All Images Courtesy of Rodrigo Souto
One of my favourite things about collages, is the incorporation of materials from a wealth of different sources to create a finished project; rather than relying on one source. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that Rodrigo Souto chooses to primarily work on collages based on his background. From street art in Brazil to working as a tattoo artist; Souto is an adroit creative, whose work has been featured in The Brick Lane Gallery and been snapped up by art collectors. Poised to be a great success in the art world, his portfolio of work continues to strengthen. This is great news for me, who has two Souto originals inked on my body. I can skin myself for cash if hard up in the future. And they laughed when I said tattoos were an investment…but I digress. We’ve had a penchant for Brazillian artists, since Amelia’s Magazine Issue 09 which focused heavily on artists from Brazil, which can be bought from our shop. In this spirit, I sat down with Rodrigo Souto to talk about his work.
So how did you get into Art? I know you’re from Brazil, so how did that route unfold?
I started when I was very young; I started studying art at the art college where I did two or three years. I then studied Fine Art at University where I started exploring it more, the same professor from my college was also at my university. I started learning a lot about painting, design, drawings but I got really into collage more than anything; that’s when I started doing this. I got really into mail art as well, where you start something and send it off to someone else, then they add to it.
Now you’re working as a tattoo artist in London, was that a natural transition from an art background?
The thing is, I try to do two things. I have my life as an artist, which is different from tattooing, and then working in a tattoo shop. I like doing both, but I want to apply myself 50/50. But I work 6 or 7 days a week, long hours with a lot of big designs where I have to be really focused. But now I’m trying to keep the balance by only working on tattoos when I’m in the shop, and then when I go home I work on my art.
It’s pretty good that you can earn your living whilst being creative.
Yeah, I like it. My technical skills improve because I do it every day; working with drawing and colour, composition, so I’m still working on myself as an artist at my job.
Being from Brazil, a lot of your work has a very strong aesthetic with colour and style; do you feel the environment changes the work produced…going from the sunny streets of Sao Paulo to the rank grey of London…is their a correlation between what you produce and where you are?
I don’t know if it changes it…but it’s different. I can’t do over here what I would do in Brazil. You can’t sit down on the street and paint; in Brazil it’s really easy. On Sunday, you call your friends and say ‘let’s go for a paint’ and you just get your paints and go, it’s really free. You can be much more creative. I’ve been here for four or five years and rarely have ever painted on the streets. I work mostly from a studio. But on the other hand, the collages get stronger now because I focus on that.
And to do my collages, I go to street markets and places to find things, like rare paper, whereas in Brazil I couldn’t really do that. So I could more painting, but less collage.
I’d like to do more work with canvas over here, but you need to find the space because I work with spray cans, so you don’t want to -
Exactly. But now, I really want to get into my collages more. With collages you can go out and get different materials to work with, and with paint, well its just paint. I could use a hundred thousand things to make a collage; I have to work for it. Go out; find things that will work together. You bring the material to you. This is why I like it, everything has a story. The materials have a narrative. The other day I bought this paper from 1930. I paid like £70 for paper, but it had writing on it, it had a story in it! You can see where the guy made a mistake and rubbed it out, you can see the history in it. Everything has a story. Then I make it into a collage, and tell another one.
Do you have a narrative for each piece before you make it, or do you let it tell its own story?
I have an idea of what message I want to express. Then I pick up the images and bring them together for what I want to say. But sometimes they tell their own story; I put them together and realise that it’s telling me another story. I really like it when I get one image and it tells me what to do; a guy reclining for example and then I start thinking about it, and put things together from that. I can create something from just one image, it grows.
What other artists inspire you? Are there any contemporary artists you draw inspiration from?
My tutors inspired me a lot, Valdo Rechelo and Antonio Valentin Lino. There is a guy from Brazil, I love his work, Eduardo Recife. He’s a designer, he works for big companies; and I love his stuff. He works with computers a lot, but I don’t use computers well, I do everything by hand.
That’s nice in a way, in modern art so many people use computers and Photoshop there’s a loss of really handcrafted work.
I think I’m old school, I want to do everything myself. If I could do the frames, I would do them too. I want to create everything myself, not just have the idea. I like to work; cut it, glue it, make it. I love the whole process.
How long does it usually take to create a collage?
Sometimes it can be really easy, if I have everything together; a few nights maybe. Other times it can be much longer.
Your work is changing; in the collages you’ve gone from more 2D projects to 3D. How do you see the work developing and growing in the future?
I want to make them bigger, I’m also interested in installation, which I’d like to do. I have ideas, but I’ll see where it goes.
How many collages are you working on at the moment?
I’ve been on pause for a while, but I’m about to get back into again and produce a lot. I’ve just moved, so I’m setting up my studio again. I have to have my space organised. I went and got my table yesterday, got my things, so I’m ready now.
A lot of artists are very particular about their studio space, either live in chaos or everything has to be perfect. How do you customise your working studio?
It has to be perfect. I need shelves, I label everything. I have boxes and boxes, paper from London, paper from Brazil, paper from the street…so now my space is organised I’m ready to create! I get so frustrated when I don’t create; I can still express myself through tattoos, but it’s still only fifty percent. The other fifty percent is in my heart, and it needs to come out, so now I’m ready to be very serious about producing again.
In some of the paintings, there’s a real draw of religious iconography. Where did that come from, were you raised religiously?
I had an experience with religion. My family are very relaxed about religion, but I had a girlfriend who was very fanatical about religion. Her family were very religious, and I had to go to Church every Sunday, six to midnight. It killed me. It really got me, and I was at uni, about 18 or 19, discovering new things. My tutor was working with religious iconography at the time, so I started doing my own interpretations, so I started working with it from then.
Do you identify with a particular London art scene? Is there an area you relate to artistically?
Not particularly, but I used to live in Old Street, so I guess I identify with that area and the galleries around there.
Do you get to visit a lot of galleries and exhibitions?
On my days off, definitely. I like to go to Stolen Space in Brick Lane, they always have great things on. And Pure Evil Gallery, they have some of my work there actually. I try to go big exhibitions to see the older things, I want to see Van Gogh ‘letters’ exhibit. I love letters. I used to send my tutor, Valdo Rechelo, collages that I had started, and then he would add to them and finish them. He would send me collages he started, and then I would finish them. There’s a big collection of them.
It’s great to have that artistic collaboration when so far away…
Yes, and not by email! I love paper, when you have a letter you have something. An email is just nothing.
Your artwork is based in intimacy, from writing letters, to making the artwork very small so people really have to look at it closely, bringing them physically closer to the artwork.
When you do an exhibition, they are so small that they have to get close and really stare at it, and take it in. A lot of people don’t look at artwork at exhibitions, they drift passed it. If you make someone look at your work for two minutes, then you’ve done well.
Keep your eyes peeled for upcoming exhibitions. Not literally though, because that would be gross.
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