A recurring set of iconography or particular way of rendering characters has become a staple of contemporary art. The “elevation” of cartooning to echo the rise of street art, inject the artist’s own persona directly into pieces, comment on the proliferation of corporate branding or otherwise has been successfully accomplished by the likes of Keith Haring and KAWS, among many others.
OSGEMEOS, the pseudonym of Brazilian twins Gustavo and Otavio Pandolfo, similarly merges the worlds of graffiti and traditional art, cartoon iconography and nuanced metaphor, whimsical depictions and social commentary in their work currently on display at Frist Art Museum’s “OSGEMEOS: In Between” exhibition.
“The works tell stories — sometimes autobiographical — of fantasy, social change and how tradition and progress coexist in Brazil,” according to Frist.
The duo, whose moniker means “the twins” in Portuguese, began as graffiti artists in São Paulo in the ’80s. As their frail-limbed, large-headed characters and ability to blend hip-hop culture, Brazilian folklore and regional social issues became recognized, they were commissioned for public works and added to private collections around the world. But, despite any “validation” offered by this rise in popularity, their work has remained as unique and broadly iconic as ever.
“While their major reputation in the art world is well established, with works in major private and public collections, OSGEMEOS has never lost sight of their desire to be accessible to wide audiences,” Mark Scala, Frist’s chief curator, wrote in a press release.
Frist is exhibiting eight mixed-media paintings and two sculptures by the duo until January 12, 2020. Among the works on display is Back in the Days, a meta study of graffiti culture that offers some insight into the brothers’ own development from practicing street artists to lauded representatives of the genre itself.
“During the 1990s, they were in close contact with the American artist Barry McGee, who met the twins while traveling in Brazil and was so impressed with their work that he offered advice on painting techniques and shared photographs of New York graffiti with them,” Scala wrote. “Works like Back in the Days … which depict American rather than Brazilian subway cars, likely relate to this early exposure.”
Back in the Days is also representative of OSGEMEOS’ close ties to street art and their ability to create nuance from it. The work itself is not graffiti, but rather a scene in which graffiti thrives — offering some elevated perspective on the movement’s roots. The character depictions for which the duo has become well known stand with icons of hip-hop culture and a range of skin tones. Explicit text encourages viewers to “make your mark on society.”
All together, the piece makes it easy to see how OSGEMEOS has become a contemporary art movement in and of itself.
Frist Art Museum is located at 919 Broadway.