It started in the 1980s with street artists taking over urban spaces in São Paulo as a political statement, and quickly evolved along with the hip-hop scene into graphic warfare. Today, however, Brazilian graffiti art is big business. With many street artists now household names across the global art world, graffiti is commanding big bucks and the second International Biennal of Graffiti is planned for autumn.
Walk through the neighbourhood of Vila Madalena and you'll soon spot the young Beatles jumping out of a wall or workmen staring at you from a garage door. Turn into Batman's Alley and the show really begins. Often changing every few months, every inch of this alleyway is covered with beautiful murals — some purely graphic, some verging on the sci-fi, others humorous or political — but all highly skilled.
A black and white bird eyes you from a doorway — the work of renowned artist Speto. A private work of his, through gallery Choque Cultural, could set you back a cool £14,000. On the road from the airport into town you are greeted with a Lichtenstein-esque 100ft mural on a block of flats by Daniel Melim. A painting of his will cost £20,000.
Yet the real leviathans of the street art scene in São Paulo are found across the city in an anonymous suburb. Here lies the studio of Os Gêmeos — the twin brothers whose recognisable yellow, almost childlike figures now grace walls worldwide as well as in their home town. Their private work can sell for more than £65,000.
Some may accuse the artists of selling out — they were, after all, trying to democratise art in the first place with their renegade methods. However, most artists haven't forgotten where they came from, and will still creep out in the dead of night to leave their kaleidoscope mark on the city before the sun rises.
'It's a nice recognition to show at galleries and museums,' says São Paulo-based artist Melim. 'But my public art is a great challenge, to see how big I can work and reach the greatest number of people possible.'