All photos by Rafael Di Celio
Writer’s Block is a bimonthly column that takes a low-brow approach to profiling various street bombers and modern-day vandals with a mixture of stories, off-the-cuff interviews, and never-before-seen pictures.
I met PIXOTE at a bar in the Lower East Side a few days after a mutual friend introduced us. He’s one of the few pixação writers in New York City. Pixao is a Brazilian graffiti style characterized by bigger-the-better characters and letters made up of what looks like cryptic wingdings, Nordic runes, and cave paintings. This style of graffiti was birthed in the sprawling, dilapidated metropolises of Brazil. With SABIO, a fellow Brazilian expat, PIXOTE created TWD, a NYC-based graffiti crew with members worldwide. It’s an acronym for Til’ We Die. It also stands for The Warrior’s Dream, or whatever else you can jigsaw together when you’re shooting the shit.
We headed downstairs to a private dinner party that’s held weekly for friends of the bar, and well, friends of friends. We couldn’t move in the crowded basement, so we decided to get some fresh air upstairs. That’s when PIXOTE got a call from SABE, an established writer from Manhattan. SABE told him about this warehouse he cased on the East River that’s only accessible by shimmying a quarter mile on a two-foot ledge made of decrepit wood, riddled with barbed wire and stray nails. He hung up, turned to me and said, “Perfect.”
As we made our way into Brooklyn I had a minute to pick his brain about his crew, his style, and his ambitions as a writer.
VICE: What is TWD?
PIXOTE: It’s a graffiti crew and a movement. Every member is a graffiti writer and an artist across the board. We share and strive for a similar aesthetic across mediums like music, fine art, film, and design. We’re all very diverse. We actually had an exhibition at Art Basel together. We called it “The Warrior’s Dream” and it was comprised of installations, drawings, paintings, zines, and posters. It was a collective work by all of us. We took a street thing and brought it to the galleries. The Warrior’s Dream represents having a goal or mission and trying to conquer it no matter what. Nothing was given to me. I’ve had to fight everyday since the day I got here.
When did you leave Brazil and where did you live when you got to the States?
I got here in 1994, just me and my mother, and I’ve been supporting us ever since. When I was younger I was exposed to a lot of violence in Brazil, so my mother wanted to show me a different life and new opportunities. We left Rio and never looked back. We moved around a lot, I lived in a couple different Manhattan neighborhoods, but I would say that the Lower East Side is the one that shaped me the most.
Did you have a hard time assimilating?
When I first got here, my english was poor, but I was a musician so music seemed like the natural route. There was a guy named Supla, who’s also Brazilian, who played in a couple hardcore bands, most notably Psycho69. When I was 16 or 17, I started playing guitar with him in a hardcore band that I won’t mention, but it was a pretty experimental band that mixed Brazilian elements, like bossa nova, and merged them with punk rock. I played at places like CBGB’s alongside bands like Agnostic Front and Cro-Mags. I became really close with the hardcore scene at the time.
That was a golden era for downtown Manhattan. What else were you involved in?
Skateboarding. It’ll always be a very important part of my life. Around the time that Kids [the 1992 Larry Clark film] came out I remember skating with some of the original Zoo York and Supreme riders. Harold (Hunter) was family to me. I remember he used to live around the corner from me on 14th Street and Avenue C. We would skate all day then he would always come sleepover at my crib, and my mother would make us food. I remember going to parties with Harold and Leonardo DiCaprio around that time—it was wild.
Is this around the time that you started writing graffiti? It seems like it’s the natural youth sub-culture progression.
I’ve been catching tags since I was ten or so, but this was around the time I started to get more serious about it. When I was in Rio I didn’t even know about pieces, throw-ups, and all that shit. In Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo the pixação culture has always been there, and even though they vary from each city, the name of the game was tags. Just tags. In Rio, the tags are mostly logos but in Sao Paulo you have this Viking feel and they each developed their own distinct style that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world—similar to how Philly has it’s own style. I respect that. I remember going to Sao Paulo with my dad on buses and looking up at 20-story buildings that had giant tags on them. In Brazil, the more elevation you get the more respect you get, so that’s why size is an important thing to me. To put this in perspective, the writers who hit the clock in Rio had to climb onto a small ledge 15-stories high just to catch a tag. Every time I’m that high, I’m one step away from sure death, so I repeat various mantras to keep myself from losing it.
What kinds of mantras? Are you a spiritual person?
My mother is a very spiritual person and she instilled some of those superstitions in me. I’m very into Candomblé. It’s an Afro-Brazilian religion that stemmed from the African Diaspora similar to Santería. It involves a lot of soulful elements like trances and sacrifices imparted to you by your Orisha, which is kind of like a spirit god. According to various gurus and shamans I’ve seen over the years, the personal deity who looks after me is Ogun. Ogun is a warrior who carries a machete and clears the field for harvest.
Sounds like a nod to “The Warrior’s Dream.”
Yeah, I guess it is. I will always be Brazilian, so whether it’s religion or graffiti, I’ll stick to my roots, because it’s all I have.
New York has a very close-minded view of what graffiti should look like. Has that affected your creative process at all?
Due to the recent surge of newer writers who are using a similar style to pixação, I think they’re commodifying it and that sort of bothers me because I’m skeptical of their authenticity. New York does have a very close-minded view of what graffiti should be, so when I first started getting up people were dismissive because they didn’t understand where I was coming from. Now that I’m a bit more established, I’ve started to gain the respect of writers and crews that have a strict New York-centric graffiti mentality.
Anything else you want to say?
Until we die, we’re keeping The Warrior’s Dream alive. Shout outs to SABIO, ERASMO, FRESH, PILCHI, and SYE5.
Follow PIXOTE on Instagram.