Upper Playground Exclusive: Interview with Bicicleta Sem Freio

Brazilian duo, Bicicleta Sem Freio (BSF) landed in San Francisco this month to prepare for their first ever US solo show at Fifty24SF Gallery titled “This Is Not A Poster”.

Widely recognized for their colorful illustrations and murals around the world, the two master illustrators are taking “This Is Not A Poster” as an opportunity to meditate on the art of poster making to present a new body of original work.

In anticipation of the show opening this week, we ask BSF a few questions to better understand their practice and chemistry of how two talented artists work together as “Bicicleta Sem Freio”.

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Interview by Jy-Ah Min for Upper Playground

J: We are excited to present original works by BSF for the first time in the US. Tell us a bit about the origin of the name, Bicicleta Sem Freio which translates to “Bicycles Without Breaks”. When did the name emerge?

BSF: The name came about when we were in college, we went to a congress of students, we saw many lectures professionals and decided to come together and work. At first we wanted a very unpretentious and fun name. We had no idea what was going to happen after.

J: So Art, Design and Rock & Roll. How do you combine all these elements in your process?

BSF: We believe that there are no differences between these concepts. Music, art and design are for us completely mixed as they are all part of our day to day life. We have always been doing poster design first for our friends and we love this form of illustration.

J: We often view Art and Illustration as a very subjective and personal process for the artist. So it’s rare to see two individuals work so closely together under one banner. What is the work dynamic like for BSF?

BSF: In the beginning we were designing together, but over time each one developed more personal traits and style. But the process is always shared and jointly agreed. We consult each other a lot. We are our own critics.

J: The title of the show, “This Is Not A Poster” refers to new works that reflect on all the years you’ve spent illustrating posters for music bands and festivals. But these new works have no band and no music behind them right? Or do they?

BSF: People are used to look at posters with an information to read. One of our intention is to hold the viewer, making him look more purely on the visual and feel free to imagine and create his own interpretation of it.

J: It’s interesting to hear that your aim is to free the imaginations of the viewer instead of guiding them to a specific direction.  Could you tell us about how you determine what goes into each work? Is it an instinctive process or more layered and systematic in determining how the details come together?

BSF: Our work is pretty much instinctive and very experimental. We are always adding new elements and taking some off. We try new colors all the time, very weird sometimes and also new patterns too. We don’t have any idea of how it will end up and look like. We try to have fun during the process and to not repeat ourself. If not it will be like a formula and we will be quickly bored and probably our public too.

J: So your visual strategy to hold the viewer results in works that have a lot of random energy, movement and color with a lot of detail. When do you know when it’s done?

BSF: Well its never done to be honest, i could work on these pieces forever as we love details but at some point we need to give up and move mostly because of dead-line (lol) or space on the sheet or canvas!

J: If I am a fly on the wall in your studio, what would I hear?

BSF: We enjoy Hellbenders, its a band from our city.




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Hush is the moniker of UK-based artist known worldwide for his beautifully constructed abstract Geisha images that are a juxtaposition of both traditional graffiti and abstract expressionism. Heavily inspired by the aesthetic of street art and armed with an in-depth technique that includes painting, screen printing, spray-painting and collage, he has continued to create new works that instantly draw the eye in and holds the viewer’s focus. —James Pawlish / The Citrus Report

JP: Who is HUSH? Tells us a little bit about yourself. How long have you been making art, did you have any sort of formal training?

Hush: I’ve been making art all my life, from first experiences in graffiti to graphic design. I always made my own art and have been painting seriously for the last fifteen years. I studied illustration & graphic design at art school for five years.

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I read an interview where you used the phrases “action painting” and “pure expressionism” to describe your practice. Do you find abstract expressionism and graffiti to have similarities in terms of approach and hand style?

I think now that graffiti has had time to be reflected on as an art form, there would be a serious argument for the action of tagging, dubs etc to be taken seriously as a form of abstract expressionism or action painting and can be seen as a contemporary art form. Of course this is down to the viewers discretion, but that is true in how all art is viewed I suppose.

Tell us a bit about your creative process and the method of distressing your canvases.

I play with lots of ideas in the paintings that I make and like to reference a lot of movements, past and present. I have always loved that old graf rule about how a throw can go over a tag, a dub over a throw, a piece over a dub and so on.

