Interview: Street Artist FLIP Talks about Graffiti and Foreign Influences

“I create characters that may look cute but they are actually pretty dangerous”, says Felipe Yung aka FLIP, a street artist from São Paulo known as one of the most prominent of his generation in Brazil. It’s a hot day in Long Beach, Southern California, and we’re standing outside WE Labs, watching some of his distinctive figures getting form. “I’ve drawn jellyfishes and some deep-sea creatures like puffers and eels, as a way to show my respect to the ocean”, he explains.

Since the mid-90’s, Flip has surfed these waves not on the water but on the walls of his concrete hometown, São Paulo, and in many other cities overseas. His paintings can be seen not only in the streets but also in the art galleries of London, Madrid, Paris, Moscow, Miami, and Los Angeles. In 2014, Flip went to Japan on a life-changing journey to the country’s art scene. “I’ve been always fascinated by that culture.”

During his trip to California, back in June, Flip painted a 6,000 sq. ft wall in Long Beach, and revisited his 2009 mural inside of Sushi Samba, in Las Vegas, a restaurant that serves flavors from Japan and Brazil. “It feels like home.”

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When did your passion for Japan start?
I’ve been always fascinated about Asian culture. Part of my family is from China, that’s why my last name is Yung, but I’ve never been close to them. Since I was a kid, I hung out with my mom in Liberdade, a huge Japanese neighborhood in São Paulo. My hometown has the largest Japanese community outside Japan so I’ve been exposed to their culture, food, and martial arts. In 2014, I went  to Japan for the first time, there I worked in collaboration with my friend Suiko, an artist from Hiroshima. This trip was life changing for me, personally and artistically. I had the opportunity to paint in Tokyo and Osaka. Also, I’m part of SUSTO’S, a Brazilian-Japanese street-art crew that works in collaboration.

How is the Brazilian street-art scene nowadays?
Street art as a contemporary art scene, to be consumed in the galleries, is pretty new not only in Brazil but all over the world. Some Brazilian artists have been in the spotlight like osgemeos – a great example of successful artists that have emerged from the streets to international art galleries. But there are a lot of great street artists in Brazil still undiscovered.

Even in the Instagram era?
Social media has changed the game in terms of exposure but it doesn’t mean we are having access to the best. In the past, a graffiti was seen only by the locals, now you can live stream the entire process to the world. However, because of the hunger for “likes”, a lot of artists have conditioned their works to what the audience expects. The new generation knows what is trendy and the best time to post on Instagram, for example. So, artists who are not into that lose the attention and somehow the prestige.

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How do you avoid falling into the comfort zone?
I have a trademark that is my camouflage pattern and I’ve incorporated it to almost all my paintings. I also revisit some of my characters like the jellyfish quite often. However, I try not to play safe. In Long Beach, I’ve painted some of my familiar figures without outlines, highlighting the forms, something new on my work.

Tell us about your collaboration with brands.
Last year, for the World Cup in Brazil, I worked for Nike SB, their skateboard line, developing camouflages to sneakers, caps, t-shirts, and backpacks. It was awesome having my signature on some cool stuff. A lot of brands come to me because of my studies on camouflages, and it’s a great response to the years of my dedication to arts.

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What is a perfect day in your hometown, São Paulo?
On a Sunday morning, I head to a street fair (we have many of them all over the city) to get a local staple: pastel (fried empanadas) and caldo de cana (sugarcane juice). Then I hang out in downtown with my homies of Bike Tour SP. For dinner, my choice is a noodle at Lamen Kazu, located in Liberdade, the Japanese area. The evening ends at my recently opened gallery, PICO, in the Glicério neighborhood, with my friends throwing some live beats in the parties and exhibitions we have organized. Cola lá!*

*A Paulista way to say “come over”

Follow @flipon @picoglicerio
More photos: @flickr/flipon

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