Spray art

Most artists create on canvas or paper. Not the Portuguese Dário Silva (29), better known as Sen. Together with his south-African friend Sergio (33), a.k.a. Bean, the Olhão born artist uses the walls of the seaside city as canvas for his creations.

Pictures by Kyle Rodriguez

See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine March 2016

A drive through the city is like a tour through a gallery. With the central piece being the giant colourful fish on Vivenda Vitória, the work of Sen and Bean, together known as Blubla, can be seen on almost every second corner. This morning, they drive up to an abandoned bakery in the northern part of Olhão where an old gas tank gets selected. With quick movements, the guys start to paint. A tiny spray in the air, to check if it comes out straight, then directly on to the tank without any prior sketching. Pink, purple, green and orange are used in abundance: “We like strong colours.” The different sizes of the caps determine the spray. Like brushes to a painter; the variation in nozzles ranges from a wide spray to one as small as a felt tip stroke. Freestyling, the artists plan their work as they go along, not knowing at the beginning what the end result will be.

In the beginning, Dário could be found in the police station every single day

It’s hard to imagine now, but before the nineties, Olhão was graffiti-less. It all started when Dário was 14 years old and decided to paint his bike with some spray cans. He ended up repainting it in different colours every single weekend. One time, he used the cans to write his name on the wall. Still, he didn’t know anything about graffiti. It was on a trip with his dad (a civil construction painter), to Quarteira and Faro, when he first encountered the underground street art. “I saw it and thought ‘WOW. It just clicked in my head.” From that moment, every spare hour was spent painting. “Every day, my mother would give me €2 to buy lunch at school,” Dário remembers. “However, I didn’t eat. I saved the money to buy spray cans.” His parents allowed the young Dário his hobby, as long as he was home before dark. “One night, I told my mum that I went for a pizza with my friends, but we went painting instead. Unfortunately, she drove by and saw me. She wasn’t pleased.” After that, Dário only painted during daytime. “I was more afraid of my mum than of the police.”

Graffiti used to be illegal in Olhão, but nowadays it’s tolerated. “Dário could be found in the police station every single day in the beginning. They got tired of bringing him in after a few months,” Sergio laughs. Dário smiles too: “The police in Olhão are great, sometimes they even stop by to admire our work. Also, I ask the owners of the wall permission before I start painting. If they don’t want it, fine, I’ll search another spot. By now, Olhão’s residents have accepted that this city is the graffiti capital of the Algarve; they know our names and most of them are really happy when we cheer up their neighbourhood.” Still, when working in other parts of Portugal, or even in the Algarve, the artists have gotten in trouble with the police. Sergio: “In Albufeira the cops were horrible, but mostly they’re OK. Some years ago, we used to run away from the police, not anymore, it only gets you bruised and scratched. Nowadays, we just stay and talk to them.”

Running away seems pointless anyway as Dário’s van gives him away as a graffiti artist instantly. Every inch of its surface is covered in paint. Inside, naturally you’ll find a lot of spray cans. But also ladders, buckets and rollers. Buckets and rollers? Yes, at €3,50 a can, using just spray cans is an expensive way of painting. Dario and Sergio were one of the first artists in Portugal solving this problem by using rollers and buckets of paint to fill in large surfaces. They also do this today; the red and pink paint comes from buckets. This way of working also decreases the toxic aerosol fumes. Dário has already had lung problems because of the spray cans and today the artists have forgotten their mouthpieces. Although the strong wind blows away most of the aerosol fumes, it still smells chemically. An empty paint bucket doubles as a step to get to the top end of the tank. On the side, Dário quickly paints an Enjoy the Algarve–style gecko, but the main piece, created in less than half an hour, is the name of their crew, Blubla.

Naturally, it’s signed off with their artist names, Sen and Bean. But why do graffiti artists often merely tag walls, sometimes only writing down their names instead of creating some, well, artier pieces? Dário: “When you start painting, you’re a bit egocentric and you just want to leave your name everywhere, as a mark. Afterwards, that isn’t the reason anymore, but because you’ve practised it so many times, it’s something that you can do very quick, also in difficult situations such as on a round surface here.” He’s right – not many regular painters would be able to do any work on an oddly shaped canvas, like a tank. Dário continues: “To me there’s a difference between ‘bombing’, just writing obscenities or random letters, and creating your crew logo.” Sergio can’t explain the need to tag: “I just like it. So I do it. On the way from Lisbon back to the Algarve, our names now can be seen everywhere. Why? It’s something unexplainable, only painters can understand.”

Some people consider graffiti vandalism. “We don’t,” is the answer of the artists. When pressed for a further comment: “Everyone is different. Some people like men, others like women, that’s just the way it is. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions; some people like graffiti, others don’t. We don’t care what other people think.” Other people are crazy about it – but in a good way. When walking on the street, the duo often gets recognised; in the last few years they’ve built up a cult following in the Algarve. “Funny enough, mostly older people come up to us and say that it looks nice,” says Sergio. “Young kids can’t be bothered; they hardly ever look, they’re mostly tapping away on their mobile phones, eyes glued to the screen.” Also the public at Dário’s current exposition in Faro is mixed, as are his paintings: ranging from an expressive variety of colours to a bright green frog, ready to jump out at you.

One example of his more realistic work is the Portuguese fishing boat the duo painted on the N125 in Olhão last year. “I’ve always wanted to paint that wall, ever since I was a kid,” Dário explains. “We asked the owner and he agreed on one condition: as long as we’d paint his boat. So we arranged a crane and went for it. It took us three days. It could have been done faster, but when we do what we like, we spend hours and hours.” Some owners even pay the two to make their building look nicer. A good thing, as graffiti is an expensive hobby. Both men can live from their art now, and are booked full for the coming months. Painting for restaurants, rooms and clubs, or parents who want a bedroom for their children designed in a special way. They’ve just gone to Lisbon to work on a cultural project and returned with some leftover full cans, allowing them to paint for the next few days.

Still, it isn’t a profession that makes you rich. There are exceptions: in the UK, a piece by Banksy, considered by some graffiti painters as a cheat because he uses stencils, has been sold at an auction for $1.2 million. In the Algarve though, prices like that aren’t likely. “They’d pay a normal painter easily a few thousand euros to pain an entire factory hall white. But they won’t pay us even half the amount for painting it in all kind of colours,” Sergio states as he shakes his head. Like with most artists, the men’s passion makes up for the lack of euro’s they receive.

Sergio: “To me, graffiti is important. On Christmas night, for example, I care more about painting than about having a dinner together with my family. It makes me happy.” Same goes for Dário. “It’s my life. If I don’t paint for a day, I get frustrated. I need to paint.” It shows: the inside of his house is colourful; walls, mirrors, even the ceiling is decorated with a giant painting of a bird. “It can be done anywhere: company truck, wheelchairs, shoes, you name it, I spray it.” As they add the finishing touches (some black paint as shadows for a 3D effect, a few white lines to create a glistering), and step back for a final look at their creation before they walk back to the van, it’s clear. For Dário and Sergio, spraying graffiti is more than just art; it’s a lifestyle.


See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine March 2016

Posted in Features, People.