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Portuguese artist Alexandre Farto (b. Lisbon, 1987) began interacting visually with the urban environment under the name of Vhils as graffiti writer in the early 2000s. Peeling back the layers of our material culture like a contemporary urban archaeologist, Vhils reflects on the impact of urbanity, development, and increased uniformity on landscapes and people’s identities around the globe.

Exploring the concept of creative destruction, Vhils seeks to make visible the invisible that lies beneath the surface of things, creating powerful and poetic visual statements from materials the city rejects. He carves, cuts, drills, etches and blasts his way through the layers of materials. Yet, like an archaeologist, he removes in order to expose, bringing to light the beauty that lies trapped beneath.

His groundbreaking carving technique – which forms the basis of the Scratching the Surface Project and was first presented to the public at the VSP group exhibition in Lisbon in 2007 and at the Cans Festival in London the following year –, has been hailed as one of the most compelling approaches to art created in the public space in the last decades.

This striking form of visual poetry, showcased around the world in a variety of contexts, has been described as brutal and complex, yet imbued with a simplicity that speaks to the core of human emotions. An ongoing reflection on identity, on life in contemporary urban societies and their saturated environments, it explores themes such as the struggle between the aspirations of the individual and the demands of everyday life, or the erosion of cultural uniqueness in the face of the dominant model of globalised development and the increasingly uniform reality it has been imposing around the world. It speaks of effacement but also of resistance, of destruction yet also of beauty in this overwhelming setting, exploring the connections and contrasts, similarities and differences between global and local realities.

Vhils grew up in Seixal, an industrialised suburb across the river from Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, and was deeply influenced by the transformations brought on by the intensive urban development the country underwent in the 1980s and 1990s. He was particularly inspired by the way city walls seem to absorb the social and historical changes that take place around them. By digging into the surface layers of our material culture, Vhils lays bare the neglected or forgotten memories they contain trapped within.

Employing unconventional tools and techniques, his innovative approach and unique visual language have been materialised across a vast range of media – from his signature bas-relief wall carving technique to metal etching, wood engraving, pyrotechnic explosions, video and digital art, installation or sculptural objects – and contexts – including exhibitions, art festivals, community projects, and commissioned productions.

Vhils’ practice has been the subject of numerous solo and group exhibitions, including at well-reputed art institutions such as MAAT – Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (Lisbon), Contemporary Arts Center (Cincinnati), Le Centquatre-Paris (Paris), CAFA Art Museum (Beijing), Hong Kong Contemporary Art Foundation (Hong Kong), Palais de Tokyo (Paris), Barbican Centre (London), and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (San Diego), among others.

[Text by Miguel Moore]

José Saramago | Lourinhã, 2020
photo by Expanding Roots

Artist CV

Vhils studied at the University of the Arts London

Byam Shaw School of Art at Central | Saint Martins College

of Art and Design.

He currently lives and works in Lisbon, Portugal.

A Controversial Affair, 2023 - Underdogs Gallery, Lisbon
Iminente Festival, 2022 - Marvila, Lisbon
From the World, Made in Lisboa, 2019 - Underdogs Gallery, Lisbon
2015 - Award by the Support Street Art Movement
2015 - Knight of the Military Order of Sant'Iago da Espada
2012 - Alexandre Farto AKA Vhils TEDxAveiro
Relevant interviews
Primeira Pessoa, 2022 - RTP
Deixar o Mundo Melhor, 2022 - Expresso
Prisma, 2022 - MAAT
Solo exhibitions(Selection)
2023, Alquimia - Usina Luís Maluf, São Paulo
2020, Haze - Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati
2018, Fragments Urbains - Le Centquatre-Paris, Paris
2018, Intrínseco - Galeria Vera Cortês, Lisbon
2016, Debris - HOCA Fundation, Hong Kong
Group exhibitions(Selection)
2023, Urban Revolution - Lisbon
2013, Urban Art! Biennale - Völklingen, Germany
2018, Beyond the Streets - Los Angeles, USA
2023, EDP Art Reef - Albufeira, Portugal
2022, The Jaunt x Vhils - Petra, Jordan
2018, Providência - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
2016, Throwback to the Future - Portugal
2008, Scratching the Surface - Cans Festival, London
Vhils Studio | London 2009
photo by Ian Cox
Vhils Studio | Barreiro 2021
photo by Alexander Silva


Founded in 2010, Vhils Studio is a planning, production, and management structure that responds to the demand for the artistic work of Alexandre Farto aka Vhils in the national and international markets. 

It deals with the necessary organisation, logistics, and execution for artistic production in the public space, in exhibition contexts, and in contexts of commissioned projects and works. It has a permanent physical structure in the form of the studio, where the work is carried out by a group of permanent in-house professionals, as well as a network of external collaborators in the form of specialised technicians and partners in various fields.


One of its objectives is to promote projects that involve communities and foster social dynamics based on the transformative nature of art.

Vhils Studio | Barreiro, 2018
photo by José Pando Lucas
Vhils Studio | Barreiro, 2017
photo by Alexander Silva
Vhils Studio | Barreiro, 2021
photo by Alexander Silva

Representing Vhils