Tag Archives: Art

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.


Filed under Brazil

Why Our Children Will Paint on Walls – Santa Teresa Street Art

Our quiet neighborhood of Santa Teresa seems a world away from Rio’s bustling 6 million people. The hilly area harbors nineteenth century mansions hidden among its winding and steep cobblestone streets. It retains a very local feel and it is rare to see a tourist or hear English. This has become more so since the area’s main lifeline, a yellow tram called the Bonde, stopped running following a fatal accident in 2011. The Bonde used to carry tourists into and locals about this otherwise secluded enclave of Rio. While the Bonde itself has stopped operation, it is memorialized across the neighborhood in the form of street art.

Street art is very much a part of the Santa Teresa neighborhood Rio. We usually think of graffiti as crude block lettering set against large industrial walls, in sketchy areas such as by train tracks or parking lots. It is rare to see high quality street art blanketing a neighborhood of nineteenth century mansions. As odd as this may seem on the surface, the street art works beautifully in Santa Teresa.

It turns out that the reason street art works in this historic area is that most of it is a collaboration between the artists and the community, rather than acts of vandalism. As of 2009, graffiti/street art is legal in Rio with the property owner’s consent. We don’t know much about graffiti culture but there is a difference between “tagging” or vandalism and street art. Street art, particularly where the artist and property owner collaborate, has come to serve the communities in Rio in many ways. In the 60s and 70s, artists started moving in to neglected mansions and homes, leading to a creative and bohemian culture. Street art became an economic way of improving property facades. Commissioned street art also deters tagging. The result is that the Santa Teresa neighborhood bursts with color on every street.

We always told the kids that paper is for coloring, not walls. However, street art, when done thoughtfully, is changing our minds. These vibrant drawings in Santa Teresa breathe life into quiet streets. In the few days we have been here, we have learnt to tell direction by using street art as markers. Street art also serves as great conversation. If Ava or Kayan were ever good enough to be commissioned to create street art, we wouldn’t stand in their way. However, until then we still say no to tagging walls – at home or on the streets.


Filed under Brazil