Words: Nathan Rosa, Photography: Nefertiti Hernandez
When you think about art and design, Rio might not be the first place that comes to mind. Perhaps it’s the beautiful beaches, the colourful carnivals or maybe Pharell’s music video for ‘Beautiful. Through our conversation with Marcelo Lamarca, we were able to get a snapshot of what it’s like to be an artist living and working in Brazil. If you go up to the highest peak of Sugar Loaf Mountain in Rio, you’ll come face to face to his eye catching work. In fact, that’s where Nef met him, working on his graffiti. Marcelo’s work has taken him to different cities around the world. He’s also been able to collaborate with with major companies, like Red Bull and Adidas.
When did you decide that you wanted to pursue a career in graffiti?
When I was younger I knew I wanted to be an artist, I just did not know what kind. I was not sure if I wanted to be an actor or a dancer, but I have always liked all those things. I was always connected with art; I just was not sure what I wanted to be. I have always drawn and since childhood I would wake up early every morning just to draw. I would have my coffee in the morning and just draw, but I never interpreted it as being anything of importance— from there I started understanding and becoming more interested.
My mom encouraged me a lot, she bought me a basic painting kit when I was about 10 years old and I just started to paint with a brush. I continued from there and went to university for graphic design which was something I found interesting and considered it similar to the type of art I was into. While in university, I met a friend named Pedro Porto— who is a great artist. The two of us formed a crew and started painting together. We would graffiti together and learn together because it is a difficult art form in the beginning— trying to take a design that is smaller scale and replicate it on a huge wall is not easy early on. From there I fell in love with painting in the street, mainly because I enjoyed talking with people in the streets who come up and talk to me about my art— it is very cool. You get to meet so many different types of people— rich, poor, people who live on the streets; all of them come and share wonderful stories and I just love it.
I have been at it for 12 years now.
Are there any laws restricting graffiti in Rio?
You can graffiti here. There is an Order that allows you to paint in certain areas and if it is an area that is privately owned— you just have to ask the owner for permission to paint. In Rio it is a lot less strict than in other areas, especially internationally where you might even go to jail for graffiti— but as of now there is no problem.
Did your parents support you in your decision to pursue graffiti? Did they ever tell you to look at a different career path?
In the beginning it was very difficult— it was not easy for them to accept. The first time my dad saw that I had about 300 spray cans at home, he was startled and said “What is that?! What are you going to do with that?! You’re investing in this for your career, just to paint around here?!” Now they love it and they encourage me. It is a normal transition because here in Brazil we do not have that culture of art, where we value it, you know? It is difficult sometimes to find people that truly value art.
Do you find that Rio is a city that promotes the arts and creative people, in the hopes of reaching their dreams?
In Rio there really is something about creativity and art; there is a natural beauty that really inspires people— we are always connected with nature. Particularly for me, my art is always centred around nature and its beauty. I like to go to the beach when I am stressed; anyone can just go there, you do not have to pay for it— it is just free and open. I think that Cariocas [the people of Rio de Janeiro] have that lifestyle where they are always in nature and I think that can inspire any type of person. If someone is a painter, they can paint with so much colour. When I go to New York City to paint, people always amazed at all the colours I use and I tell them where I am from it is really like that. I think it really inspires people— the colours, the vibes, that the city really does inspire people.
Did you ever think about changing paths and doing something else with your life?
Man, I can handle it. I studied graphic design and so in the beginning I did a lot of different things related to that. Whatever came my way in terms of art forms, I would try and go from there. I always had a connection with painting and so that has always been the forefront of my work and I try and stick with that. It has been a challenge, but I have never thought about giving up on art. I have never wanted an office job being in a cubicle— I could never do that; it would not work for me. I have been able to stick with it and it has worked thus far.
What gives you the passion to continue doing what you are doing?