I love the transient way in which work on the street evolves and usually looks more at home the longer it settles, gets tagged over, degrades and fades. I try to create all these actions and mistakes in the studio. I always create two of each painting and work on them simultaneously, partly for the fact that I will take more risks on one, so my work progresses; there does come a point where I will only finish one as it becomes obvious which one is working.

I also do this so that when i make a new painting i can go over the discarded painting and leave remains of it visible to the viewer. I kind of take pleasure in knowing that there was a good piece and lots of work underneath a painting. It always feels uncomfortable working on a clean canvas, I like the feel and textures of a worked-on canvas. It gives it some life straight away and the complexity of a piece matters to me, I like the viewer to discover this.

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I understand you worked in Japan for quite some time…What was that like, and how did it shape your style?

I worked and lived in South East Asia for a few years; it was an extremely important influence on my life both philosophically and visually. The way the East, especially the youth, adopt western styles and cultural influences but struggle with holding onto traditional values is of interest to me and my work. The place is a melting pot and very inspirational. It has influenced my work greatly and has me thinking about a combination of factors; when you add my interpretation of this, we end up with a very eclectic mix. I try to capture and contradict these cross cultural differences and influences in my work.

Your work seems to be a juxtaposition of everything from pop art and abstraction to anime and comics. Are you tying to break the bridge between “high” and “low” art?

Not so much the anime these days but it is still an influence. However, when I see graffiti, especially tagging, as a form of expressionism or a political action, and when lots of it is seen in one place on the street, it creates a visual image like nothing else I can compare it to. It’s beautiful.

Taking it from the street and applying it to the work you make in the gallery setting is difficult. That’s why I approach it as action painting; it could easily be determined as abstract expressionism also. You need to capture that instantaneous decision to make the mark. That’s why I have canvases continuously around the studio. I throw everything at them, tag them, throws, the lot. It feels like it carries a bit of that excitement. It also places this movement into a category that is continuing to build on past art movements, which every new movement does.

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A large portion of your work is centered on the female form. Is there any specific reason why?

I like to keep the eyes dark so the viewer can’t connect with the personality, the figures then become somewhat serene or mysterious. The figures are important in finishing the composition of the piece as before they are formed it’s purely abstraction.

When I make my art I try to translate my interest in tagging, graff, decay and street art aesthetics into my work and juxtapose it with images of beauty, sensuality and the female form; allowing the later to be seen in a more positive way. The act of a tag is no doubt beautiful in its own right but fusing the two together in an expressionist action creates something in its own right and puts questions out there.

What artists have been a big influence on you?

There’s a lot of talent out there but my real influences are Eduardo Paolozzi, Mimmo Rotella, Matthew Ritche, Takashi Murakami, Designers Republic, Inka Essenhigh, Simon Bisley, Roy Lichenstien, Banksy, Peter Blake, Vaughan Oliver, Ian Swift and Robert Rauschenberg, to name a few. James Jean, David Choe, Connor Harrington, and Brad Downey have all been creating fantastic work lately.

I’m influenced by every person in the scene. Probably every artist, past and future! Definitely music has an influence on my work, coming from that whole dance music, electro, hip hop scene, it just makes the work more relevant and seems to make sense in the way that it compliments the work – even in the way that it doesn’t take itself too seriously as well.

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You’re not a stranger to San Francisco, having had a sold out show in 2010 at Shooting Gallery. What is it you love about the city? Do you find yourself getting inspiration from the local arts scene?

I’ve shown a few times here now with Fifty24SF Gallery, Shooting Gallery, White Walls & 941 Geary. I love the place, the people, the liberal attitudes, everybody seems to have a creative awareness here, it’s a very inspiring place. I have had the pleasure of meeting and hooking up with a lot of artists living and working in SF from Apex, Neon & Vulcan to Eine, Blek le Rat & Roa to Aaron Nagel, Casey Gray & Brett Armory…. from that list you can imagine how inspiring it can be.

BNE on 12ozProphet

Great interview with BNE on 12ozPropeht about his new project, the BNE Water Foundation. When you get your name this big on your own terms, turn it into some positive and greater than yourself. That is what BNE is doing to get clean water to villages, towns, and cities that need it around the world. Big name, big cause. Read up.


