THE sight of Portuguese graffiti artist Alexandre Farto attacking the side wall of the Norfolk Hotel with a jackhammer doesn’t stop many in their tracks.
But the extraordinary image he’s scratched into the wall will have tongues wagging for years to come.
In just over 24 hours Farto carved a breathtaking portrait of Dorothy Tangney, Australia’s first female senator, on the side of the old pub.
Farto, AKA Vhils, is famous for the stunning portraits he’s chiselled into derelict building and walls around Europe.
The Lisbon-born artist, who’s exhibited with more-famous street artist Banksy, uses explosives, drills, household bleach, spray paint and stencils to create his works.
Tangney had inspired him because she’d stood up against the establishment to carve out her own place in history: Elected at the age of 32, the Fremantle teacher was Labor’s only female senator throughout her entire 25 years in parliament.
“After doing some research on people relevant to Fremantle’s history, I came across Dorothy Tangney and how she fought for women’s rights and for a better future,” Farto said.
“This inspired me, but also the way in which Dorothy carved what surrounds us, metaphorically speaking, which made a lot of sense to me.”
Farto’s interest in graffiti began as 13-year-old in his hometown, where the walls of many buildings were covered in propagandic images from the 1974 revolution that overthrew 50 years of fascist dictatorship. By the mid-’90s many of the fading revolutionary stencils had been covered by advertising.
Farto says people need to understand the influences of his destructive, urban art.
“[Portgual had] the longest running dictatorship in western Europe,” he says.
“Everything became highly politicised after ’74 and the whole country veered politically from right to left. The walls in the city were covered with murals and posters of left-wing imagery and slogans.
“After about five years, the political winds started to shift again towards the centre and even the right. People seemed to go from the dream of Utopia to that of Eurotopia.
“It was like the European Union, which Portugal joined in 1986, was going to save us and be a cure‑all. By the time I was born in 1987, everyone was forgetting about the murals on the streets. I remember them as decaying and crumbling walls but I really liked them as a kid.”
Farto says when he first starts to chip at a brick or cement wall, he never knows what might lie beneath.
“You don’t have complete control over the process,” he says. “It brings the ephemeral and ever‑changing aspect of the streets to the art. You just go and do your thing; the rest is done by nature, the nature of the materials, and time.”
That lack of control may mean Tangney’s portrait doesn’t have the stunning depth of other Farto works. He discovered the Norfolk’s render is weak and risks whole sections crumbling if he chisels too deep.
by BRENDAN FOSTER