Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra creates some of the more massive and intricate murals in the world, full of techni-color explosions! His eclectic Neo avant-garde style has created a huge buzz in the street art community scaling tall buildings with faces of musical masterminds like Tupac Shakur, John Lennon and Chicago’s favorite, Muddy Waters.
In partnership with the City of Chicago and the Wabash Arts Corridor “Big Walls” initiative, Kobra dedicated his distinctive kaleidoscope of bright colors to famed Chicago Blues singer, Muddy Waters – just in time for the Chicago Blues Festival, June 9 – 11 at Millennium Park. Kobra himself will be on hand on Thursday, June 8th for the dedication of the mural, presented by The Chicago Loop Alliance.
Don’t miss the MUDDYWATERSxKOBRA Pop-Up Shop at Miss Ricky’s (Thursday – Sunday).
In honor of this, we sat down with Kobra to discuss his process, history, and how to paint larger than life.
VHC: How old were you when you started creating? What inspired you back then and what inspires you now?
K: I started very early, between 8 and 9 years old. My notebooks were full of drawings, I spent most of my childhood drawing cartoon characters. I remember that some friends from school drew very well, and I confess I found my drawings far inferior to theirs. That’s why I’ve always tried to overcome myself, and over time I’ve been drawing other paths. When I felt more secure I developed my own style.
VHC: Do you listen to anything while you work? If so, what?
K: Between the 80’s and 90’s it was common to take a boom box to the streets of the suburbs of Sao Paulo because of the influence of hip-hop culture. Music was part of our work. At that time, I heard a lot of rap. In Brazil it was the Racionais MC’s. But other musicians have been part of my career such as Buffalo Girls, Tupac and Notorious BIG. Many of their lyrics inspired me. Over time, I started listening to other musical genres, like classics and Brazilian pop music. I started to admire artists like Chico Buarque. Music really motivates and inspires me, not only in my work, but in life as well.
VHC: How did you plan out your first large-scale wall installation?
K: Well, I started with small panels. I did my first mural in 1989, in a 2m2 wall. At that moment, I realized that I preferred to make big projections. I gradually began painting on larger scales. The interesting thing is that even in school, I did not like to make small drawings. Getting into Guinness Books did not intimidate me. Before I started working with this style on large murals, I was afraid of heights, but I like a challenge. Now I specialize in murals of large scales.
VHC: How would you describe street art in Brazil v. street art here in Chicago?
K: Both street art in Brazil and Chicago have strong origins in hip-hop culture. Even in contemporaneity we can see in both developments of this style. The street culture driven by skateboarding and breakdance are present in the art. In Brazil, obviously because street art is more open with having permission to paint in many places, artists have a greater freedom to express themselves. Due to lack of financial resources, some of these artists had to improvise. In São Paulo for example, street art was built with a variety of incredible techniques and methods. Nowadays, it is very clear the evolution of many artists, especially those who came from humble situations, in Brazil and in Chicago. The message of each work, and the aesthetic value, make them worthy of any gallery or museum. I’ve noticed that Chicago has important designs for street art, and has some well-constructed side buildings, street art is part of the city’s everyday landscape.
VHC: Did you expect your “Stop Wars” piece in Miami to go viral like it did?
K: Stop Wars is part of a project called “Olhares da Paz”, this project was done in several places in the world. I’ve made small clippings of history connected with peace, such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Dalai Lama, many leaders who fought for peace and won Novel Peace Prizes. I have worked on themes and murals that speak about the mothers of diverse cultures of the world, also on the preservation of indigenous peoples and cultures. Through the news, we can see that we are experiencing moments of great transcultural tension, that is why I decided to create this work in Miami, as a request to “stop the wars”. As inhabitants of this world we cannot take any more violence and terror. And everyone who saw this piece I did understood the message. It had a far greater impact than I expected. And to this day it continues to have the same impact. I will continue to do works for peace.
VHC: What kind of effect do you hope your murals have on passerby’s?
K: For me, it is a great privilege to have these paintings scattered throughout the cities, to look at the buildings and walls, and to see them as if they were canvases. As an artist, I see the city as a free space like a studio or an atelier. I first do this for myself, I have being fighting for this goal for many years. I suffered all kinds of prejudice and discrimination, I was even arrested. I did not have any kind of family support, it was a very complex career. When I’m in different places, I try to understand the culture of that place and start researching its history. I need to create a connection between my art and the region where the mural will be made. This is a matter of respect because when you paint a mural on the street, thousands of people have access to it. I went to visit an art gallery at the age of 30, today, because of my work I had the privilege of entering the best and biggest galleries and museums in the world. So, I see no difference between the street art and the galleries. Many street artists are able to change the environment through the message they share within cities loaded with stress, traffic and violence.
