It has been said that an investment in travel, is an investment in yourself. Travel, not just to escape your life and get away from your current situation, but so that life itself doesn’t escape you. My own exploration with street art photography began with a career change, and has taken me down a path I didn’t anticipate. Unlike my colleague and friend John Dominé, I hadn't been out of the city in quite awhile. I needed a break from the Big Apple to refresh my energy, and I was excited to go to Denver, CO; a city I had not traveled to yet.
This past September, the CRUSH Walls organizers were kind enough to set the Sold crew up in an Airbnb; a quad of apartments that shared a courtyard for the week of the festival. The first night we arrived; we met our neighbors in the common area; Brazilian artist Bruno Smoky & his lovely wife, Canadian-Chilean artist Shalak Attack, when they collaborate they are The Clandestinos; a name that defines immigrant travelers, someone searching for a home.
Bytegirl met them last year in Miami at Art Basel, so she gladly introduced everyone. A couple with their own unique and eclectic style, complementing each other like bandmates before performing on stage. I felt an immediate adoration for their connection, the love they have for each other permeated. I had a good feeling spending the week around their positive energy, it would make me feel better about the one thing I was missing from home.
The next day, the vibrant couple got started on an enormous collaboration wall for the CRUSH Festival, that grew in color and beauty as the week continued...
Bruno, AKA “Smoky” started painting walls in 2004, in his neighborhood in the district of São Paulo, Brasilândia. In Brazil, graffiti has been a deep part of the culture since the ‘80s. And in the poorer communities, it was a way to express your situation through imagery. Bruno’s original graffiti was dark, and reflected what he saw around him. The crackheads, and drug addicts were zombie characters in his art. The concrete jungle was not only a way to explain Brasilândia, the actual home he grew up in was also filled with objects from the street.
His family was an essential part of the community, both parents helping out their neighbors in different ways.
Bruno's father, a junk collector, would buy and sell parts to recycling centers, and pawn shops. He was the local handy repairman and collected his creations of up-cycled items. His mother made sure that she had her ear to the street. She knew if someone was in trouble, she kept tabs on the latest gossip, and made sure she kept her family safe. Creativity was all around Bruno growing up, his childhood was literally surrounded by Brazilian street culture.
Bruno Smoky has gained international and professional recognition in his artistic journeys throughout Brazil, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Argentina, Paraguay, Sweden, USA, England and Canada. Always in search of artistic exchanges, and building relationships as his family taught him; learning from others and teaching art is part of his life style. He has worked with various youth groups and non-government organizations (NGOs), teaching the history of graffiti and its role in society to at risk youth. Today, Bruno is the coordinator for the Essencia Arts Collective, and a founding member of the Clandestinos Crew, with Shalak Attack.
"Shalak Attack" a Canadian-Chilean visual artist has manifested her artistic expression on walls across the world, and participated in numerous artistic projects and exhibitions worldwide for at least a decade. She graduated from Concordia University with a Bachelor's degree in Studio Arts with honours, and studied one year of Fine Arts in the Universidad Autónoma Benito Juarez de Oaxaca, Mexico. She received a certificate for Business Coaching for Women Artists from the Centre d'Entrepreneriat Féminin du Québec, as well as a College certificate in Community Website Productions from College Ahuntsic, (Montréal, QC).
From '05-'06 Shalak participated in an internship program with Alternatives (Montréal), and Afro Reggae (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), an NGO that uses art as a tool to engage youth as an alternative to the high risk of violence and drug trafficking of the favelas. Shalak is heavily influenced by nature in her art; the way she "attacks" each of her projects, she is convinced her images can shake-up human's instinct to destroy Mother Earth.
As individuals, each artist was doing exactly what they set out to accomplish in their careers. The only thing missing was each other.
In March '09, Brazil passed law 706/7 that decriminalizes street art. In an amendment to a federal law that punishes the defacing of urban buildings and monuments, street art was made legal if done with the consent of the owners. From this point on, the flood gates would start to open, and Brazil's art scene exploded.
