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Vhils: An Explosive Artist

Born in 1987, Alexandre Farto, who is also known by his artist name of Vhils, has been recognized as an inspiring graffiti writer since the early-to-mid-2000s. 

Who is Alexandre Farto (Vhils)?

Vhils grew up in Seixal, an industrialized suburb of the capital city of Portugal, Lisbon. In his teenage years, he was involved in train bombing graffiti art. During the expansive development of his urban environment during the 1980s and 1990s, Vhils became influenced by the way the walls absorbed the community’s developing changes. In 2007 he moved to London, where he studied at Central Saint Martins College and focused on linking influences of graffiti, which uses defacement and demolition, into his own artistic path.

Vhils’s art focuses on the excavation of surface layers, using construction materials such as drills, hammers, and chisels, to expose the social and historical dimensions buried beneath the surfaces. His signature style is known as bas-relief carving, which focuses on creating figures that project slightly from the given surface, more commonly called low relief. To get his signature look, he uses a variety of techniques and tools to explore contrasts and connections between local and global realities. 

Cherokee Mural by Vhils. Located in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

Much of his work involves detailed facial features chiseled onto the work surface. With these faces, he plays with the idea of identity. He often explores themes specific to the space or city, and most of these faces are people in the local communities. In many cases, Vhils works directly with the community to truly reflect the city with its people.

Locally, Vhils was invited in 2015 to participate in The Unexpected, an urban contemporary art festival held in downtown Fort Smith, Arkansas and curated by Justkids. Vhils used his destructively creative bas-relief technique to create a mural of one of the first photographs made of a Native American Cherokee. The mural is located on Garrison Avenue in Historic Downtown Fort Smith on the side of a building.

Vhils at the Momentary

When the Momentary was coming together, the team decided they wanted signage that expressed a physical element of the old cheese factory. Since Vhils often uses explosives and industrial techniques to create his work, this felt like a great approach to express the Momentary’s mission (and name), of being in the moment, agile and energetic.

On February 19, 2020, Vhils returned to Northwest Arkansas for an intervention titled Planck, a staged explosion performance where an incision of the Momentary’s logo emerged moments after its blast on the west facade of the building. 

The sign combines the Momentary’s physical past (an industrial building), its opening moment (an explosion, a big bang), and its vision for the future (to invite artists to Bentonville to make new work and present remarkable interventions). While the sign itself might not be an artwork in the traditional sense, it is definitely an expression of the artistic talent and skills of Vhils, and a great marker for the start of the Momentary.

Q&A with the Artist

We recently caught up with Vhils to ask him a few questions about his project, Planck, at the Momentary. Check out the Q&A below.

MO: What was your experience like at the Momentary? Was this your first time in Bentonville?
Vhils: It was a great experience. My team and I did a first visit back in 2018 to explore the possibilities for the project. During that visit, we met with the curators and director of the Momentary, as well as with Justkids, our partners for the production of the project, that contacted us in the beginning to discuss it, and we started exploring the prospect of using explosives to create the logo. 

MO: What was the process like? How did you go about finding the location on the building and putting the explosives together?
Vhils: The process ended up being quite complicated and involved various tests both in Portugal and in the US. It also involved some serious coordination with the local authorities and multiple partners for the pyrotechnical side of it. The location on the building was defined in collaboration with the Momentary’s team. 

MO: Are you pleased with how it turned out?
Vhils: Yes, the result was super clean which is really hard to achieve when using explosive charges, and everything went smoothly during the opening, which was a relief! 

MO: Anything additional you’d like to add?
Vhils: Yes, I’d like to convey my very special thanks to all the team members of both the Momentary and Justkids involved in the production of this project – it couldn’t have happened without their fantastic support and expertise. 


Watch the explosion and get an up-close look at the Momentary sign in the video here!

This blog was co-written by Jazlyn Sanderson, interpretation intern.