VHC: How did you become part of the Wabash Arts Corridor’s “Big Walls” Festival?
K: For me it was a great honor to be a part of the “Big Walls” festival of the Wabash Arts Corridor. Last June I had a very busy schedule with several invitations from different parts of the world. I had a lot going on at the time back in Brazil. However, I modified my entire schedule and activities to meet that request. I had a dream, something personal, to do a piece in Chicago. When I arrived in this city I was even more surprised by its beauty, aesthetics, public gardens, and the city’s residents. Everything amazed me in Chicago. No doubt, I think it’s one of the most beautiful cities I’ve been to in the United States. All the diversity is very enriching for my work. And having a job on such an iconic Avenue was a gift from God.
VHC: Your mural features one of Chicago’s most legendary artists, Muddy Waters. How did you decide to use Muddy for your piece?
K: I went on to research more about Muddy Waters and understand a little of his career and history. With this information I felt an important connection between us. All of my work is part of my self-connection with what I am creating. I need to like and be connected with the theme that I’m going to work on. Waters is from a very simple origin, a person who worked hard and excelled, all during such a difficult time in history. He was able to overcome all battles and difficulties. Within its simplicity and with such an extraordinary talent, Waters managed to overcome everything and put his name in the history. His persona really has an importance for the history of music in a worldwide way. Especially in Chicago, because he was African American and he was able to overcome the prejudice that existed. That is why this image was created that way, since many people listen and like Waters songs. He deserves this highlight at the top of the building in one of the most important parts of Chicago.
VHC: Tupac, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Kurt Cobain, David Bowie and Bob Marley have all been subjects of your work. What is it about musicians that continues to inspire you to create works featuring them?
K: My work started with music, so painting musical icons is natural for me. My art came as an element of hip-hop style and culture. All of my imagery and my career are connected to such artists as Tupac, David Bowie, and Brazilian singers as well, such as the Racionais. They helped me in building my thoughts and seeing the world. My universe was very touched by music. My work is linked with various artistic forms, and music is one of the main ones. Several musicians have made and modified the history, such as Arthur Rubinstein, others as talented as Muddy Waters. So I have created murals on these icons that were so important. In Brazil, I created the Club 27 panel portraying exceptional artists who passed away when they were 27 years old, like Amy Winehouse, Jim Morrison and others. When I read and learn about these artists who made history through music, such as Brazilian artists Caetano Veloso, Vinicius de Morais, Joao Gilberto, Chico Buarque, Pixinguinha, many of them were already themes of my murals. I keep searching for stories that have modified the world through musical expression.
VHC: Who have you not done a mural of that you’d like to in the future?
K: As I research a lot about history, there are many parts of history that still interesting to me. Especially those that are relevant and linked to peace, for example, some speeches by Martin Luther King. As we are talking about musical genres, specifically I still have some projects to talk about women that were very important for music. Like Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin. I would like to create a mural with women only, it’s a project that I will do soon. And also about the stories of James Brown and Miles Davis. For these projects, I’m developing some drawings on canvases, because before each creation on the murals I first paint on canvas, which becomes the original of that wall, only after I go to the mural.
VHC: What projects do you have coming up?
K: I just came back from a series of jobs. Recently I made a 3D panel in the United Arab Emirates. In April I was in Malawi, Africa painting per Madonna’s invitation her charity. From Africa, I went to work in Murcia, Spain and then to Germany, where I presented five works with the theme “Mothers of the World”. From there I went to Carrara, Italy to paint a thousand meters of altitude in a marble mountain. After Carrara I went to Portugal where I portrayed the indigenous peoples, painting the Cacique Raoni. And now I’m in the U.S. working on two projects. After, I will go back to Sao Paulo and stay there for about 15 days, then I will do some projects related to peace; going through Turkey, France, England, and I will return to the U.S., finishing a big project where I will be painting a series in New York on at least ten walls. However, the great project that I accomplished this year was the birth of my little son Pedro, who is here now in the U.S. with me. He and my wife have been with me in these last four countries. Actually, I’m very happy because I can involve my family in my projects.
*all photos provided by eduardokobra.com.