There is an unfathomable power emitted by art that uses urban landscapes as its canvas. It is not exclusive to those of a certain social class or within art circles; it is accessible to all. It does not rely on an unchanging gallery space to be seen or understood; it adapts to the fluidity and movement of its dynamic surroundings.
Street art transforms ordinary areas-highways, bridges, alleys and street corners- into platforms for creativity, community-building and conversation. The power of street art is felt by all of those who come into contact with it, whether that feeling is conscious or subconscious.
Nobody understands this feeling better than those who create the pieces, the artists themselves. Chilean-native Dasic Fernández has been nurturing his relationship with street art from an early age. He first began tagging his name with graffiti when he was just 13, using it as a means to contribute to the hip hop culture that captured his heart. “It wasn’t anything else more than hip hop. I always drew and everything, but with hip hop you have to be active. You have to do something to be part of the movement,” he explained to filmmakers Dan and Ruben Perez when he was featured on their short film Street Art Exposé: Dasic Fernández. Tagging paved the way for painting, which led to much bigger projects than the young artist anticipated.
After moving from the more rural settings of his hometown, Rancagua, up north to the vibrant capital city of Santiago, Fernández pursued an education in architecture to widen his interpretation of spaces and what could be done with them. However, he had no intention following through with a career as an architect and instead left school better prepared to create the murals he is now recognized for. “I wanted to turn spaces into places with a soul and a character,” he told The Arab American News, a Michigan-based newspaper.
Many of his murals are composed of bright, exuberant colors that work together to present a character. Marked by Fernández’s chromatic style, they vary in tone and emotion but manage to present those who encounter it with a myriad of graphic and thematic layers. One of my favorite pieces depicts a woman from the waist up, unclothed, with different hues of neon paint dripping down her body. Her arms are suspended in the air but cut off by the geometric lines of black, gray and white that line the background. Her head is tilted back; her eyes are closed. She appears to be in a place far inside herself. It is as if the colors coating her skin reflect the spiritual and mental state she occupies, the energy spilling from her heart. To me, the image convery what it feels like to dance at a concert. In fact, the dark disk surrounding her waist, the object from which she emerges, reminds me of the hula hoops frequently seen at music festivals and outdoor shows.
Other murals create images within the figures themselves. On a wall the artist crafted in San Miguel, Chile, a black and white, bandana-clad subject maintains the majority of their face masked except for their eyes. The cloth that covers their mouth, nose and forehead features a brilliant blue sky with clouds that melt into an ochre sun towards the neck. The person’s eyes gaze up at the clouds that float off of their bandana and into their dark surroundings. Their right arm, clad in a rainbow long sleeve, reaches up to touch the clouds. The mural portrays a message of hope and positivity even at the darkest times. “I think everything that we create is political. When you’re creating something, you’re always leaving a statement behind no matter what you’re doing. Some are more evident than other ones, probably,” Fernandez stated in an interview with Planet Chocko, a New York City music and culture zine.
In some pieces, the muralist aims for bolder political commentary. He painted walls around New York City in neighborhoods like Bushwick, the Bronx and Queens that depict citizen confrontations with police officers and emphasize the power of cell phones and cameras in the face of brutality or abuse of power. These murals were part of a series aptly named “Know Your Rights,” commissioned by a grassroots coalition named the Peoples’ Justice for Community Control and Police Accountability, and are accompanied by text that informs people of their rights in case they enter an altercation with law enforcement. Other murals are focused entirely on text itself, such as one that loudly proclaims “NO HUMAN BEING IS ILLEGAL,” a jab at Arizona legislation that cracks down on immigration. The latter example stands on the rooftop of Fernández’s current home, the Rebel Diaz Arts Collective. Sticking true to his first love, the collective is a hip hop community that proudly supports creative outlets for neighborhood outreach.
The artist’s work spans across walls in both Latin America and the United States and will even be featured in Miami’s revamped Hard Rock Stadium. He has made the transition to gallery showings in Chile, but the streets remain as Fernández’s muse. Although graffiti is often looked down upon by the traditional art world and is considered criminal activity in many places, artists like Fernández recognize it as an agent of influence and democracy that can inform, protect and restore power to the people.