There are flourishes of Pixaçao around the city of Barcelona, and one of the most characteristic and accomplished tags belongs to Keps. We discovered that it is not the name of an individual, rather a “turma”, or gang, with the main representative living here in our city whose tag is Rick. The Keps gang, or family, as he calls it, actually includes three sub crews: RDI = RENACIDOS DO INFERNO, AQUI É NINJA and SEM ELAS NÃO VIVO.
As we learnt from a conversation with São Paulo native Ricks, the pixaçao movement has several paralells with graffiti, but the context in the city it has developed are very different to our European experience of painting. Dangerous missions, armed locals and corrupt cops are vocational hazards for the pixadores.
MTN World first encountered Ricks at the B-Murals urban art center, where he did a live demonstration of his technique. A few weeks later, we sat down with him in the back room of a speakeasy to hear his story, starting with a question about privacy on social media.
I wanted to ask you why your Instagram account is private?
I could have it open. I’m not an influencer, but about eight or ten people want to follow me every day. My account’s private because my culture is not to show myself, you know? I want to be hidden, to be an unknown. The collaboration with Montana meant opening some doors, exposing myself to a bigger world. I know Montana is a very big brand globally and it gives me a little bit of support. Personally, I don’t have to hide. I know who likes what I do and who doesn’t. Look, this is what I do.
Barcelona, in particular, is a place with a certain tolerance for painting. I have seen videos of you painting in the daytime. I guess you don’t have much trouble.
Yes. I usually paint during the day, but in an illegal way. Here, there is a bit of tolerance and whether you like it or not, the street is a bit easier. In São Paulo, where I came from, where I grew up and where I started, painting pixaçao is different. You have to pay attention to everything: the neighbors, theives, and drug dealers. You know? You also have to watch out for people with firearms, which is actually the majority. So, it’s a more difficult process. It ends up being harder.
So here the conditions are easier?
Here the conditions are better. They are much easier. Yes.
When you arrived in Barcelona did you think it was a free for all?
Exactly. I thought it was an amusement park. In Brazil, have an expression to say that things are very easy. We say it’s like a “parquinho,” the diminutive of a park. And of course, I thought this city was like a parquinho for me. When I got here and put everything I learnt in Brazil into practice, it ended up being easy, you know? I have some tricks that I use here in the street that are very good. I’ve been painting pixaçao for sixteen years. I’ve been caught by the cops a few times, but I put my tactics and my experiences I’ve had on the streets of Brazil into practice here and it’s very easy.
“…But they just took us there to scare us. They took out their guns, put them to our heads, fingers on the triggers, saying: ‘Now you’re going to die.’
It happens. These things don’t make us stop though. They’re life experiences.”
Explain to me where you’re from. What kind of place is it? What was your neighborhood like?
I am originally from São Paulo, where the Pixaçao movement was born. I’m from the east of São Paulo, from a neighborhood called Vila Industrial, a neighborhood on the outskirts. It’s not a favela, but it’s near to some. It’s not a dangerous neighborhood. It’s a place with humble people, very hard-working people. I was born and raised there, in Vila Industrial.
Did everyone do pixaçao at school? Did eveyone have a tag?
Of course. I got into Keps because there were people from my neighborhood who wrote it.
So Keps is a crew?
It ended up being a crew. Today there aren’t many active people, but years ago, there were. I can tell you the name of the person who put me in the crew. Marcio. Then Edo joined, who also lived near us. In high school sat together. Another strong representative of our crew before was Junior, who wrote JRN.
At high school, there wasn’t only pixaçao, there were also people who did graffiti and people who did throw ups, but most of them followed the instinct of the local culture, which is pixaçao.
Tell us a little bit of history of the movement. What do you know about the first pixadores?
Everyone there knows the story. Yes. Most people know that the story began in the 80’s. It started in the 80’s with names, with letters based on rock bands. In fact, one of the first pixadores was a guy who tagged the name of his family’s dog kennel as advertising.
Over the years, there have been a lot of crews, or “turmas” as we say there, that have brought the pixaçao to the street.
“If you get caught painting a lot can happen. It depends on the mood of this policeman.
The police are useless everywhere, whether it’s in Brazil or Spain, although here they are a little more polite and try to follow procedure.”
What materials do they use?
A little bit of everything, because in Brazil, the situation is different. The economy is different. A spray can is not as cheap as here, it’s not as accessible. Personally, I started painting quite a bit with paint rollers because I didn’t have that much money to buy cans. Then when you get a job you look for ways to earn money to buy cans. But you end up using everything. You use paints, rollers and markers, too. One thing that’s widely used in Brazil is chalk.
Yes, but chalk is buffed quickly, isn’t it?
Actually, no! Some chalks are produced there and made with melted paraffin. There’s a whole movement using it.
Do you think that painting higher and higher comes from the desire not to paint over other peoples’ tags?
No, people paint above everything to stand out more, you know? They want to show what they are capable of doing. And that’s why we paint higher. It’s a sport, like climbing.
It’s very physical and very technical too: you have to know where to go and how to climb. People don’t climb to avoid painting over other tags. Not covering other work is universal rule in Brazil, both with graffiti and pixaçao, as well as for people who tag. There’s a general mutual respect, you know?
But surely there’s beef between crews…
Yes, there is. There are writers who paint to do graffiti and paint on walls where there was an old pixaçao. That could lead to some kind of conflict or fight there, but normally there’s more respect than here. There is no respect here. Pieces last one day: you spend a lot of money to do a piece, you buy the cans and the next day you don’t even have a photo. It looks like you had never painted, you know? There is a certain respect in Brazil based on all that.
