By John Roy Ballossini Dommett
In the wake of the 2018 fires that swept thousands of hectares, the Silves fire station was graced with the work of the graffiti artist Asur and his evocative three-storey memorial to firefighters, their families and the cause. Based out of Albufeira, his commissioned artwork now spreads across Portugal. Tomorrow magazine met with Asur in Silves to find out more.
What should we call you, ASUR or Dgiphi? Does it have a meaning?
Asur is my street name, the bombing one. Dgiphi was my name for commission work but I am now only using Asur. It is my tagline.
When did it all start?
It started at school. When I started working, I continued to paint whenever I could and for about three years now, I have fully dedicated my life to graffiti.
Where did your drawing skills come from?
I was never very good at school and never paid much attention in art class. I have learnt a lot from other artists at festivals. I usually do a pre-montage with Pro-Create on my iPad, and then figure out the upscaling.
What is the lure of street painting?
Adrenaline. When one street paints, bombing it is called, on trains or walls – it really gives one an adrenaline rush. But I don’t do that so much anymore.
Your style is described as realism, retro and wildstyle. Tell us more.
Wildstyle is the American lettering I use. I wouldn’t box myself into the other categories, but I feel more comfortable using dark and expressive tones, from which I can draw out light to create realism.
Graffiti is often viewed with criticism and as a taboo. Have you had any trouble with this?
For sure, but the perception of graffiti has evolved. When I started, it was frowned upon, but also, I was painting in the streets. Now it’s different (and I occasionally still paint in the streets). I’ve had my name on a wanted list but never had any problems. Some of my friends have ended up in court.
Do you use projectors and scaffolding?
I don’t. I use a square on the wall and then free-hand paint. It seems daunting but it is an easier technique. And no, cherry picker cranes are my tool of preference for practicality.
Do you use cans or an airbrush spray gun?
In the old days, we used to cut the lid, make a slit and then you’d get a thin line imitating the airbrush. Now, there are many techniques and special caps. The old-school way was messy. Now it’s the same, just more practical.
That’s a lot of paint. Are you sponsored by any of the graffiti brands like Montana?
Passerbys are always surprised with the number of cans I use but it is not a lot for me anymore. Tintas2000 sponsors me whenever they can, and they are resellers of Montana cans. They sponsored the paint for the Silves fire station. There are only a few sponsors because there are few artists.
When did the silves work begin?
A Silves firefighter I had met remembered my work and presented the idea to her station. They liked my rendering and so I prepared the project, all this before the fire. Then the fire hit Monchique and Silves so I didn’t start right away. After things calmed down, I started painting.
What’s the relationship between fires and your work?
With my preference for black, red and orange colours, I naturally gravitate toward the firefighting theme. I like what the firefighters do and like to do something to thank them. They deserve it. I’ve since painted other fire stations such as the Taipas Station, Braga, where it had a big social impact because there wasn’t any graffiti in the area. People didn’t believe it was drawn and painted by hand.
What’s the meaning of the silves fire station artwork?
I was inspired by a picture by an American photographer and it developed from there. It is shocking and sometimes people don’t like the imagery of breastfeeding but it is a reality. It shows the life behind the firefighter, the unsung family and people that support them every day. With time passing, I think the impact lessens… but it sure is a big wall!
Do you plan on having a career in graffiti?
Yes, let’s see! There are many walls throughout the world. I hope my name and work spreads.
When interviewed about the impact of Asurs’ mural, Mr André Gonçalves, the Adjunct to the Commander and mentor of the artwork shared that “it surpassed all expectations, not in terms of donations, but in terms of our image, receptiveness and uniting the community. People come on purpose to visit the artwork and it is constantly being photographed.
The Silves international community is always very generous and we have had many foreign firefighters visit us. In the first 15 to 20 days, there were more than half a million views on Facebook, with commentaries from all over. It got coverage from CM, RTP1 & SIC and the Algarve Resident, and we have received contacts from national and international firefighter corporations.
As the first mural artwork of this dimension in Portugal, it has had a very positive impact. Our firefighters feel recognised, and I think it has been particularly important for our firewomen, to pay homage to the families behind them and to those who are mothers both of their children and the cause.”
The Silves fire station currently has 75 firefighters, 32 professional and 43 volunteers, assisted by 33 vehicles covering 680km2 across the eight counties in the Silves municipality. Their Facebook page is constantly updated with fundraising events, and there is a party commission that is organising various summer solidarity events.
Facebook – ASUR – Graffiti artist
Instagram – @asur_pt