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Today we bring you the urban artist SMILE, one of the most important Portuguese names in this art form. We had the privilege of getting to know Ivo Santos in a fun conversation where he talked about himself, his work and inspiration.
In addition to sharing his journey, we’ll also highlight some of his works in Lisbon and in two neighbouring councils, Odivelas and Setúbal.
SMILE, from a Promising Young Boy to a Renowned Artist
Ivo Santos, adopted the artist name SMILE at a very young age. It was inspired by a graffiti sticker, which was distributed with the magazine Super Pop, very popular among young people in the 90s.
Although he recognises that it isn’t a particularly original name, Ivo has a special connection with it, as it reflects his everyday attitude: “we need to smile to life and, above all, to be happy for being here and to try to do something different”.
This feeling was even more emphasised when years later he found in a book about graffiti history a very curious coincidence: the drawing that was on the sticker had actually been created on his birth year.
Ivo, the Young Artist
Ivo was born in 1985 and from a very young age he showed to have a talent for drawing, a skill promoted by his mother and inherited from her. Already in primary school his talent was recognised and thus, he was many times the author of event posters from the school.
When he was around 10 years old, during his weekend walks with his parents, he started observing and admiring the art pieces on the walls in the area of Belém.
But it was under the influence of his two older cousins that he entered the world of graffiti, initiating his adventures with tags that he left in the streets of Odivelas.
The Urban Artist SMILE
When he was around 13/14 years old, Ivo started painting with few material resources and without great technique.
After some years of improving, he participated with a project in the Graffiti Competition of Odivelas in 2002, whose theme was the ocean and where he won.
This was a crucial moment for the artist. Access to a vast range of colours allowed him to showcase his talent, opening him doors to several other works in this same council where he also lived.
But it was another first prize, this time in the Graffiti Competition of Oeiras in 2004 that gave him projection to the entire country. This was “a mythical competition in which everyone in Portugal wanted to take part in”. In the two following years he was again awarded with the first and second prize, respectively.
From then on his identity as a street artist was undeniable. He won a competition in Barcelona, which gave him international projection, reaffirmed with invitations from large brands from all over the world and with the participation in events in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain, Switzerland, Brazil…
But being recognised in his own country is what makes him particularly satisfied.
In addition to his role as an individual artist, SMILE created in 2014 the ACUPARTE Cultural Association, whose main objective is to promote and dynamise culture through all expression forms.
This non-profit organization, which he presides, acts in several areas with a special focus on education through workshops and on the organisation of street art events.
Photorealism, a Signature from the Urban Artist SMILE
Photorealism is undoubtedly a signature that the urban artist SMILE has got us used to with the impressive realism in his paintings. This signature is present not only in the representation of human figures but also of animal and plant life.
SMILE has always liked free drawing and reproducing details, but it was in 2004, in the Graffiti Competition of Oeiras that he realised that the realist style better defined him as an urban artist.
His creative process always involves previous research and image collection about a theme.
At times, in order to get his compositions just as he had idealised them, he turns to his children or other family members to serve as models. This practice spares him many times from using image banks.
In addition to the artistic component, SMILE associates messages to his paintings as a way of raising the awareness of the public about important topics, such as the preservation of the environment.
When questioned about his feeling when it comes to the ephemeral character of urban art, SMILE confessed to us that the disappearance of his works always causes him sadness to some degree: “it’s a part of me that, deep down, is also lost”. But he recognises that it’s a natural process of renewal, hence he has the habit of registering his art pieces in photographs.
The Urban Artist SMILE in Lisbon, Odivelas and Setúbal
Seeing that SMILE has countless artworks across the country and world, it will always be hard to make a choice. That’s why we’ve decided to highlight some of the compositions created in Lisbon, Odivelas and Setúbal, given his special connection with each one of these councils.
SMILE has already realised a large number of works in this city where he was born and where he had his first contact with graffiti.
Faces in the Blue Wall, in Alvalade
The initiative Faces in the Blue Wall that occurred between 2012 and 2015 had mental health as a motto. SMILE did four works here where different emotional states are present.
Padre Cruz Neighbourhood
In the urban art of Bairro Padre Cruz a piece from SMILE from 2016 can be observed. It was created within the scope of the project “Creating Change through Urban Art”, being one of its objectives opening the doors of this social neighbourhood to the city.
