Artist interview: Clandestinos
SEPTEMBER 1, 2022.
Clandestinos Art is husband-and-wife team Shalak Attack and Bruno Smoky: two street artists and muralists based out of the Toronto area. Together, the pair has created art in Canada, Brazil, Chile, the UK, Germany, and as far afield as Palestine and Senegal. They have collaborated with everyone from the United Nations to the Toronto Blue Jays, in their storied and exciting career. Now, they’re bringing their art—which takes influence from their shared Latin heritage, and has been widely described as “psychedelic”—to our exhibition. We caught up with Clandestinos on a rain day, when they were able to take time away from an ongoing mural project to chat about their art and its influences.
Where are you right now?
We’re in our home, just outside of Toronto.
What project are you working on at the moment?
We are working on a project. It’s the second chapter of a project called Daily Migration that
we’ve been doing over the past few years. The physical artwork has been based out of Toronto. It’s talking about different stories of people from the community, and outside of the community, who are migrants or refugees. And talking about nature, and how humans travel the trajectory are also linked to nature, and these natural cycles.
When did you two meet and start Clandestinos?
We met in 2010, in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. We had been painting for several years before we
met. We were doing spray paint murals, individually. And we met through mutual graffiti friends that lived in Rio. Shalak lived in Rio in 2005. And Bruno had moved there in 2008, from Sao Paulo, Brazil. And then 2010, Shalak went back to Rio, to visit. Then, because the painting
communities are very tight, we met, and we painted together. As soon as we painted together, we fell in love with it right away.
What connected you two on an artistic level when you started working together?
We were—and we still are— both fascinated by each other’s styles and artistic approaches.
Before, you could see more of a difference. As time has passed, we connected, and married,
even in the artistic way, where we complement each other a lot through colours and storytelling and compositions and stuff. So we still have our unique styles. But when we come together as Clandestinos, it almost looks like it’s one artist.
Many of your murals are in communities, and are kind of about communities, and the
idea of community. Why is that important to you?
For both of us, street art and muralism have a huge connection to community. Because it’s usually created within the community. So you’re making public art. And it touches people. So it’s not a private thing, where you go into museum or into our gallery, or into somebody’s home. When we do big projects, we go out of our way to speak with communities. It’s a way for people to feel ownership towards the artwork, and also feel part of it. It makes the artwork richer, because we’re involving more people’s voices. And it makes the process a lot more intricate and a lot more special. So it touches our, our own artistic spirit even more when we’re able to share stories.
Have you guys specifically been influenced by psychedelics? Either visually inspired, or
sort of emotionally, spiritually, intellectually nourished by them?
Psychedelics, specifically peyote, did influence our lives and my perception of the world. That definitely impacted our views, and the way that we see the world and the way that we create our art.
Are you visually inspired by psychedelic experiences at all? Some people try to
represent what the psychedelic experience looks like. But it can be very tricky.
A lot of people actually categorize our art as psychedelic. It’s a way that people can kind of categorize the style. Humans, we like to categorize everything. We tried to very much tap into these honest languages. We don’t try to follow trends. There’s a lot of trends that happen in the art world and the creative world. We try to do the best we can to keep honest to our own voice. So that’s making it creatively unique. What people see in our work that makes it equivalent to a psychedelic kind of trip is the colours. We use very strong, and bold, and rainbow-inspired colours. But I think that’s also very influenced from our Latin roots. These colours came out from within.
To talk about those Latin roots: your work has been described as “psychedelic magical
realism.” Magical realism is a Latin American or South American literary tradition. How
do those ideas—the connection between North America and South America, between the
everyday and the fantastic—inform your work?
We have this realistic touch. So it’s not very cartoony. We set things in real world, but we want to create these fantastical, fantasy kind of elements. So the magical parts are tweaking things. We get to travel outside of our kind of mundane routine, and see new things. We use life and our images as metaphors for different things as well. So yes, there is a literary movement, called magic realism, that’s so huge, culturally. That comes out in our visual art, as well.
We hear so much about the renaissance in psychedelics. Is there a way that psychedelic
experiences are reinvesting everyday life with that element of magic, that element of the
indescribable that’s increasingly hard to come by these days?
Yeah. But you have to be careful. Because it could become more like escapism, instead of
Seasoning! That’s great.
Psychedelics are a huge tool for learning, and to get out of your own cycles. Sometimes we’ll get so caught up in our routines, and in our view of life. Psychedelics’ power is it takes you out of the self, and it gives you more of a universal view, like a bird’s eye view of what’s happening. And it has been historically used as a medicinal remedy for people, because it takes you out of the self. I think it’s so important, but it has to be used very carefully, and consciously.