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There are a lot of people that claim to do things just for the love, but it is usually these people that are the farthest from it.  The people that are honestly walking that line, aren’t talking about why they are doing anything and don’t need to.  It is apparent in their daily life how vital their need to paint and create really is.  Starting his career in the upswing of the 1990’s San Francisco graff scene, Geso quickly made a name for himself and perfected styles that have become some of the most respected and bitten over the years.  To stay ahead of the curve he has innovated and evolved in ways that have kept his graffiti fresh and inventive.
For these reasons it did not surprise me that I was as excited about the canvases he has been painting lately as I am with his graff.  The balance and use of color in his paintings are mature and well executed.  His work feels like a modern continuation of Rothko or Still or many other great historic abstract works.  But what else could we expect from someone that has always pushed the boundaries and has been such an innovator over the years. —Ronnie Wrest / The Citrus Report

What everyone really wants to know… is what you eat for breakfast?

Coca Cola Classic.

You came up painting in the good old days before instant fame and gratification of the internet. How long have you been painting and what all has changed during your career?

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When I came up you had to make graff a job.  You had to hit major streets with multiple tags and fillins.  I remember tagging on every paper machine on market like 3 tags on each side with mops.  I would go out with tons of mops and paint and not come back until it was all gone.  We use to do like 20 tags on each block and I was a kid coming up with older better writers.  They took me under their wing and taught me the basics and i rolled with it.  You honestly had to go out every night for months at a time and hit good spots that people would talk about and then your name and street cred would spread.  I think I have been painting like 19 years or more and I have seen my share of changes, mostly when the graff mags hit and now the internet wave.  The time and effort is no longer needed to most people when you can build a web site of your name and do 10 peices in all different styles with fancy paint and you get famous.  You can blog your whole career and never do shit.  I know people with big names that have done this shit.  I think its time the people who have been around for years going to jail for graff and pouring tons of their soul into something so pointless should get some fucking credit.  We risk everything just to get that tag up.  When we know it might get buffed the next day.  We wasted our lives to put letters that mean nothing on a train or some surface….

I can’t believe it’s for nothing… You have to enjoy the act of it or seeing that train roll by 2 or 3 or 10 years later?

Its crazy you work all these years to build a name and when you get the fame and everything you wanted it all comes with other bad stuff like people making fake stories up about you and trying to smut your name up so they can get attention.  I guess its cool to see old freights going by.  It brings back memories of a better time.  When they go by you remember the night and what happen and who you were with.  Each one has a secret story behind them that only you know.  People don’t understand what it takes to do the things we do.  I really don’t care about graff and trains like I said its more of what I went through to do it than the finished product.  I hate all of my old stuff so most times I close my eyes when old ones go by….

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What brought about the abstraction in your graffiti a few years back?

I had lots of people nibbling on the previous styles and I feel like my stuff just morphed into what ever it is now.  I didn’t pick a day and say i will change my stuff on that date.  I also felt bored and not challenged.  My style of pieces formed from trying to do a style to cover up nasty graff on toyed out trains… in the dark. That explains the white I like to use and the stretched out letters, I wanted to cover space.

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You started sharing your canvases on flickr a few months back. You obviously did not just start painting them; did something push you to put them out there?

I have been painting art for years i started doing that style when I was 13 in art class and I have sold a bunch to people that didnt know about graff , but liked my art.  I showed a few to some friends and they said that people were probably ready to see them now.  They were saying they would be more acceptable now that everyone likes abstract stuff.  I posted a few unwillingly and 5 sold the first day.  After that I have been posting a few a month and selling them.

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While your canvas work is abstract it is really different from your graffiti in many ways. Do the two have an influence on one another?

I think they are two different passions of mine that stem from two different worlds.  I don’t want to sell graff like I don’t want to draw some graff peice on a canvas and call it art cause its not.  I will do a tag on them sometimes because people want a tag and to sell a painting I sometimes do that.  I want my art to be art, not some stupid graffiti.  I can explain it… I have like 5 different personalities.  One is a graff writer, a fisherman, a criminal, and a family man.  I cant figure it out… oh and a furniture hustler…

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Which one is painting all your canvases?

Its the art fag oh I forgot to mention him.

I see similarities to many different styles of abstraction in your canvases. Have you had influence from Abstract Expressionism and Color Field painting?

