BUSHWICK — After three months of classic oil painting and portraiture study in Manhattan's School for Visual Arts, accomplished Brazilian artist Apolo Torres was ready to return home to Sao Paulo — but not before making his literal mark on a Bushwick wall.
"I felt like it would be a shame to spend three months in New York and not do a single public street art piece, so I did it just before I came back," Torres, 27, said from Sao Paulo. "I did too many studies and exercises and very few personal paintings while I was there, so I was feeling an urge to paint something meaningfull as well."
The warehouse exterior on Gardner Avenue — a strip known for its graffiti and street art several blocks from the Morgan L subway station — is now marked with the lyrical image of a wiry, hunched-over man carrying a backpack and looking at a spoon.
And for Torres — who has painted professionally since age 19, has had solo shows in Sao Paulo and group exhibits in New York and Italy, and has covered Sao Paulo's streets and buildings with art — both the figure and the location of his latest work carry years of personal significance.
"I first came to Bushwick in 2009 when I did a show at Factory Fresh...with two other Brazilian artists," he recalled of the Bushwick gallery show. "I wanted to paint a piece there because I relate to that place...and it's also a very good place for street art in New York."
Indeed Bushwick has become a mecca for street artists, and the blog Brooklyn Street Art (which interviewed Torres last week) features many of the neighborhood's pieces on its site. But Torres said Sao Paulo certainly had a "more agressive" scene, with artists taking "more chances both regarding the cops and climbing buildings."
As for Torres' subject matter, the image actually came from a man he saw walking in Staten Island on his prior New York visit.
"Although this figure in the painting seems very distorted, the man was actually like this, and I've been painting tall and skinny characters for a long time," he said. "I made him looking at a distorted reflection of himself on a spoon...It represents the things you feed yourself with, in a intellectual level in this case."
Torres continued, "Nowadays I relate that behavior to the way people use their smartphones. So dependent they are, it's almost like they physically need it to live, like eating. And since the spoon is like a distorted mirror in this case, I think the metaphor fits even better."