For the identical twin painters known as Os Gemeos, making art together is a seamless mind-meld with each other and with their audience.
This feature is a part of Complex's Os Gemeos Week, presented by Hennessy.
When they’re painting together—and when they paint it is always together—Os Gemeos are practically silent. It’s like they are communicating with each other by painting together rather than by having a conversation with words. The Brazilian identical twins Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo have been artistic collaborators under the single identity of Os Gemeos for most of their lives. With all that time together, they seem to have achieved an almost seamless mind-meld through their art. Yes, the finished product is often a stunning painting of a surreal dream world that would be interesting enough on its own, but what really amazes those close to them is the collaboration that Os Gemeos have perfected. Darryl Smith, co-founder of The Luggage Store in San Francisco and a longtime friend of the twins, says, “It’s amazing watching how they work, they way that once they commit to doing something, they go about it without having to talk. There is a seamless integration of the two as one.”
That connection goes beyond their process of painting too. Os Gemeos talk about sharing dreams and having a telepathic connection with one another. As out there as that may sound, that intimate relationship plays a significant role in why they do what they do. Pedro Alonzo, a curator who has worked with Os Gemeos on several occasions, says, “I was skeptical of their telepathy until I saw it happen… They share their inner world, and they want to share parts of it with the rest of us.”
I was skeptical of their telepathy until I saw it happen… They share their inner world, and they want to share parts of it with the rest of us.
—Pedro Alonzo, Curator
Smith describes their work as “folkloric and at times mythological,” and greatly admires “their attention to the dignity and grace of the common person.” Os Gemeos are best known for their use of spraypaint to make mostly yellow-skinned people of all ages, shapes and sizes. Sometimes the characters are outside on a street corner about the size of a person, other times they are 5 stories tall. Sometimes they are painted on canvas or sculpted out of wood. Some are funny, like the man in on a mural in Wynwood, Miami who floats naked on an ocean with his large belly and just the hint of his penis popping out from beneath the waves. Others are serious, like the protesters spraypainting political messages onto walls with a trompe l'oeil effect. On a rooftop overlooking Smith’s gallery The Luggage Store, there’s a mural that Os Gemeos painted back in 2003 of a character holding a lit match, a particularly poignant piece for that location since any major protests in the area will pass by the mural. Their characters exist both in a world quite similar to ours and also in a much more surreal series of dreamscapes loaded with bright colors strange creatures like fish with more characters popping out from their mouths. Today, the world of Os Gemeos is large and complex, in fact they hope you get lost in their installations, but it began with a couple of brothers discovering hip-hop.
Os Gemeos were introduced to art at a young age through their mother, brother, father, and uncles who all made art, but they really got their start in the late ’80s when films like Beat Street introduced hip-hop in Brazil. The twins experimented with every element of hip-hop, rapping and breaking right outside of the cinema whenever Beat Street was shown, but it was in street art that they came to truly excel. When a friend first showed the twins the seminal graffiti book Subway Art, they were so amazed the work that they photocopied every page of the book in black and white and used a pen to label the colors on each piece.
By the time the infamous graf writer and contemporary artist Barry McGee came to Sao Paulo from San Francisco in 1993, Os Gemeos were some of most impressive and prolific writers in town. They were painting their letters with a combination of latex paint for the fill-in and spraypaint for the outlines. McGee took notice their work on the street and eventually met them by calling their phone number, which Os Gemeos would sometimes write next to their pieces so that people would hire them to paint. It was the start of an ongoing cultural exchange between three artists that has spanned continents and decades. Right from the start, McGee introduced Os Gemeos to modern spraypaint caps that allowed for a lot more versatility with cans and showed them the historic documentary Style Wars for the first time. “We used to stay up all night for hours and hours just drawing together, making throw ups... We learned a lot from Barry,” say Os Gemeos.
McGee also functioned as a major advocate for the twins, spreading the word about them back in the states. He introduced Caleb Neelon and Allen Benedikt of 12ozProphet Magazine to Os Gemeos’ work, which led to Neelon and Benedikt making a trip to Sao Paolo themselves for a cover story on the twins, their first piece of press outside of Brazil. They became known around the world for their aerosol art. Most writers are either good at letter or characters, but Os Gemeos prove that writers can do both. But they didn’t stop there. In the last decade they have become at least as well known for their paintings, sculptures, video art and massive murals. They have also expanded their reach far beyond the graf community, with fans like musician Roger Waters and Nike CEO Mark Parker, and shown at museums around the world, from the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles to the TATE Modern in London.