Man I do not know how to explain it— I just love it. I grew up in a family with a lot of talented people in it. While there is no art connection with my dad since he is a civil engineer, he is still super animated and loves to dance. My sister is a professional dancer and my grandmother was a seamstress. I think seeing these things when I was younger really influenced me. I am very passionate about hands on things— things like someone having the talent to create a sculpture; I have always liked things like that.
What is your creative process? In terms of having an idea and executing it?
Like I said earlier I really like to draw and when I sit to draw, I am not really thinking about anything— I just start and it begins to formulate and come together. When it is for a specific job or is supposed to have a specific theme, I research and make some sketches. Since I have a graphic design background, I then finalize and transfer it to the computer which makes it easier to start and finish the job later. What I much prefer is to just start without any real plan and go from there— when a client gives me the freedom to do what I want, I prefer that.
You mentioned your family is very creative and artistic— is there anyone specifically that inspires you?
I have an Aunt who is a cinematographer and she does botanical drawings— she inspired me a lot when I was younger. When I would go to her house, she would always do costume make-up for us [me and my siblings]— like vampires or ghosts. She would always try and get our creativity going by asking what we wanted to be. She would teach us and that would always make me happy. That was my Aunt Monica, she was always so good to us.
Have you ever thought it was too difficult to continue with graffiti to the point where you thought about quitting?
Man, right now it is very very difficult. I have had great projects, I have completed really cool projects with some big businesses like Red Bull and Adidas— but I do not have any stability in my profession here in Brazil. There is always the thought of “man, maybe I won’t be able to continue”. In reality, there is always some sort of job that pops up that allows me to breathe a little. You know, I have a lot of faith. The current problems in the country that are happening are making things very difficult; everyone has little money, little opportunity— no one wants to pay for art, no one. Only the rich can and even they are complaining about the economic problems. So you know, I too am passing through this difficulty. I have a lot of opportunities to go abroad to work and a lot of people tell me “come here, come here” but I love it here— I have my family here and my roots are here. So for the time being, I am holding on to a place that keeps me going but it is difficult.
In terms of places abroad, where has been your favourite place to work?
Well I love Europe, I love the United States, particularly Miami, but Barcelona is really special to me. I have great friends there and it is a city that reminds me a bit of here; it has a nice warm air— the people move freely like they do here. I have never been to Portugal but I would like to. I also have some good friends who moved there and are doing well. Overall though I would say Barcelona is my favourite. I really like Miami too, they have a lot of opportunities for artists there so there is always something going on.
What would you tell a young person who has a passion for something like the arts which perhaps may not provide the most stability in their life?
I would say that it is very much worth it and to continue forward with it. It is a wonderful achievement to be able to create something with your own hands and to persevere. When I was younger I would day dream and think “maybe one day I will paint in New York City” and to date my art has taken me there and to many other places. I have painted in New York City next to some of the best graffiti artists— true legends of graffiti. So a lot of things have happened to me because of my art and you have to believe in yourself. I think you have to chase your dreams whether it is to become a photographer, a painter, an artist, or whatever else. I have friends who are lawyers and work in offices who possess a true talent for art who nowadays have a desire to go outside of their comfort zone and try something else. I think that if you have a passion and desire you should go for it. Of course you also have to study, it doesn’t help to just stay at home and draw or read on the internet— go take a course, go study, save money and travel to learn. Like I said, study, it is what I always say— nothing is going to fall from the sky. We do not have a lot of knowledge, we have to go out and get it ourselves. People ask what the formula is for success but no formula exists, you have to educate yourself so that when you arrive at a job or a project, you are ready with the knowledge and skills to be able to get things done.
So the last question for you is, what does success mean to you?
That is a tough one to answer. Success is being to able to live my life doing my art in a country where it is difficult to do so. It is being able to go after your dreams, to work hard, and never stop learning— always improving yourself. It is being able to help the people around you with your art in any way that you can. For me, that is success. It is not about being famous or anything like that— not to say that it is not cool to be invited to events and what not, but having people like you guys reach out and set this interview up to just talk is so much cooler.
That’s it— that is what fuels me, that is what brings me joy.