Monday, October 01, 2012

Bel Borba Aqui: Public Art People Actually Like

De la Vega wishes he were Bel Borba.  Dubbed “the people’s Picasso,” his street art has charmed the citizens of Salvador.  Borba never really asks permission, per se, but he sometimes fields requests.  Burt Sun & André Costanini document the artist at work on his sprawling canvas in Bel Borba Aqui (trailer here), which opens this Wednesday in New York at Film Forum.

Borba is a familiar sight on the street of Bahia’s economically depressed capital city.  In fact, his street art has become a source of civic pride.  Stylistically, he is not unlike a Haring, incorporating roughly similar looking figures into his work.  Yet, Borba is a particularly appealing artist, because of his hands on approach, getting into the harnesses and cherry pickers himself to paint entire walls of abandoned buildings.  He is no Jeff Koons or Vik Muniz, largely playing supervisory roles.  Except for the really large scale installations, his staff is only there to resupply him with paint or tiles.

Aesthetically, this is rather refreshing and Borba’s upbeat personality is also undeniably engaging.  At least for Sun and Costanini’s cameras, he is a consistently unassuming but enthusiastic presence. He frankly admits he is always reluctant to turn down a media request, because he still vividly remembers how difficult it was to get press attention when during the early days of his career.  As a result, he is obviously quite comfortable on-camera.

While some of his individual pieces are a bit underwhelming when considered discretely, they all seem to work quite well in dialogue with each other and the city of Salvador.  Yet, perhaps the most pleasing aspect of Aqui is the seductive soundtrack, featuring a host of Bahia recording artists, like Gilberto Gil.

While there is no real arc to Aqui, it is a satisfying experience to watch his work take shape as his native sounds wash across the audience.  Despite its leisurely pace, Aqui is an effective showcase for the artist.  Recommended for fans of Borba, as well as Brazilian art and music in general, Bel Borba Aqui opens this Wednesday (10/3) at New York’s Film Forum.