Lango Oliveira is one of San Francisco's premier tattoo artists, but he has also been doing indelible street art half his life, and these two pursuits overlap when people see his work on buildings and ask for the same image on their bodies. Oliveira's street art is on prominent display around the city, including two works side by side on Jessie Street: Death and the Maiden, which shows the grim reaper clenching a red-haired woman, and an untitled piece featuring two snarling hyenas about to fight over a fresh kill. Both works are about violence and the challenge of staying alive during tenuous times.
The 500 block of Jessie is a dead-end street that's traversed by an eclectic mix of people, including the homeless, drug-users, working class, hipsters, techies, tourists, and police. In other words, almost anything goes in this corridor, where Oliveira painted both works in 2012. His Death and the Maiden was influenced by historic paintings with a similar theme, done by such artists as Egon Schiele and Edvard Munch.
“I'm really into classical paintings, and I wanted to do my own version,” says Oliveira, who usually goes by his first name only. “Plus it's something that reminds us about mortality. And I wanted to paint it in that area because there is a lot of drug use there, so I think it fits the scene. It's a rough area. It's hard to paint there because of the amount of people around there. I was constantly harassed by all sorts of crackheads and crazy people. But I work in the street, so I know how to deal with that. Even with all my street knowledge, it was intense. In fact, it was the most intense place that I ever painted.”
Oliveira, who works fulltime at a Mission District tattoo parlor, was invited to paint on Jessie Street by the owner of Club Six, a nightspot that has since shut down. Oliveira has about 10 works of street art viewable around San Francisco and Oakland. His newest work, at Howard and Mary streets (between Fifth and Sixth streets), Tristeza a solidao, has Oliveira's distinct touches: a woman's prominent face amid streams of red that flare outward. It's a majestic image that you can easily imagine on someone's torso, or in a museum.
“All the time,” says Oliveira, asked how often people ask him to tattoo his street art on their bodies. “It's not the same medium, so it's not like I can go and grab whatever I paint on a wall. Some of what I paint doesn't translate as a tattoo. I have to do adjustments or say that I can't do it.”
Death and the Maiden would work as a tattoo, he says, while his menacing hyenas would not because the image is too horizontal. “You don't find anywhere on your body something like that,” he says. “You can tattoo anything. But the point is whether or not it's going to look good.”