Is there beef between Pixação crews?
Yes. There are many fights because there are rival pixaçao crews. And there are pixadores who paint on top of each other. There are always conflicts.
Would you say they were healthy conflicts?
Some are healthy and some are bad. People have died. I know someone who was killed because he covered a tag.
It even happened to a close friend of mine. They ran him over and took his life.
Yes, but we know when a line had been crossed, because we live it and we want respect. We want to be active, to be seen. If I spend nights on the street doing pixaçao, I want people within the movement at least to have a respect. And that’s why these conflicts happen.
What have you experienced whilst painting in São Paulo?
A lot of extreme things have happened to me. A lot of funny stuff too. Every day is an adventure. Like I told you before, in São Paulo, crime is something very, very normal. You have to be attentive to everything. It’s not four, it’s eight eyes. You need to have eight eyes peeled and be very aware.
“People don’t climb to avoid painting over other tags. Not covering other work is universal rule in Brazil, both with graffiti and pixaçao, as well as for people who tag. There’s a general mutual respect, you know?”
But do you remember a night that has been more extreme than others?
Yes. One time after coming home from doing pixaçao on the outskirts. You are always buzzing when you get home after doing a very high climb. You don’t want to stop. I went home with another friend of mine, Mortais CD. So we went home, we got more cans and we went to paint near where we lived. And like I told you, everyone has weapons around there.
He was hanging from a window on a street, when suddenly a shot rang out that came from inside and hit my partner.
Did he fall?
No, he didn’t fall. He caught the bullet in his back. But he held on, and we came down from the window. The only thing that occurred to me was stop a bus and fake a hijack. I said to the bus driver, “Please, go straight to the hospital, because my friend has a bullet in his back.” The driver was carrying workers because it was the first thing in the morning. He got up and told all the passengers what was happening. He said, “Look we’ve got two young people here, one has been shot and we’re going to the hospital.” Some workers got off at stops on the way, but the driver sped straight to the hospital.
That experience left me quite traumatized.
How old were you?
I think I was 17 years old. We started very young.
Did he get over it?
Well, to this day yes, he’s still alive. Mortais has a bar in the middle of Heliopolis and is a great friend of mine. But the experience really shook us.
Did he make him stop painting?
No, he didn’t stop painting. I think other circumstances of life made him stop. But not that. People into pixaçao won’t stop over few bullets.
What if you get caught by the police there?
If you get caught painting a lot can happen. It depends on the mood of this policeman. The police are useless everywhere, whether it’s in Brazil or Spain, although here they are a little more polite and try to follow procedure.
So in Brazil they assault you?
You can get beaten. One time I was with some friends, Mortais, Ricardo and Luis. We were painting in the outskirts in the west of São Paulo when the police caught us and took us to a place in the middle of nowhere. They put us against the wall. Some of the cops were old. We thought they were gonna kill us there and then. We thought it was the end.
But they just took us there to scare us. They took out their guns, put them to our heads, fingers on the triggers, saying: “Now you’re going to die.”
It happens. These things don’t make us stop though. They’re life experiences.
Is court and jail time a possibility?
My first trial against the state of São Paulo was back in in 2001 with CTS Luis and Mortais CD. They took us to the police station. We had to pay a fine. I’ve been caught like 17 times.
Arrested 17 times. You go to the police station; you stay the night or a couple of days. First, they give you community service. At the time, I was working and they wanted to give me a fine, and go to a school in my neighborhood to clean the school. Because I was working, I proved that I didn’t have time. So they made me pay as a basic fine that covered food for poor families.
So who exactly forms part of the KEPS family?
BXN, MRC, EDU, DNL, KOKI, JNR, CELO, CLE, DIG, DAV, NAN and RICK are the members of the crew, who are all from São Paolo. Obviously, I wasn’t the one who created Keps. It started with a kid from my neighborhood. To this day, I can’t forget him, because he’s part of this story. That’s why I name all the previous members there. My tag is Rick.
Nowadays I’m the one who pushes Keps. I’m the one who has the most active voice in the crew. If I meet a kid who wants to join, I open the doors for them.
But it has to be pixaçao style.
Yes, it must be the pixaçao style. A person who in contact with the street. They don’t have to be from the favela, because pixaçao opens doors through different worlds. It must be a person who shows a lot of desire to paint and follow the line of painting we have.
So the art of pixaçao is all in the tag. But you could consider the action as a type of performance art or dance.
The performance is part of the art. We don’t say that it is a dance because it is not a party. It’s a risk an adventure.
If you compare how I climb with how you do it, people could say that you dance.
Yes, obviously the pixador has a lot of practice. The pixador, as you said, has to be prepared, and have a plan. But I don’t think it’s a dance. It’s an adventure because I risk more than you. If you climb, I climb higher, I risk more than you. Pixaçao is about risk in general.
You also do studio work, right? Shows?
Yes, I’ve been invited to the odd show. And the Montana family opened doors for me with the people of Bmurals, who are developing a project to do with pixaçao. In the future they want to do something with me. Nothing is confirmed, but they want to bring the pixaçao movement to the whole world.
If I can have a show inside a gallery to demonstrate what pixaçao is – what I’ve experienced on the street, all those experiences I’ve had – I’ll do it too. Because at the end of the day it’s thanks to the whole movement. I think it adds value. I’ve had the opportunity to come to Europe and live here, unlike most other pixadores from São Paulo. And if I have this opportunity, I’ll take advantage of it.
Find out more about Montana Colors in Brazil in this interview with the Montana Shop São Paulo.