Brazilian brothers Os Gemeos use their enormous murals to humanise the inhospitable byways of their native city

Known as Os Gemeos (The Twins), São Paulo-born Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo not only share the same DNA, but even dream the same dreams. In fact, the colours and images that haunt a shared unconscious at night fire their common daytime venture – the creation of their exuberant yet haunting street art.

Born in 1974 in a humble neighbourhood in sprawling, class-riven São Paulo, the identical twins embraced American hip-hop culture at an early age. In particular, they cite the influence of legendary San Francisco street artist Barry McGee.

“We turned to graffiti to escape the chaos of life in São Paulo. The city is a beast that is growing out of control,” Gustavo told the The Wall Street Journal.

Unnaturally yellow complexions define nearly all the people that populate the Os Gemeos world. Besides skin tone, these figures have something alien about them, with their large heads, spindly limbs and squinty eyes that stare out at our world without revealing anything of their own. And yet they dress like on us, and Os Gemeos capture the details of, say, jeans or tracksuit with hyper-naturalistic precision. The total effect is arresting and uncanny.

While not overtly political, social commentary brims under the surface. The strange humanity of their work brings life to the loveless concrete wildernesses of São Paulo, a city whose elite aggressively neglected public space for decades. While their roots lie in hip-hop, they layer in images from Brazilian culture, in particular folkloric traditions that are endangered in contemporary urban Brazil.

In the last decade, the spray-paint outlaws have become art world darlings, with museum shows, brand collaborations and public art commissions, from New York to Paris, Toronto to Rio de Janeiro. But their real passion remains the humanisation of the often inhospitable byways of their native city.

by Robert Landon

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The Urban Art Issue #37, on pages 52-53.