You know when you just step into a room or a building, read a certain book or poem or simply hear a few words, and it sends shivers down your spine in an unexplainable way?
That’s the feeling I got at Escadaria Selarón.
World famous not only in the art world, but also in pop culture, having featured in many music videos, TV shows and advertising campaigns, this crazy beautiful staircase truly is a labour of love like no other.
Jorge Selarón, Chilean artist, began renovation of the steps outside his home in 1990 using broken pieces of porcelain and mirrors. At first people didn’t take note of his efforts, some even ridiculing him. Within time, travelling neighbours began bringing him tiles from the countries they visited, and soon enough people were sending tiles of all shapes and sizes from all over the world.
In all it took 20 years and over 2000 tiles donated from more than 60 countries to be completed. Even then, his work wasn’t done: Selarón continued to periodically chip off some of the old tiles and replace them with new ones, meaning that his work of art was ever-changing.
The tiles themselves are a beautiful chaos. There is no order, there is no logic in their placements. Hindu deities mingle with Quranic passages, watched over by Homer Simpson while the Playboy bunny and Barack Obama look over from the other side of the steps. Countries from opposing continents are now neighbours – European Vienna living atop of Caribbean Curacao. Randomly, Kazakhstan crops up a fair few times.
On January 10th 2013, Jorge Selarón – the man who put Lapa on the map – was found dead on the steps he’d spent decades forming into a masterpiece. He was burnt and covered in flammable paint thinner. He had reportedly been depressed and suicidal in the lead up to his death, but allegedly had also received death threats. Although circumstances are to this day not 100% clear, it is assumed that he ended his own life.
No matter what the circumstances, the fact that Selarón took his final breath on the very thing he had put so many years and so much love into creating, is somewhat reassuring. Before his death he would often be seen on the steps, posing for photos and entertaining visitors. Even now after his death, you can still feel his presence.
In fact, the higher up the steps you wander, the quieter and more poignant it gets. Many tourists don’t venture much past the “Escadaria Selaron Rio de Janeiro” tiles, which is the place to get your obligatory tourist snap. So if you’re able to escape the crowds, head on up the stairs, sit yourself down and just take in the whole aura of the place.
He was born in Chile, but Selarón really did leave his heart and legacy in Brazil.