My Conversation with Kobra

A couple of weeks ago, Chicago was lucky to have Eduardo Kobra here for the dedication of his Muddy Waters mural, thanks to Beauty & Brawn Gallery and WAC. Taking advantage of his time here, he painted a new mural of Vivian Maier, the street photographer. Again, thanks to Beauty & Brawn Gallery for curating this!  I was lucky to be able to meet up with him one afternoon and have a short conversation, which I have transcribed below to English.  There are some images below of various murals as well.  I was thrilled to see the new Vivian Maier mural be painted over the course of several days in Wicker Park, Chicago.
There are numerous interviews on the internet with Kobra.  I did not want to repeat the same thing, so the conversation below was to satisfy my own curiosity about creativity and travel.

My Conversation with Kobra

L:  You use a lot of colors, like a rainbow.  Do you have a favorite color?

K: No, but in my work, it is not always full of color.  Many times I use only a few colors and black & white.  This one here (referring to the Vivian Maier mural), there are just a few colors.  It depends on what I am doing.  For example, (he scrolls through images on his phone), this one here (the mural of Michelangelo on the Carrera marble quarry) there are just a few colors.  So, it depends, they are not always full of color.  Sometimes yes, sometimes no, it needs a balance.  Color can be in specific details or the whole mural can be in color – depending on the mural.  Black, natural, and with colors – (pointing to another mural image on his phone – the one in Portugal, see below, – natural – meaning the color of the wall)  depending… This one here is almost all black & white.  And this one has lots of colors. ‘

L: I read that one of your influences is music and you have included many musicians in your murals, do you have a favorite music, not for inspiration, but to listen to?  do you like Brazilian music, or classical music or guitar?

K:  When I am not creating, “ritmos de rua” (street rhythms) – I really like street music, hip-hop.  When I am creating, I like to listen to music that is louder and faster.  I don’t have a favorite or anything specific.  Brazilian music is really great – popular Brazilian music, (MPB commonly known as Musica Popular Brasileira) I like Chico Buarque and Lenine

L:  Now, you have murals around the whole world.  When you think of the world now, how has your perception changed?  You have creations in different places around the world, compared to when you were little in Brazil and you didn’t know the world – can you speak to how you see the world now?

K:  There is little difference from what I imagined.  I see that there are a lot of differences, but deep down, people are the same – Japan, China, Arabic countries, Brazil, Europe, the United States, we are all equal.  But people have problems and conflicts, which are unnecessary, but I haven’t seen every place.

All places to me are important, as much the wealthy places and as well as the poor places.  I really like to be in a lot of places, like here in Chicago but I would like to go to Africa, to get to know Africa.  To me it is important to perceive how the difference is that is given to money.

The misery that exists in some places and the luxury that is in others. In some places, people that go hungry and others are snobbish, yes, superior that feel superior…  I see this, I perceive this.

L:  How do you see the world for your son, Pedrinho?  travels ?

K:  Pedrinho has already been to 5 countries, yes!  It is different than for me, because I only started traveling when I was almost 30 years old.  I never had this contact with the outside world. I would like to look at passing on to him all my experiences of what I am seeing and of what I am living. Of course he will take his own way, make his own decisions, but I will try to teach him the right path – the path of honesty, that I personally value, that today, in today’s world, is more difficult every day, to find honesty. Very difficult – a little rare. In today’s world each day, it is more difficult, very difficult to find honesty.

Everybody is manipulating. It’s really bad and this is everywhere in the world, everywhere I go, I see this. Pedrinho is going to see this, there’s nothing I can do about it – .ha-ha  I hope he chooses the good path. I can’t decide for him.

L:   I really love the murals you do because they are rooted in the history of the location.  For example, with this Vivian Maier mural (see image below), she lived in Chicago, there is a historical connection.  Can you speak about art being an international language, a visual language that opens interest without the need of words?

K:  Yes, it’s true, language is not needed.  In terms of myself, I don’t speak English, I don’t speak Spanish, I don’t speak French and I travel around the whole world.

L:  Yes, and creating through art….

K:  I travel the whole world for my work. Personally, I have different themes:

I have one project based on history and collective memory, like this one of Vivian Maier that has a connection to history.  I have a project on the protection of animals and the environment, that I’m working on, that I also like. Murals with bullfights, for example, any kind of aggression towards animals, I am against it.  To take a dolphin, and put into an enclosed place, I’m am against this. I make murals that are against this.

And I have themes connected to uniting the poor areas of the world, like indigenous peoples, like they did in Rio De Janeiro – original peoples, the union of the poor, people that are important for peace.  I like to create murals also on this theme.  I think it’s important.

L:  With these projects around the world, it creates a kind of net, there is a woman here in Chicago, there are women in Tahiti (see below), a women in …….  It creates a net of each theme around the world.

K:  Like also in, I can’t remember the name now, I’m talking about a big one that I did recently…I had lots of issues getting the permission there…. Anne Franck!!! in Amsterdam.  Lots of difficulties to do that one, because it was very difficult to get the permissions, so difficult to get the Green Card. They didn’t want to give it. Many problems, yeah, there are many questions involved.  Have to remain patient.   Like, Muddy Waters here. I thought it was very interesting. It is like Vivian Maier’s too, there are a lot of prejudices involved, too. there is a prejudice against the Blacks. People want to hear the music, but they are prejudiced. It’s funny, strange. ha-ha. very strange, yes.

