Meeting the Artist Who Created The Stairway of Heaven in Rio

The street art around Santa Teresa gave us the idea to have the kids paint on walls. Today the stairs that connect the neighborhood of Lapa to Santa Teresa made us wonder if the kids should start with stairs.

We visited the Escadaria Selaron, a masterpiece of street art that Jorge Selaron calls his tribute to the people of Brazil. The Chilean born artist traveled the world before deciding to settle into a rather dilapidated block of Lapa, adjacent to a concrete staircase of 250 drap steps. Selaron’s passion is painting, but he took on the hobby of beautifying the stairs outside his window in 1990.

The 125 meter staircase is densely packed with mosaic tiles and mirrors. At first, due to budget constraints and lack of public interest, Selaron started with tiles salvaged from Rio construction sites. Now visitors from around the world bring tiles to add to his vision. Things are different today than they were when Selaron was a struggling artist. He now has apprentices. The staircase is an an ever changing landscape and we were lucky to see Selaron at work, happy to take a break from the tile snapping and gluing.

As you may be able to tell, Selaron is rather eccentric. He snapped off two very sharp shards of red tile to give to Ava and Kayan. We didn’t want to be rude and yank them away, but had images of Ava and Kayan’s blood sprinkled over the already vibrant splashes of color.

I asked Selaron if he needed permission to work on the stairs, to which he responded, “Permission? Permission! I no need no permission! I do all of this myself.” The city of Rio is hardly complaining. Thanks to Selaron, what was a decrepit block has now been featured in U2 and Snoop Dog videos, commercials, as well as in the video of Rio’s successful bid to host the 2016 Olympics.

The Escadaria Selaron has tiles from all corners of the earth and we tried to locate as many as we could from places we went on our journey.

Throughout our journey we have met people who are passionate about what they do. Selaron is certainly one such person. Even though he has reached worldwide acclaim, it is his passion that continues to drive him to evolve his masterpiece. If only we should all be so fortunate.

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