“The radical gesture in the work of Rafael Sliks”
“I’m always doing what I can’t do, to learn how to do it.” Pablo Picasso
Rafael Sliks is an artist born in São Paulo (1981) where he grew up observing street signs through the crack in the gate of his house in the Bela Vista neighborhood. This influence on his creative process and the unique way he uses street writing in his art is what makes him a globally recognized Street Writer. His murals and paintings on canvas can be seen in various places around the world, having participated in publications, festivals, art fairs and exhibitions in the United States, Asia and Europe. He recently had a solo exhibition in Japan and a mural on the gable of a building in the metropolis where he was born.
Sliks is a neologism created by the artist that inverts the word “skills”, written backwards. The term that in English means skill, dexterity and ability to quickly and effectively achieve a specific gesture or conscious objective is very much in line with his artistic practice. Sliks’ great maneuver is transforming the “tag” written quickly and illegally on the streets into something assimilable by the dilettante and art-consuming public. With refinement and technical skill worthy of a street writing scholar, his production is increasingly gaining position in the world of visual arts.
Rafael Sliks relates to the ancient technique of painting through the pragmatic use of oil paint and, with a vast palette of colors, the making of his works places him in conversation with the history of art. In his canvases, street art is deconstructed to the point of becoming a tangle of forest, composing a subjective fauna where the artist harks back to the desire of abstract painters who aimed to reach the essence of spirituality. When Sliks deconstructs his writing and reaches abstraction in search of the essential nothing, he gives new meaning to the urban landscape, rescuing the nature that preceded it. This is where Sliks is aligned with the tradition of abstract painting that aims to dehumanize art through the incessant deconstruction that leaps from mere representation, inviting the viewer to co-create the reality imagined by the artist.
A characteristic of his practice is incessant repetition. Like a mantra, Sliks obsessively writes and rewrites his name until he enters a trance, forcing his spelling to escape itself, reaching another state that reconfigures and escapes conventional written language. If graffiti is in itself a way of proposing other approaches to writing, Sliks radicalizes this attempt. If the inscription of the Tag is in itself a transgression, he developed the ability to radicalize this transgression by taking his habit-addiction to the Hand Style of Graffiti to its ultimate consequences. Rafael approaches the calligraphy technique as a street kung fu Yogi who is not concerned with painting and writing in themselves, but rather with improving the conscious movements of his body with each gesture performed.
His works rescue the body in the visual arts, as they act as a record of his corporeality. His dynamics are close to contemporary art because the action of repeatedly applying his name through different techniques on different supports results in works that are records of performances. When we see his paintings, videos and murals, we feel the energetic “spray-action” of his body movements where the artist’s gestures are always made explicit, this being the guiding thread of his production.
So we can intuit that his works also deal with the traditional issue of sublimation in Eastern practices in which calligraphy, as well as martial arts and yoga are included. In them, what is worst in us can be converted into something sublime through a series of repetitive exercises aimed at improving the execution of these each time we perform them. In other words, it is believed that when we perfect a specific movement, we also improve ourselves. If on the streets Sliks develops vandalism arising from the rebellious tradition of real graffiti, in his studio he builds for himself a field of sublimation of this delinquent impulse. Crime and art are related in aspects of his personality that are expressed through his habits-gestures and movements, being able to cohabit the same space without major conflicts. Transforming the marginality that has haunted him since his origins into something socially admirable, being recognized professionally to the point of guaranteeing his livelihood, but without losing the power of the transgressive gesture that we see on the streets, Sliks created a way of coexisting with his biggest monsters, making them their great allies.
This is the maneuver of great artists who seek to survive in an already given world full of rules that they are forced to play against, creating their own strategic systems to try to reinvent them, this being the greatest lesson of dexterity and skill in the work of Rafael Sliks.