“My name is Paulo Nimer Pjota, I’m a visual artist and I work with two galleries, one that’s called Mendes Wood DM here in Brazil, and another one called Maureen Paley in London. My work is a mixture of painting with photography with some video here and there – I work with a bunch of different media but painting is the main one.”
When did you start to like art, and realized that it was what you wanted to do in life?
I started early, I lived in São José do Rio Preto, in the countryside of São Paulo and when I was 13 I started to paint. Doing this was way more important to me than anything I would do with my friends, I wasn’t the type of kid that liked to play video games or football, that just wasn’t my thing.
So I started to get involved with a bunch of different forms of artistic expression, I was painting but I was also very into Hip-Hop and in Rio Preto, there’s a major crowd that’s strongly connected to the culture because of Break Dancing, like for example the Supersonic Bboys, that where one of the first crews to compete outside the country, or another reference is Pelézinho, he’s also from there. When I was around 14 years old I started to attend the Hip-Hop house and I built friendships with all those people that in some way made me discover what I wanted to do.
I started painting on the streets, I liked it but I realized that it wasn’t what I wanted so I stopped when I was 16. I moved to São Paulo to go to Visual Arts college, and I was already interested in something, already knew what I wanted to do. I did my first expo when I was 17 at the Memorial da America Latina and with 18 I did my first individual expo, and from that moment on things started moving slowly and gradually I began to establish myself and to have more confidence. Because in the countryside this happens all the time if you want to be an artist, people are going to be like, where is he going to get his money to survive, what’s going to happen?
My family has no connections with art whatsoever, the grandfather of my father side did some wood carving and it wasn’t even his profession, but there’s no artist, like with a career. My dad sold cars and my mom was a lawyer, but even so, they always supported me a lot, they gave me the freedom to do what I wanted what I loved.
I had never left Brazil and my first time out of the country was when I was invited for an expo. Everything that I have, all the trips I took, my stability, everything came pretty much from my work. Besides my gratitude for being able to have all this by doing what I love, there’s also another side, of having opened up many possibilities for me and opened my head in regards to how I see the world cultural issues. Everything I do is in some form related, my life, my work, they are all very close.
I also have a strong relationship with fashion, I don’t think there’s a person in the world that’s into Rap, Hip-Hop, and doesn’t care about fashion. I started working with some brands when I was young, besides making my own graphics, t-shirts, unsewing and sowing things back together.
Are your trips just for expos or for collabs with other brands as well?
All the trips I’ve done so far were for exhibitions or for an artistic residence, or for a meeting with a client, but always something tied to my work as an artist. I haven’t done that much with brands, because I think it has to be something very specific that makes sense since we live in a world of super exposure were anything you do is going to have your name on it, so I’m very careful with this.
The only time I went on a trip because of a brand, was with Volcom. It was my first individual exposition abroad, in San Jose, California and my first trip out of the country as well. I stayed at the brand’s house were all the pro skaters stay at, and I did some prints for them while I was there.
Is there a specific exposition that you’re more proud of than the others, that was a bigger achievement?
Career-wise, the one I did and made me realize that I had achieved my goal, was the Lyon Biennialin 2013. On the same year, I did an exposition called Imagine Brazil in Norway, and I think that both of them really marked me, they opened a lot of doors. Not to mention having done the project for the facade of the museum for the Biennial, it was insane, because the place is huge and to have my work exposed on such a scale, it was very outstanding. I was the youngest artist at the Biennial, to me it was a huge achievement for someone so young, after that I started working outside Brazil a lot, traveling to a bunch of different places in Europe and all that.
What’s your creative process, where does your inspiration come from?
My process has always been about field research, the experience, the empirical question, to be in a place and understand the little things.
This expanded a lot to me once I began to travel more, I spend 5 months of a year out of Brazil, I’ve been to China, Morocco, Africa, Europe and to me it’s impossible to go to a place with so much information, esthetic and symbolic matters and not absolve some of it to my work.