L:  How would you like, or do you have an idea how a person should see or approach one of your murals?  A person on the road, how would you recommend that they look at a mural?

K:  How do I think that the person should see it? First, I do this for myself.  Because I don’t know how to do anything else.  I have been doing this since I was 12, always painting always.  But…  I seek to be sincere with the work I do.  I seek to respect the environment where I am working as well and it is a work for the public which is accessible by all people, which is a privilege for me. I think that in some places, it has the same importance as a gallery or a museum, or even more important.  Because millions of people see these paintings in the streets. It’s a privilege for me.

I think I have reached some people with my objective that has already passed on a message. For all of my murals, I don’t only think of the aesthetic question.  They contain history, a story looking back, too. They have a real story behind them. they have a motive for which I am doing this.  And I see that little by little, people have understood the questions that I have spoken of, of peace, history, preserving the environment, animals, the union of people, against racism, against all kinds of violence.  I like to do and to talk against this.  This connection is better & stronger for me each day. Because I get so many messages from people…right…I like to talk about this because I don’t like to respond in a negative way, but I like to show how things really are, like subliminally.

L:  Speaking of creativity, do you have advice to others about being creative?  How to develop or be creative?  there is not one unique answer to this.

K:  How to be creative? For me it has form.  One, I have dedicated my whole life to this.  I am always in libraries, museums, bookstores, expositions, always researching, always, always, all the time. I am always fueling myself with information, always. I have days that I remember in the morning an idea – perfect!!  Other days I have to dedicate myself to be able to create. I might research by making many drawings. I can do 30 drawings for one single wall!   I don’t always show up and do this like “it’s done, all set” There is always a battle, a struggle to be able to do this. Sometimes, the creation part is more difficult than the painting part. The painting part— creating, for me, if it were up to me I’d be doing this all the time. But… sometimes to get to a certain QUALITY of creation. It Isn’t easy. It isn’t easy.

L:  And when you don’t feel inspired, what do you do?

K:  I overcome it with research.  I overcome it, or when I don’t have any immediate ideas, I dive into what I want to do, in order to find the answer. There is always an answer.

L:  Do you look at other artists that aren’t painters?  like sculpture, I don’t know, or fashion, are there another aspirations or creativity?

K:  That catch my attention?  In relation to what I do?  I, obviously I see everything.

For example, all of this (showing me things on his phone) are notations to create later, all of them, all of them. all, all, all, all. There are MANY of them.

All the places that I go to, everything I live, I see.  Today, they can give me a key to create something. Everything, all the time. I really like prints, my father worked in a carpet shop.  Yes, I really like fabrics, prints/press – I pay a lot attention to it.  I pay attention, it’s hard to say.. to EVERYTHING. Films, cinema, ANYTHING! It could be a documentary, something unpleasant or disagreeable that I see in the street, EVERYTHING, everything.  I don’t have a specific thing.  I like to be free. I like to look at everything, but I paint following my own path.  I look at and see everything, but I don’t change my work because of others.  I don’t like to change.

L: Are other people in your family artists?

K:  No, I am the first.  My family didn’t want this, a typical story.  Things were hard at home and all, they didn’t want this.  But I didn’t have the choice.  This was bigger, stronger than me.  I had to do it, and I continue to do it.  I couldn’t think about anything else anymore.

L:  Thank you for everything, what is next?

K:  Now, for this year I have 5 more different countries coming up.  Mumbai ,  and various places.

L:  After Vivian?

K:  I am going home for 10 days, because then, Europe, Asia, perhaps to NY, maybe.  Because for now I’m not sure.  Because now, there are many more invitations, many more.  And many cancellations because the building doesn’t want to do it. It is difficult because in this moment I am not decided. This year was a lot, more than others, a lot more.

L:  When you are working in other countries, do you miss Brazil?  the food?  Brazilian Music?

K:  completely – I have problems not having Brazilian food!

L:  I like feijoada!

K:  yes!  I have problems – each country has its food.  Food for me is a difficult point, because I don’t eat just any food.  I have difficulties.

_________ obrigada – thank you!!__________________

Follow Kobra on Instagram at @kobrastreetart and keep up with his website

Also a big thanks to Lindsey and Simone of Beauty & Brawn Art Gallery and Sinergia Arts, you can follow on Instagram at @beautyandbrawnartgallery  @sinergiaarts

Michelangelo David mural by Kobra in Carrara, Italy
Raoni Metuktire Mural in Portugal by Kobra
Vivian Maier Mural by Kobra in Chicago – in progress
Tahitians by Kobra – Papeete, Tahiti

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  1. So unbelievably beautiful and inspirational!! Thank you for seeking out this interview and bringing kobra the person to life. I adore that his son is able to travel with him and see all of these amazing places and his father’s work. Sometging I am sure will shape him into a magnificent man.

    1. thanks Muir!! it was a lot of fun, don’t forget to check out the new murals around the world he is continuing to do. Have a wonderful week!

  2. Hello Larissa. Excellent interview. Thanks for sharing. It complements a discussion (about street art, belonging and travel) I had with the participants of an English conversation group I am hosting in Paris. I will share this article with them.

    1. Thanks for reading it Henrietta, and so glad to hear we have similar thoughts. Hope your class enjoys it, and enjoys Kobra’s murals.

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