It's a bright crisp day on the Sunset strip and LA Weekly's at Prism Gallery waiting for our turn to meet Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo, Brazilian brothers who are known in the contemporary art and graffiti worlds simply as “the twins,” or “Os Gêmeos” in Portuguese.
The brothers are here in L.A. for their sparkling, surrealist “Miss You” solo show, their first here since 2003, when they staged a tiny yet groundbreaking exhibit in a 300 square foot space — the original New Image Art gallery, then a little house on Fairfax.
We know from previous experience that a 10:30 am interview is a lot to ask of artists, even on a weekday. It turns out we're kept waiting because of another interview with a prestigious national art rag that has only just noticed Os Gêmeos' bright, yellow-skinned figure paintings recently, now that the work can bring close to six figures.
These happy, colorful, self-styled characters grew out of the foundations of traditional graffiti and developed on the streets with encouragement from a magical 1993 meeting with Barry McGee (aka TWIST), who was there on an artist residency. Otavio and Gustavo's graffiti folktales have since towered over the streets of Sao Paolo and the world, for some 20 years. Consequently, Os Gêmeos' retrospective contribution to MOCA's “Art in the Streets” show was stunning — an installation the equivalent of a boulevard full of faces of houses and houses of faces, hooked up to a drum kit that triggered lights embedded in the paintings when played by museum attendees.
This sense of discovery and subsequent interaction is a very important concept in Os Gêmeos' work seen in the “Miss You” show, and in general, as they explain when we finally speak. By noon they are tired of talking, but they make clear that their influences and ideas come from an easily understood place — inside their heads, where they admittedly live most of the time.
“Everything we do is a self portrait,” says Otavio. “When you come inside [our show] you come inside what we believe.”
Referencing a featured piece in the show, a big, cute, square female head suspended from the middle of the room, which one can climb inside for a trippy, kaleidoscope experience sans LSD, Gustavo says, “Sometimes our head is like a house. Where you close or open it and allow people to come inside and live.”
This idea is explored in an actual “room” created on site at Prism, with bed, books and personal items. One whole wall is an interactive, brain-like screen littered with moving yellow faces that react to touch.
Courtesy of the gallery's windows, sunshine and color purposefully bounce off the red walls of the exhibit, highlighting the fragmented subjects of the paintings, occasionally emphasized by well-placed sequins. Perhaps it's capturing the magic “light” of L.A. that film directors like David Lynch and Werner Herzog wax poetic about. Even at night, light is a theme in “Miss You” as Os Gemeos' signature faces grow out of the floor in mushroom-like lamps. “Our work is very colorful, happy,” Gustavo offers. Otavio agrees, “Yes, full of color, always. And when you see the sky here, it's like a message for us. Beautiful. We love the light!”
There are new textiles in the show, showcased upstairs and crafted by their mother, Margarida, a special collaboration for them that sparks an interesting result. It brings a calming influence to the otherwise high fidelity energy of the other work.
Did they go to art school? Gustavo declares with conviction, “There was no need. Our moment is more special. The people that we've met, we only know nice people. It's true! Life is very important.”
Overall Os Gemeos enjoy their time here in L.A., with many friends and good weather. The show at Prism will close March 24 and they return soon to Brazil to prepare for a museum show at the Boston ICA this summer.
Our conversation ends with a reflection of the importance of the MOCA show (“It was good for the art scene — [MOCA director] Jeffrey [Deitch] breaks a lot of rules”), eventually turning to a related topic not even the locals quite understand, the destruction of our murals and the crackdown on artists (there is a not-so-secret new Os Gêmeos piece planted in the surrounding neighborhood). “This [attitude] is kind of stupid,” says Otavio. “But everything changes fast now. So many good artists in the world today, especially here in California, all coming from graffiti, street art, all young and very good.” “Especially here,” adds Gustavo. “It's part of your culture! Los Angeles' history and the art history in the U.S. Everything is very easy, but people like to make it complicated, hard. The whole world is like this. That's why we are here to make people happy.”