This is really connected to my adolescence too, when I was younger I would walk a lot in my town, and my eyes have always been so mindful of those things. I’ve always been interested in popular matters, architectural constructions, it’s so natural for me to be in some places, walking down the street and looking at everything, you can really see this in my work. With time and more maturity, with a better notion of production and process, I began to understand that I was into cultural matters – esthetic and symbolic. I started doing graffiti, tagging and when you do those things, you condition your eyes to find places to paint, so all the time you’re looking for those places and people who also paint or used to paint, do that all the time.
Getting into arts College, I started to mix erudite with popular issues, marginal subjects with museum subjects. Basically going back and forth with those two universes. Within the world of art, the painter is kind of like the guy that stays all day in the studio, that stays home all day painting, and that was never the case for me. I spend a lot of hours in the studio because practice requires that, but I spend more time walking around and doing research. My process is basically: I work and produce for six months, then I go on a trip for 3 months where I don’t produce anything, I just do research, then once I come back I just lock myself up in my studio.
Now talking about sneakers, when did you start having a relationship with them? Was it back in your Hip-Hop days in Rio Preto?
As I said before, I don’t know why but I think that everyone who has a close connection with Hip-Hop is into fashion and fashion is strongly connected to sneakers. In my time the sneakers I wore were skate shoes, brands like Qix, and the superstar because of RUN-DMC. But there wasn’t that much information in the countryside, and the few products that did arrive were too expensive, for example, the Nikes everyone was wearing was the Nike Shox and it was such a playboy sneaker.
I remember that there was a street vendor right in front of the bus station where I bought an Adidas that I don’t remember the name but they had orange to black gradient and they were one of the Bboy sneakers of that time. So I basically got interested because of Hip-Hop, and later on, I began to do more research and began to understand it a bit better, I discovered Dr. Dre, which is the face of the Air Force one, the dude only rocks Air Forces. When I did an exposition in California, I stayed in a neighborhood called Tenderloin, which is a neighborhood right in the center of the town and it’s sort of like a cokeland. I stayed at a hostel and one day I went out on the street and saw like 15 guys all dressed up just like Dr. Dre – black hoodie, jeans and white Air Force Ones. Those 3 months I stayed there I began to understand what this whole west coast fashion was for real.
I don’t consider myself a sneakerhead, my thing is more with the stories than anything else. Not that sneakerheads don’t have a connection to the stories, but when I go after a product I have this historical affection, like some Versace glasses because of BIG, I wouldn’t buy that piece if it hadn’t been used by him. Even Supreme, that is really hyped up right now, I have this hat that I got about eight years ago and when I think of the brand, I think about the movie Kids, a super iconic film that marked an era.
Why was this Nike Primo Court the one you chose for this interview?
I chose them because I think it’s a sneaker that suits the kind of clothes I like to wear. There is this thing about streetwear that is not about the brand for me, it’s more a matter of concept, behavior, how you relate yourself and it’s not just you putting on a sneaker with just any outfit – this sneaker goes very well with this type of pants, besides it has some relation with skateboard esthetics.
Besides, I bought them when I went to London on a trip that was really a mark in my life, and these sneakers are something I have from that moment as a memory. Since it was in my first exhibition in the city, through the gallery that now represents me, so I have an affectionate relationship with that time. There’s also the fact that it looks like a Blazer too (laughs), one of the first Nike sneakers, and they had a connection from basketball to skateboard, which aesthetically are sports that interest me a lot, more than football or anything else.
In the end, it’s a simple, slim sneaker, and you can wear it to go to a rap concert and to go out to dinner, it goes well with everything. It’s not a hyped shoe, it is a historical shoe. I won’t pay three thousand reais for a sneaker, they might be dope, but to me, it’s not like that, it’s not the value that matters in a sneaker. What matters most is the sneaker itself, the object.
Do you remember any stories or a moment you have with them?
There’s so many (laughs). Besides the opening of my exhibition in London, they’re all stained and scuffed up because I wore them on a Rap concert in Viaduto Madureira in Rio and there was a huge headbanger that took over the whole crowd and people started throwing their drinks everywhere, in the end, the place was just mud.
I take care of my sneakers, but I never buy anything I won’t wear.