Street art today doesn’t have the cachet in high-end art galleries it had back in the 1980s with the likes of Jean Michele Basquiat and Keith Haring. However, in other arenas, contemporary street artists, such as JonOne, Shepard Fairey and the Lisbon, Portugal-based Alexandre Farto are navigating the gap between high and low culture by forming partnerships with brands like Hennessey.
He sourced copies of old posters and billboards from the company’s archives.
Farto, who also goes by the street tag name Vihls, was commissioned by Hennessey to design labels for to grace limited-edition bottles of the brand’s Very Special Limited Edition (V.S) cognac. “They allow me to create what I feel comfortable with,” he said, “They are supporting my practice and my mission.” As part of his research into designing the 2018 Hennessey V.S. label, Farto, who already was a Hennessey aficionado, traveled to the company’s headquarters in the Cognac region of France. There he sourced copies of old posters and billboards from the company’s archives of previous advertising campaigns. Back in his Lisbon studio, Farto arranged the posters and billboards in layers, and die cut patterns into the composition that included a canvas burned with acid, resulting in a Cubist looking collage, which was then photographed and used as the label.
Hip Hop music, which is embraced by street artists such as Farto, has long celebrated luxury alcohol brands in such as Cristal and Hennessey. In fact, in 2005, mentions of Cristal ranked number 8 in Billboard’s top 20 songs behind brands such as Mercedes and Rolls Royce. However, the love hasn’t always been mutual. In 2006, in the Economist magazine, the CEO of Cristal disparaged rappers publicizing his brand. The rappers fired back and Jay-Z, president of Def Jam records decided to boycott the brand and pull it from clubs that he had an interest in.
Hennessey, however, not only welcomes the free publicity it also sponsors rap parties and has been inviting urban artists for the past eight years to design limited edition bottles. The campaign for this year’s limited edition of V.S. also involves Farto making street art on walls in cities in select countries throughout the world, such as the United States, Viet Nam, and Russia. The project includes displays of Farto’s distinctive street art which involves etching images into masonry through controlled explosions of gunpowder. But Farto also plans to dedicate space on the designated walls to works by local street artists. “There are a lot of artists who don’t get the recognition that they should have,” he explains, adding “I want to give visibility to young artists in Lisbon and abroad.”