Credit: Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York and Hong Kong
Osgemeos: 'We want people to fly away when they see our paintings'
Amid the curatorial gloss and big-money deals of Hong Kong Art Week, an international event that concluded last week, identical twins Gustavo and Otavio Pandolfo stood out for their unapologetic escapism. The pair's first solo show in the city, "Déjà Vu," features characteristically dream-like paintings inspired by pop culture, hip-hop and Brazilian folk art.
"We like to give people an opportunity to play with their imaginations -- to see what they want to see," Gustavo said. "We want people to really fly away when they see our work."
1/10 – "The Long Way Home" (2017)
Three decades after breaking into the São Paulo graffiti scene, the brothers (known as Osgemeos, or "The Twins") have been warmly embraced by the institutional art world. But while their work now attracts high-profile collectors and six-figure sums at auction, they appear unaffected by the commercial recognition that surrounds them.
"We come from the graffiti world and the hip-hop world of the 80s and 90s -- this will always be very special," Gustavo said. "We leave (those worlds) sometimes. When we want to go out, we go out. When we want to create installations and sculptures, we do installations and sculptures. But these things will be part of us forever."
'Free to do what we want'
Artists are expected to declare their immunity to the trappings of success. The claim is rarely so convincing, though. Slouched into chairs opposite their sound installation (in which speakers emerge from the mouths of multiple cartoon faces), the brothers dismiss any suggestion that their creative drive has changed over the course of their collective careers.
"We don't believe that we started like 'this' and now we're going like 'that','" Gustavo said, striking a defiant tone.
"We can do this (exhibition) here, we can do other things. We are free to do whatever we want with our work.
"In the streets, when our art is there on a building, it's for everyone who's passing. Here, it's more direct. But what we're painting is the same as what we're always thinking, no matter where. For us it's the same. We don't worry about the inside of the space, or who is going to see it or not."
If the motivations have stayed the same, the forms certainly haven't. In addition to paintings, sculptures and installations, the twins' increasingly diverse portfolio now includes a Boeing 737, which they spent a month painting for Brazilian airline GOL in 2014, and a series of digital animations that appeared on billboards in New York's Times Square in 2015. Their unmistakable style carries through these artworks -- as do the instantly recognizable wide-faced characters who appear in almost all of them.
Gustavo and Otavio also continue to produce stories-tall street murals in cities from San Francisco to Stockholm. And while the twins are now afforded the protection of legitimacy -- not only tolerated, but actively welcomed by city authorities -- they still take a markedly anti-establishment position.
"If people want to paint a train, they should go paint a train; if they want to paint a subway, go paint a subway," Otavio said.
"(The authorities) have to take care of a system that doesn't let people do this. But if you're a graffiti writer and you want to do something -- you have to do it.
"If you're in the streets and you want to paint, just go paint. If they come to stop you, then OK, they can stop you one day. But the next day you can come again."
A 'window' to their world
The Pandolfo twins may navigate multiple worlds, but perhaps there's only one they truly inhabit -- that of their own bounteous imaginations.
It's a world glimpsed at in "Déjà Vu," whose subjects include a shirtless woman kneeling in a fishbowl and a duo wielding a boombox on a graffiti-strewn train. Psychedelic patterns and vivid colors complement the characters' distinctive yellow skin (a shade the brothers claim to both dream in). Each painting seems to jump out from its canvas, with sequins and other materials giving the artworks a dynamic, textural quality.
The exhibition's name alludes to a refreshingly accessible idea: That these paintings offer familiarity to anybody looking at them. Beyond this, however, the twins make no grand claims about what the collection represents.
"Each one is one world," Otavio said. "They're like windows, (and) each painting has one influence and one inspiration."
"Every time is different -- we never repeat anything," Gustavo added. "It's always different characters, always something new."
Throughout the interview, Gustavo does most of the talking. Yet, it feels reasonable to treat one twin as a spokesperson for the other. They have previously discussed their "telepathic" relationship, claiming to never disagree on anything -- not even on small decisions like color choice ("I don't know how to explain it," Gustavo admitted).
Talking about Osgemeos' work, and only ever using the terms "we" or "our," Gustavo seems to speak from a curious shared consciousness as he summarizes the pair's ethos.
"What we believe is about much more than going out and painting," he said. "It's more about this world we discovered when we were children together -- finding a way to communicate it, to make change, to make things better.
"It doesn't matter how or where we put it out. If it's graffiti or an animation or an installation, the light of our work is more important."