Creative Spaces (Buenos Aires): Stencil Land

There’s a reason why one of Buenos Aires’ most established street artists is known as Stencil Land. In his hands, the humble stencil subverts images as iconic as Michelangelo’s David — and beloved wisecracking alien Alf — into political and social protests. But what does it all mean? Milk Made got in touch with Stencil Land as part of our series on Buenos Aires street artists to ask about his work and inspiration and why his South American cowboy is strumming a sweet ass electric guitar.

Milk Made: Why do you work with stencils?

Stencil Land: I started to use stencils by pure chance in the year 1997, this was the first time I cut a stencil and also that year I went out at night to paint the logo of a friend’s rock band. It was a technique I found entertaining and interesting in all its steps: first imagine an idea in a visual way, design it, cut it and then paint it. I really enjoy every one of those moments. It’s a fast and effective tool.

MM: What was the first piece of art you made with a stencil?

SL: I cut a figure similar to a tribal tattoo design. It was a kind of barbed wire… a figure that was not intended to give any message, but I liked how complex it could look.

MM: Where do you look for inspiration? And how do you choose images for use in your artwork, like the guacho [or South American cowboy] in “Metal Gauch,” for example?

SL: Inspiration is in the everyday, in the present or past of social or political reality. I think that viewers perceive some of the irony in my work, but I doubt that they understand exactly why it was created. There is a message of protest and change in the majority of my stencils.

The guacho for example, is inspired by when the Benetton company came to Patagonia in the ‘90s and bought and usurped thousands of acres of land, leaving the native Mapuche in the difficult choice of staying to work as slaves or abandoning their legitimate land to live in the southern Andes where they would almost starve to death because they couldn’t hunt, fish or cultivate their lands. They also took "ranches" pawns as employees or essentially slaves. I remembered how when European settlers landed in America and they traded mirrors for gold. The image depicts how the gaucho gave their lands in exchange for something that didn’t serve them: an electric guitar, and it also alludes to the constant consumption of new technologies by society and thus the loss of its roots.

MM: The streets of Buenos Aires are full of art. Do you pay attention to the street art that is already there when you work on something? Does it affect what you’re creating?

SL: I enjoy seeing the streets full of ‘art’. In Argentina we have a bad habit of covering up each other. When my stencil allows it, I try to integrate into what someone had already painted.

MM: Some of your stencils are enormous. How do you choose the size?

SL: There are two ways to make a stencil: cut it and then find a wall to paint, or conversely, find a wall and adjust the size of the stencil to the wall. On the other hand, making a stencil of more than 4 meters high — I think that is the biggest I’ve done — is more difficult to find a wall for and the materials cost more… and I don’t always have the money for it.

MM: Is there any difference to creating a piece by yourself versus working with a group like Hollywood in Cambodia?

SL: It costs me a little to “sell” my work in the Hollywood in Cambodia Gallery. I thought that I was selling something that I did without expecting anything in return. The sales of my stencils allows me to keep painting in the streets. As for the technical aspect, I almost always make two versions of my stencils, a larger set for the street and a smaller one for sale.

MM: Are there any pieces that hold a special meaning for you?

SL: Almost all of my works have some meaning for me, considering all the time I spent on them… maybe when time goes on, I’ll start to see errors or think "Now I could do better…”, but I also think that my best stencil is the next one that is still in my head and I haven’t yet designed or cut.

Photos By: Koury Angelo

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