The Brilliant Street Art of Luis Bueno
Pelé is larger than life. His smile has become an advertisement as he travels the world ribbon-cutting and greeting fans. His signature is his logo. Pelé is one of those few celebrities, and even fewer athletes, who have entered cultural mythology, where you exist not as you are, but as the collective chooses to remember you. Pelé has become public property, and to some he is art.
Luis Bueno is a street artist from São Paulo, whose famous series Pelé the Kisser can be found plastered across various city surfaces around the world. The series is derived from a famous photograph of Pelé embracing Muhammad Ali after his final game for the New York Cosmos in 1977. Conceptually, it’s simple. Bueno edits out Muhammad Ali, and inserts another icon. But the result of this perversion of time and circumstance is that you get a glimpse into the kingdom of cultural mythology, and you start to imagine famous figures of all kinds together, walking around, hugging, or as Bueno sees them—kissing.
“This gesture [of affection] contrasts with the spirit of cities like São Paulo, where I live, where people are hurrying all the time, usually immersed in their own realities,” Bueno says. Pelé is not just a football great, but a lover of people. This is why Bueno chooses to exhibit his art in the streets through the unpretentious method of wheatpasting: “I like the fact that street art creates the possibility of talking directly to people without the filters of a traditional exhibition space.”
The series also represents Brazil’s cultural complexity. “Brazil is a country that grew based on the exchange of people from diverse backgrounds,” he says. “This became one of our strongest characteristics: the capacity to deal with others, absorbing, mixing and transforming them into something new.”
As a child plays with dolls, when Bueno stands Pelé next to David Bowie or Picasso or Batman he is melding icons and creating fantasy. He is merging myth and man. Over time, art like Bueno’s helps contribute to Pelé’s enduring legacy in popular culture.