When their souls came together in '10, Shalak had been traveling around South America, and landed in Rio getting a lot of work painting. Mutual friends introduced them at an annual art festival in Lapa. Bruno was killing himself trying to finish a big project, and right in the middle of it - there she was. Shalak showed off a few can skills to the group of writers, and Bruno had met his match.
“She really impressed me!” Bruno proclaimed, when I asked about the first time they met. Bruno puts his wife on a pedestal, as the one with the "real" art education. But they both agree, they learn from each other everyday, and push each other to be better artists with each project.
“Come and paint with me until the end!” one of the first gut feelings he had. After spending a week with them in Denver, and getting to know them individually - they both were independent spirits. I knew it must have taken a lot for both of them to take this huge leap.
The connection was a strong force that brought them together. Shalak attended Bruno's very first solo show during the festival, and his cousin from São Paulo was there by his side. With his cousin's approval and encouragement, they began their journey together. Attached at the hip after only their first week together, Bruno followed Shalak to Chile. He met her entire tribe during that trip, they quickly and joyously adopted him into her family as well.
The street art world is small, and Shalak had to work extra hard as a woman to earn respect her entire career. It didn’t seem like a good idea to get involved romantically with another artist, she had avoided dating anyone in the scene beforehand. But she trusted her gut, and never looked back. Like my own relationship, it was the first time she had met someone that she didn't feel unsure about. If it were anyone to take a chance with, she was sure she had met the love of her life. Shalak needed to travel home to Canada, and so their journey together would continue onto the next chapter.
After being booked in a Canadian festival, Bruno's VISA was denied entry. He wouldn't be able to enter Canada without problems, and tons of paperwork. Shalak was so frustrated, they decided to leave for the Dominican Republic, where they stayed for 3 months. An experience with the culture and people that they both embraced, although it was short-lived.
They journeyed back to São Paulo, Brazil. The talented couple married in '11 & everyone on both sides of their tribes worldwide were there to celebrate. After they were legally joined at the hip, Bruno could move around more easily. The work picked up, and Shalak did the paperwork for Bruno's Canadian citizenship. With much complication, they finally made it to Canada. Traveling up and down the Americas, conquering walls along the way.
Another chapter begins. By '13, they were established in Toronto, CA where they currently reside. They found major adjustments. From São Paulo to Rio, the respect in the street was always apparent. No one went over you, and everyone respects each other's art with no question. Regretfully, Bruno and Shalak have found the atmosphere in Canadian cities aren't always the same. I concur with the couple that my city can be gritty as well. It seems some of our NYC ways may have influenced our brothers above the border.
Rising above any negativity, the Clandestino couple continues to paint murals worldwide, attacking each project with positive energy and creativity. Yet to grace a wall in the 5 boroughs we hope that changes very soon. In addition to being skilled muralists together and individually, Bruno also explores his ideas with sculpting and tattooing. Shalak has recently taken up needlepoint, various fiber art projects, and creates her own line of jewelry. They have participated recently in festivals and live performances such as Artscape Mural Festival (Sweden), Muchachitas Pintoras Mural Festival (Chile), Urban Spree (Germany), Wall to Wall Festival (Manitoba, Canada), and ArtBasel (Miami), just to name a few!
As the week wrapped up in the RiNo District of Denver; local businessman Micheal Ossell, owner of Larimer Street Garage, commissioned Bruno and Shalak to paint a bread truck before they got on their flight home. We sat at a nearby bar that Saturday afternoon, and watched Michael wash the truck, and prep it for paint. London based graffiti artist Mr. Cenz was sitting with our group, and offered his can skills to help get the job done. Bytegirl, Halopigg, and myself were honored to watch these three work until the sun went down...
Two worlds, two lives and two paths united by the same passion to tell stories, visions, and dreams through their artistic creations. Bruno Smoky and Shalak Attack; two artists united by one love... Please enjoy the additional photo gallery of murals by Clandestino Art in Montreal and Miami. I want to thank both Bruno and Shalak for bringing so much of yourselves to your beautiful murals, and all work you both create. I look forward to you both gracing NYC walls in the near future!