I don’t look at art man.  I just paint what comes out.  I have no influences in my art work.  I don’t type abstract painting into google and paint the same shit i see.  I just fucking paint.  I am not a college graduate, I cant spell that great, I didn’t go to art school or get a art kit from academy of the arts, ha, it’s just in my blood to be creative no matter what I do.  I’m not very knowledgeable on artists and I’m not some art snob.  I don’t care about it i just do it.  Just like graff, I just do what i see in my mind and i try and take whats floating around at the time and put it on canvas.  I also collect and sell expensive furniture from the mid 20th century.  That may have some effect on my brain when im painting.  I think if your around good stuff you will probably do something cool.  Like hanging with rich people you probably will get rich.  Im influenced by lots of architecture and buildings and interior design… but I’m not gay.

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How did you get into the furniture thing?

About 10 years ago I was driving in Oregon and I saw a cool chair along the side of the road I stopped and grabbed it because I liked the shape.  Then I did some research on it later and found someone famous designed it and I sold it for like a thousand dollars.  After that I started doing it non stop and going hard.  I cant reveal all my secrets to get this stuff but I have like 10 tricks up my sleeve and all of them work sometimes.

Who are a couple artists that influence you?

All Artists & Creators… Milo Baughman, T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings, Hans Wegner, Gio Ponti, Tommi Parzinger, Edward Wormley, Andre Arbus, George Nakashima, Jacques Adnet, Jean-Michel Frank, Maison Jansen, Venini, Mies Van Der Rohe,, George Nelson, Karl Springer, Paul Evans, Eames (Ray and Charles), James Mont, Vladimir Kagan, Paul Frankl, Harry Bertoia, Harvey Probber, Jean Royère, Poul Kjaerholm, Jules Leleu, Tony Duquette, Paul Laszlo, William Haines, Jacques Emile, Ruhlmann, Felix Agostini, Walter Lamb, Edgar Brandt, Carlo Mollino, Gino Sarfatti, Gabriella Crespi, Gilbert Poillerat, Pierre Chareau, Poul Henningsen, Samuel Marx, Maria Pergay, Michel Boyer, Marc Duplantier, Paul Dupre-Lafon, Raymond Subes, Jacques Quinet, Florence Knoll, Eero Saarinen, Ico Parisi, Charlotte Perriand, Tétard Freres, Jean-Michel Wilmotte, Robert Crowder, Antoine Schapira, William Conklin, Le Clerc, William B. Durgin, Warren Platner,  Torbjorn Afdal, James Prestini, Massimo Vignelli, Jacques Martin-Ferrieres, Louis O. Pearson, Eero Saarinen, and Jorge Zalszupin

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You have been painting graffiti for almost 20 years. What do you think has allowed you to have this kind of longevity?

I guess just being consistant and not being afraid to try new stuff when you see people making a trend of something.  I can always switch up to something new or something crazy to try and have an impact again and again.  I stay true to myself and do this for me and for fun.  I don’t care about people and what they think and I’m a fucking nut.  I should have stopped years ago or never started painting at all.  Its just honestly out of stupidity.  Anyone with brains would never paint graff for this long for no return..fuck it though… its to late now.

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Will we get to see any of your canvases in a gallery anytime soon?

When I was only 16 I think I had like 3 art shows under my belt already. After that I went on a wild ride and now I’m back doing art hard now, so I hope some galleries will holler at me and understand who I am and what im trying to do and what I have done already.  I’m selling my art, so I know a professional can do a way better job… I just wont hang out with idiots and kiss ass to get an art show.  I’m not going to beg, but I think I deserve it and all my friends are famous off of this.  I’m the only one that never sold out.  Theres some really bad art in galleries because they kiss peoples asses and use everyone to get art shows just to be a artist.  I know who I am so I don’t care what happens… I leave it in your hands.

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So are these paintings going to be something you will be focusing most of your energy on right now?

I’m painting a ton lately but have been painting art sence I was 13 years old, so I’m not new to the art game and I have been around art and artists my entire life.  My mom designs fabrics and is an interior designer.  My grandma is a oil painter, my cousin Tyler does lithos and teaches art.  I grew up with people like Barry Mcgee, Josh Lazcano, Rem, Margret rip, Sam Flores, Sope rip, Felon, Jase, Dave Schubert, Grey pvc, etc…  I had art shows when i was like 16 but I was to young to capitalize on art.  I didn’t know shit and I thought art was gay and I was selling out.  I still think I’m selling out but I guess theres a time for everything.  I may have waited to long and I have missed the curve I think, but maybe it will be my time now.  I sit here waiting for a bone to be thrown at me but it dosnt happen so I have to paint alot and take it into my own hands and do stuff for my self but use my connections and friends I have made over they years…..”time will tell”…


From The Citrus Report

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