What is it about Os Gemeos that is so universally appealing? For photographer and co-author of Subway Art Martha Cooper, it’s simple. She says, “The artwork is perfectly charming and there’s just a lot to look at. I think they have amazing imaginations, and it translates on to whatever they’re painting.” You don’t need to read an essay to enjoy their art. Most of the time, Os Gemeos are either having fun with street art or inviting you into their vision of reality. Otavio says that everyone lives in a different world, and Os Gemeos don’t want to manipulate those worlds. They just give everyone the option of including Os Gemeos in their own unique understanding of the world. Maybe people will even ignore the work, and that’s okay too. Otavio says, “It’s like music. You play it, and if you want to listen, you can listen. If you want to dance, you can dance. If you want to not listen, you can turn off your radio.”
Unfortunately it seems that Fernando Haddad, the new mayor of Sao Paulo, does not see things that way. Os Gemeos still try to go out on Sunday afternoons to paint, a Brazilian tradition dating back to when writers painted on Sunday to avoid the authorities. Noticing that Haddad has been aggressively buffing their work, they found a wall under an overpass and painted a character that was writing a note to the mayor. The note reminded the mayor that the city has far more significant problems than a bit of graffiti, and that removing it was a waste of money that could be spent on more important things. That piece was, naturally, painted over as well. So Os Gemeos repainted the wall with another note, questioning the mayor’s commitment to culture: "Mr mayor to erase art is to erase culture and to erase culture is disrespecting the people." That piece was painted over in less than 24 hours, so Os Gemeos struck back with a character emerging from the wall. That too has been removed.
While Os Gemeos are not afraid to take on City Hall or be political, it’s not really what they are about. They are driven by love and the bonds of family.
Os Gemeos say that they will keep fighting back, repainting the wall whenever they can. They see the mayor as going after street art to distract from his lack of progress in fixing the more serious problems of Sao Paulo, but Os Gemeos want the new generation of graf writers to have the same opportunities for free public expression that they have had. Gustavo says, “Sunday has become the day of graffiti [in Sao Paulo].” It’s become a part of the fabric of the city, a way for participants and observers to find joy in a difficult place, and Os Gemeos won’t let the mayor stamp that out.
But while Os Gemeos are not afraid to take on City Hall or be political, it’s not really what they are about. They are driven by love and the bonds of family. Paintings by their mother and father have pride of place in their office, and they have so much love for everything they make that they speak of missing their old artworks that have been sold or destroyed by the elements.
Gustavo says that they pick projects based on whether or not the opportunity offers them the right tools to bring about their vision. This may be why, even when collaborating with major brands like Hennessy and Nike, Os Gemeos never seem like they are selling out. Rather, their collaborations with brands stay true to the twins’ artistic vision. Their new bottle for Hennessy doesn’t look like something they had an assistant put together from existing imagery. It looks like a bottle that’s come straight from their universe and might be found in one of their gallery installations.
Os Gemeos are busy preparing for a major installation and solo show at Galeria Fortes Vilaça in Sao Paulo, which will open in March of 2014. Indoors, the twins are at their best when they are making their immersive installations, which can transform white-walled galleries into manifestations of their surreal reality. An Os Gemeos installation can include elements of live and recorded video, audio recordings, sculpture, painting, live musical performances and anything else they want as long as it helps bring their world, they way they see reality, to the rest of us.
Even with seemingly endless opportunities before them, Os Gemeos remain remarkably down-to-earth and connected to their roots. Their niece, older brother, and sister-in-law all work at their studio. When they travel to New York City and visit with Martha Cooper, they bring her gifts like religious charms from Brazil to add to her collection. Their love of hip-hop has stayed with them into adulthood. Os Gemeos still regularly spend their days flipping through books of 1980s subway art and watching classic movies like Style Wars.
When they had their first North American solo show in 2003 at The Luggage Store, they lived for over a month with co-founders Darryl Smith and Laurie Lazer and their son Yarrow Lazer-Smith. Smith and Lazer had been waiting years to show Os Gemeos, after being introduced to their work through McGee. There’s still a small painting by Os Gemeos in adjacent to their house, painted for their son Yarrow during that visit. Later this summer, Os Gemeos’ are headed to San Francisco to repaint their decade-old mural above The Luggage Store. The rooftop mural overlooking Market Street is not in great shape, so the twins have made a new design for the spot. But their reasons for repainting the wall aren’t about ego or concern that the mural has started to fade. It all goes back to love. They are excited to see their friend Barry McGee in San Francisco and both brothers cite their love of the gallery and the way that Darryl, Laurie and Yarrow are a part of their family.
Gustavo explains his reasoning for trip, “It’s very simple. There’s no money. There’s no brand. There’s nothing involved. It’s just being close to friends that we like. We’ll spend some time on the roof of The Luggage Store with friends and have a great time.”
Look at just about anything Os Gemeos makes, and that love and enthusiasm shines through. Os Gemeos aren’t all that complicated. There’s a lot there, yes, but really they just want to have a great time—and take us all along for the ride.
Also check out Os Gemeos on Complex TV's Complex Artist Spotlight below.