Bicycles and Trumpets: Heritage By Apolo Torres
Heritage her·it·age /ˈherədij/
1. property that is or may be inherited; an inheritance. property that descends to an heir.
What we give, teach and leave behind for the next generation has to do with our own past, present, and what we want our future to look like. It is our duty as human beings to unify each other in harmony.
For Brazilian artist Apolo Torres, his goal is to contribute to the narrative that we all have more in common than not. His work, both in studio and in the public space, explores these human connections. In his latest project specifically, "Heritage I & II" he comments on the connection between The Americas and American culture, with two common activities: music, specifically jazz, and cycling.
Apolo's 1st NYC public wall, a dual mural under the Manhattan Bridge on the corner of Pearl and Water Streets (The Pearl St Triangle) in DUMBO, Brooklyn, was created for Brasil Summer Fest, that ran from July 21 - August 3. This gift to the neighborhood would not have happened without help from DUMBOBID, AnnexB, NYC DOT, Urban Wall Brazil's Creator Roberta Pardo and DUMBO artist Craig Anthony Miller. Despite being his 1st time painting on NYC streets, Apolo was covered by our friends at Brooklyn Street Art in '10, '13, and '16. We are proud to pick up where they left off, catching up with him during this HOT Summer of '19.
The neighborhood of DUMBO is the welcome mat to the borough of Brooklyn, embracing the world with open arms. If you are walking over the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan, there are many highlights on the other side: Grimaldi's, Juliana's, Jacques Torres Chocolate, St. Ann's Warehouse, Gleason's Gym, The Empire Fulton Ferry Brooklyn Bridge Park, Jane's Carousel, and now this newest work adds to many murals and street art found on these historic cobblestone streets.
A civilization is a heritage of beliefs, customs, and knowledge slowly accumulated in the course of centuries, elements difficult at times to justify by logic, but justifying themselves as paths when they lead somewhere, since they open up for man his inner distance. - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
After receiving a degree in Industrial Design from Mackenzie University, Apolo then studied painting at School of Visual Arts here in NYC. His relationship with the Big Apple is strong, and the 5 boroughs remind him of the municipality of São Paulo. With the largest population in the Southwestern hemisphere, both have similar problems and challenges.
Apolo does not use aerosol, and his loose, seemingly random brush strokes are a dance as he still creates with precise intentions. As I approached him initially, he was painting the 1st mural with a long pole and removed his wireless headphones in order to greet me. A move for many; music moves us all, and Apolo is no different. One of my favorite questions to ask an artist is, 'What do you listen to while you work?'
It's more than 'what are you into?', or 'what genre do you love?'... It's the music that inspires and motivates you while you create - often a deeper answer ...
We quickly started to discuss the abstract concept of the wall, incorporating an oversized trumpet blaring into a checker-floored classroom, where 2 Cuban children practice the congas. Learning to play an instrument, and passing down the history of jazz is one of the messages he wanted to convey.
Most likely, Herbie Hancock was playing in his ears at the time. Not only a jazz icon himself, Herbie began his career with Donald Byrd in 1960, and still passes on his gift to the next generation. The "Watermelon Man" will turn 80 years old next year, and still tours today. In between painting during his trip, Apolo was fortunate to catch Herbie at the historic Beacon Theater on the Upper West Side. He was passing his heritage onto the next generation, playing alongside rising star & soulful bassist Thundercat.
The next time I met with Apolo, was the day after the concert, and he was invigorated by the experience. He told me to look up Kamasi Washington, not only a childhood friend of Thundercat, but a new name in jazz today. I appreciated the recommendation, and have been listening to The Epic ever since.
Apolo's love for jazz music, and its connections to Cuban and Latin American culture was the initial scene he wanted to communicate. Educating the youth through music and culture, in any economic situation is critical, and he felt this imagery was universal in any city worldwide.
In 2014, he brought São Paulo on board along with other major cities (including Harlem), for an initiative called Education is Not a Crime. This project was started by filmmaker and Newsweek journalist Maziar Bahari, the campaign continues to expand in defense of a universal right to an education. Apolo painted the largest #notacrime mural in the world, depicting a young girl reaching for books with a snake at her ankle. Continuing this visualization is reflected in his murals today, and the music classroom scene is just one half of Apolo's message of heritage in Brooklyn.
A father himself, the topic of worldwide education hits close to Apolo’s home and heart, he is excited about the possibilities of conversations that can be sparked by public murals today.
It is essential that the work dialogues with the place and the people who walk by and see the work. Public art has a huge potential to raise relevant issues to society. I think art has the potential to bring up issues and stimulate dialogue, and that is what I intend with my work.
Born in 1986, Apolo grew up with a Father and Uncle who enjoyed cycling as a sport, and the activity was a fond part of his earliest memories. He took up road cycling, and raced throughout his adolescence, carrying on the family tradition.
He incorporates bike wheels, pedals, chains, spokes and the circular rotation of the bicycle's mechanism throughout his work. The space that is created, painting a scene through the other side of the bicycle reminds the viewer how these modes of transportation have become an intricate part of every day life.
By tying the circular objects of bicycles and trumpets into his personal narrative, he allows himself to play with his aesthetic and message simultaneously. With both, Apolo finds the geometry and complicated angles that form round images to be endlessly fun to create.
Beyond his own personal reflection, Columbians are known as some of the world's best cyclists, and the toughest and most beautiful road routes can be found throughout the entire mythical continent. Almost 50 million Americans get around on 2 wheels, and in Brazil the trend is parallel. Both São Paulo and NYC are experiencing the highs and lows of the bike takeover.
In comparison to the bike culture overwhelming NYC in recent years, 400km of bike lanes were created in São Paulo, with additional proposals to follow. To combat over population and environmental issues, programs like Citi Bike and Bike Sampa reinvigorated the bike share concept of the 1960's. Each megacity is experiencing pushback from residents, and there are dangerous and deadly results to these initiatives. Still Apolo wants to evoke the beauty of these simple man-made machines, and leave reminders of how enjoyable they can be.
Apolo is considered one of the most exciting voices of urban art today. Depicting the human connections while leaving breadcrumbs of his own experience and memories on walls across the world. A comfortable traveler, he celebrates his origins and pride for his country. His work ethic is evidence that his presence in the art world has been established. But after this massive mural was completed, he was ready to be home with his family. Time away from them is the worst part about being a muralist.
"Being in the street, and doing this kind of work is the absolute reminder of why it's so important to have public art pieces in any city. It's amazing to see how people engage, react and are genuinely thankful to have it become part of their daily life. I'm just incredibly thankful to be a part of it."
Apolo visiting with passerby's, explaining his photo reference, and signing his piece
During Brasil Summerfest 2019, the area was a buzz with live performances, concerts, film screenings, panel discussions, and of course block parties! Under The Archway, Apolo showcased work in a pop-up gallery to be purchased throughout the festival. A great opportunity to contrast his studio work just a few blocks away. The streets were filled with locals and tourists alike, and I got a chance to catch up with an old friend from college. Thank you Jamie for inviting me, and making this very special introduction - I look forward to attending next Summer...
And an enormous "Thank You" for this gift, Apolo Torres. it was an honor capturing you create this wall, and we look forward to seeing more of your work in the future!