Street art duo, Shalak Attack and Bruno Smoky, grew up in very different environments and got into art in very different ways but ended up on the same path and doing art together. Having lived in Mexico, Brazil, and Dominican Republic, they've chosen Toronto as home-base. In this interview, we’ll dive into their inspirations as artists, how they became artists from their childhood, and where they like to eat authentic Brazilian food in the city.
What does being a Torontonian mean to you?
Bruno: For me, as a person from another country, I think Toronto's a very open city with a lot of people from different countries and cultures and that's normal. That’s Toronto. It’s multicultural. So for me, I feel very homey here. Especially because the city is very open to street art. It's not just a regular job that we can find anywhere. So that makes me love Toronto even more.
Shalak: I feel like Toronto is one of the most international cities. It represents so much more. It's such an international base. For us, who are always traveling all over the place, being based here is amazing. We have so many friends that come to Canada. They come to Toronto. We get to overlap friends, international friends here as well. So yeah, we've been here about four, five years, and have adopted, feel adopted into Toronto as a home.
Are you planning on staying?
Bruno: Yeah, definitely.
Shalak: Yes. I think we've thought about different alternatives. So we try to think of where else would we live? There is nowhere else that we are inspired to go and live right now. Unless it's a small little place near Toronto. More natural, woodsy area. But other than that, I think Toronto is really a great example for a city worldwide. What we have available. The food is incredible. You can find anything that you need or want. Like Bruno said, our artwork is very much welcomed here.
Talking about food, what’s your favourite Brazilian or Chilean joint in Toronto?
Bruno: Well, there are a bunch of restaurants on Dundas but I love Brazil Bakery and Pastry. And we paint a lot around there too. We have all the alleys covered by our pieces. So it's a very familiar place for us.
Photo Cred: Heritage Park Studio | Bag: CamPro Grey
What is it about Toronto that inspires you to be an artist?
Shalak: That's a hard question. I don't know. Even just what inspires you to be an artist by itself would be a hard question. I think being an artist is something that you are born with naturally but I think Toronto is an inspiring place because of all of the different things that you see. The different cultures that are visually available. Even when you walk down the street, there are people talking all different languages. I think it's almost like you can travel within your own city and I think traveling is a good, crazy inspiration to have as well.
Something that I really appreciate from Toronto itself as a city compared to other cities that we've been to, is the appreciation that people have here for artists and in that sense, for the art.
Did it start as street art or did it start with traditional art or something else?
Bruno: Well, in my case, I had a lot of experience in so many different levels of vandalism. And graffiti was right there as well. There was a huge scene of pichação. They climb the buildings everywhere in downtown. 50 floor buildings and it's all shadowed. This was part of the culture since the 60's where the dictatorship happened. There was a lot of people suffering, this came out as a form of a protest.
So basically it was just part of the community. You grew up with your cousin doing one. And say, "Oh, you gonna go for pichação? Oh yeah, I'm gonna go too."
This was back in 1999. So I was not even thinking about doing something like that, but I was just enjoying it. But I always drew. I always liked to copy those cartoons and comic books. Like Dragon Ball Z.
But then I kind of stopped. Then I was really into bikes and motorcycles and doing nasty stuff like jumping out of the bus and surfing on top of buses with my friends.
Shalak: I think art has always been part of my life since I was little. My mom really encouraged us with our artistic voices since we were little. Giving us paint brushes, letting us draw on the table, and the walls and stuff. It just felt like a natural path for me. When I was about 15, 16 thinking about my life, I just decided yeah, I want to be a painter.
I went to Mexico when I was about 19, 20. I lived there for about a year and the muralist movement, the traditional muralist movement is so strong there. It comes from their first nations, from their indigenous people all the way to Diego da Vera and Segadas so that really impacted my experience through art as well. So I was really interested in that.
I was living in Brazil in 2005 and I think I was actually able to get my hands on a real spray paint and get more, I don't know, self-esteem. I was always trying to find a way in when I was living in Montreal, but it was such an underground culture. There wasn't so much a way in for women. So I kind of always felt there was closed door there.
But when I was in Brazil and I was trying to find my way in, the doors were wide open. It was like, "Oh, you want to do this? Let's go." So it was just like, "Okay." You just want to get on the rollercoaster and go for it.
So that's the way I found my way into graffiti and then it turned into street art because of the graffiti street art movement evolved in itself. So we're all evolving together and putting these labels on it. But I don't like to put too much labels on what I do. I think it's just- It's art. It's expression. It's our voices and it's something that if you have it in you, you have it.
Do you think your style has changed throughout these years?
Bruno: Yeah. It did. Especially when I came here. My style was very hard, aggressive, nasty. Now, I play a little more. Like this one piece I have, it’s in this magical world but the faces on the fish… they’re not happy or friendly. So it’s a bit hard but it’s in a magical world so it makes it soft too.
Shalak: There is a responsibility that we have as street artists that we're putting things out in a public space. So that's going to affect people in their day to day lives. I think that's a big responsibility that we know we have.
So it's like we're trying to create something positive and if it is a critique, create it in a beautiful way so that it's engaging and it's not kind of off putting. Because art is suppose to bring people in; to ask questions-
Bruno: To create dialogue.
First time you got caught?
Shalak: In Montreal…
I was like 18 and we were just like, yeah. I went out with my sister to paint. We bought this really horrible paint at the hardware store. We didn't know what we were doing. We started painting our whole back alley and our neighbor, she was a fancy, what are those soap opera kind of actresses? She ended up calling the cops and we ended up having to paint over everything. But hey… it was funny.
What is your favourite mural or project that you worked on?
Bruno: The Lawrence?
Shalak: Yeah. We have a wall up on Lawrence and Caledonia that we did with my sister, Fia.
So in 2015 we got this project and we ended up painting the longest mural in Canada. It took us a month. It's dedicated to our environment, to mother nature, and talks about what's happening in our world today. But also talks about the beautiful alternatives.
It was really a beautiful experience because the community loved it so much that there was actually a petition. The counselor wanted to erase one part because, for him, it was too scary.
Bruno: 220 people showed up-
Shalak: To support the mural. I think the biggest community meeting they had before was 30 people. It was huge and everybody was so supportive. People were crying to tell us how much they loved it.
In a way I'm super thankful that there was actually negative backlash to it because it created that dialogue. The community wouldn't have stood up so much and so passionately about it if they didn't have to. So it made people really engage and- the city came out to speak their mind.
Where can we expect your next creation in the city?
Shalak: Pabst. For this year they did a story on both of us. So half the year is for Bruno's label on the cans and then half the year is for my label.
So we did a mural together to kind of blend the two together. (photo above)
Bruno: That's mine. I did a raccoon drinking the Pabst. The owl that’s Shalaks.