happens with my feedback?

We no longer require you to register and have a password in order to comment, simply fill in the form below. All comments are moderated so you may experience a short delay before your comment appears. CR encourages comments to be short and to the point. As a general rule, they should not run longer than the original post. Comments should show a courteous regard for the presence of other voices in the discussion. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments that do not adhere to this standard.

Get the RSS Feed