In this painting we can see his son dressed as Mickey Mouse, sitting on a flying box and accompanied with the phrase “Wanna be an Artist”.
Quinta do Cabrinha, in Alcântara
The urban artist SMILE, in addition to having portrayed Amália based on one of her most famous photos, he also executed another painting on the side of the building 35 in Pátio do Cabrinha.
This time, his niece was the model for the image of a young girl who’s showing her closed fists with the tattoo “Stay True”. This phrase appeals to “being true to oneself”, an important motto for everyone, but even more to the younger ones.
Commitment Mural, in Calouste Gulbenkian Avenue
This is a recent composition from SMILE in Lisbon that we’ve already written about in Urban Art about Social Causes in Lisbon.
This mural was created within the scope of the Lisbon European Green Capital 2020 – Lisbon Capital 2030, an important step to sustainability and preservation of the environment.
Here we can observe the daughter of Ivo Santos, as a girl who’s blowing a dandelion.
At 5 years old Ivo moved to Odivelas and it was here that he grew up and won for the first time an award that kickstarted his life as a street artist.
Many of his first works were in this council neighbouring Lisbon, but we chose three of his most recent ones to share with you.
In 2017 the City Council of Odivelas promoted a project, which aimed to highlight some of the historic marks of the council. SMILE embraced this big challenge of 120 metres of length and 1500 square metres of area, located in Rua Prof. Dr. Egas Moniz.
There we can find references to King Dinis, the Convent of Odivelas, to the Odivelas Memorial and to the famous quince marmalade from the Bernardas Nuns.
Save the Mother Earth Mural
In the locality of Ribeirada, more precisely in Amália Rodrigues Avenue, we can observe a mural that raises awareness to the conservation of nature. Realised in 2019, it replaced the mural of the World Environment Day from 2016 that was already degraded and which was also created by the urban artist SMILE.
Tribute to Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen
This tribute to the writer, on the centenary of the birth, was painted on one of the sides of the Middle School of Famões, which is named after the poet.
The connection that SMILE has with Setúbal is extremely strong. Not just because he went there frequently to visit his close family members since he was young, but also because at an artistic level, he’s done many highly relevant works in this council.
This has already given him in 2019 the nomination as an Ambassador of the City and in the following year the medal of honour of the City of Setúbal, in the category of cultural activities. Condecorations like these left him specially touched and flattered.
Tunnels of Figueirinha
These are two tunnels on Estrada Nacional 10-4 with distinct characteristics, where SMILE carried out two different projects in 2019, adapted to each of the spaces.
In the first one, closed and vaulted, was created an optical illusion that gives us the sensation of having dived in the ocean. The entire area is painted in blue and white and a scuba diver and different aquatic animals, such as dolphins, octopuses and jellyfish are represented…
“Live Arrábida” is the theme of the second tunnel, which is partially open. Here are highlighted the sports that can be done in this magnificent mountain, including: BTT, climbing, trekking, paragliding or simply hiking.
Fauna and Flora Tunnel of Arrábida
In 2020, SMILE was once again invited by the city to embellish yet another tunnel on the same road that leads to the beaches of Setúbal, close to the Galapagos Beach.
This long mural shows us aspects of the fauna and flora of Arrábida. Here the blue rock thrush, the barn owl, the peregrine falcon, the fox or the European polecat can be seen.
Fauna and Flora Mural of Arrábida
The most recent creation of SMILE in the council of Setúbal is actually from 2021. It is approximately 80 metres in length and is located in Vila Nogueira de Azeitão.
The theme of the rich and varied fauna and flora of the Arrábida Mountain led the urban artist SMILE to raise awareness, once again, to the importance of preserving the endangered species.
In this case, he did this by representing fragments of ripped photos where animals such as the Alpine swift, the common genet, the black redstart, the hawfinch and the fox are portrayed.
The message is clear: if these animals disappear due to a lack of nature protection, we’ll only be able to find them in images in the near future.
Now that we’ve reached the end of this article, we can only reaffirm the great pleasure we had in meeting this talented artist and thank him for his precious contribution to this article.
SMILE is a name to remember in the national panorama of urban art. Internationally recognised, he spreads a message of urgency, but always with a smile!
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