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Painting the Fifth Ward

The Couto Brothers' Mural

Oct. 2, 2011
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The striking mural at 1st and Pittsburgh is signed is the work of two brothers, Alex and Chris Couto, who only two years ago combined their talents in a serious effort to create art.  The self-taught Brazilian-born brothers have enjoyed remarkable success since moving to Milwaukee. They recently submitted an entry to the prestigious Cartazini Biennial in Paris, and made the first stages of the elimination, which winnows entrants from around the world to just 100 artists. Their “coming together to work on a painting simultaneously” has inspired some difficult moments as they perfect their team approach; but, as Chris explains, they have multiple upcoming projects that make the artistic struggles worthwhile.

What feedback have you had from the Milwaukee mural?

Quite amazing what impact it has on the community. 
People come up to you -- bus drivers, firefighters -- and tell you they are really happy to drive by it. They thank you.  We couldn't have done it without Milwaukee – it's joyous and peaceful and represents all cultures put into one, the ethnic diversity of the city.  We made a stamp on Milwaukee and we hope that it inspires other artists to take it to the next level, and helps create more proposals from businesses like we've been getting from the mural.

What paintings are you working on next?

We recently shipped our paintings to Amsterdam, seven of them. A man there, Remko Spaan, reached out to upcoming artists from around the world. 
He also wanted us to design limited edition T-shirts. They are placed in pristine packaging, so you can hang them on a wall if you want or wear them as a statement. It's in the style of our other work. We love colors -- we get off on colors.

What kind of paintings did you send?

The paintings we sent to Amsterdam were generally very large. One was titled The Middle Passage.
It deals with slavery.  We actually acquired a drawing made by a slave and we made an interpretation of it with four life-size men in the painting. We do touch on social issues, powerful issues that society chooses to forget. We touch on these dark things and try to make people understand what we've come through. As we do so, we're creating our vision, our world around us.

Are you doing anything else, artwork closer to Milwaukee?

We're working on some projects that we choose not to talk about because then it makes more impact. We are also collaborating with a surfing lifestyle company to design T-shirts for Australia and Indonesia. Closer to home, we're working on a painting for Elsa's [on Milwaukee's Cathedral Square]. It's a grand painting on canvas that will be unveiled this fall, similar to what we've been doing. We'll be excited to see the work actually installed in Elsa's when it's all finished.


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