Escadaria Selarón in 2008
|Town or city||Rio de Janeiro|
|Completed||10 January 2013|
|Height||125 metres (215-steps)|
|Design and construction|
In 1990, Selarón began renovating a dilapidated steps that ran along the front of his house. At first, neighbours mocked him for his choice of colours as he covered the steps in fragments of blue, green and yellow tiles – the colours of the Brazilian flag. It started out as a side-project to his main passion, painting but soon became an obsession. He found he was constantly out of money, so Selarón sold paintings to fund his work. It was long and exhaustive work but he continued on and eventually covered the entire set of steps in tiles, ceramics and mirrors.
Running from Joaquim Silva street and Pinto Martins street, officially known as Manuel Carneiro street, the steps straddle both the Lapa and Santa Teresa neighbourhoods in Rio de Janeiro. There are 250 steps measuring 125 metres long which are covered in over 2000 tiles collected from over 60 countries around the world. No sooner than one section of the steps were 'finished', Selarón started work on another section, constantly changing it so that it was an ever evolving piece of art. Selarón considered the work as "never complete" and claimed that "This crazy and unique dream will only end on the day of my death".
Originally, tiles for the work were scavenged from various construction sites and piles of urban waste found on the Rio streets. But in later years most of the tiles were donated by visitors from all around the world. Of the 2000+ tiles, 300-odd are hand painted by Selarón depicting a pregnant African woman. Selarón didn't comment on this except to say that it was a "Personal problem from my past".
Laterly the work spilled over to steps at the foot of the Arcos da Lapa.
Jorge Selarón was born in Chile in 1947. He traveled, lived and worked as a painter and sculptor in over 50 countries around the world before arriving and deciding to settle in Rio de Janeiro in 1983. He began renovating the steps on a whim in 1990. Many times, his phone was cut off and he was threatened to be evicted from his house due to being unable to afford the living costs. He sold many paintings and accepted donations from locals and travelers to continue his work. Since 1977, Selarón claimed to have sold over 25,000 portraits, all featuring the same pregnant woman which mostly funded his work. It was a labor of love for the artist who resided in the same house by the steps he lived in when he started the work. He was mostly unfazed by the attention given to him by curious onlookers and tourists alike. He was constantly spotted at the steps working by day and treating drunken revelers to fascinating anecdotes by night.
Selarón was found dead January 10, 2013, on the famous Lapa steps. His body was found with burn marks.
The work has featured in many famous magazines, newspapers, travel shows, documentaries and commercials. National Geographic Channel, American Express, Coca-cola, Kellogg's Corn Flakes, Time and Playboy are just some of the media that the steps have appeared in/on. It has also featured in numerous video clips such as Snoop Dogg's Beautiful and U2 also filming there. It is also considered an iconic tourist attraction of Rio de Janeiro with travellers from across the globe visiting it every day. In 2009 the steps were featured in Rio's emotive 2016 Olympic bid video clip "The Passion Unites Us". The steps was also featured in the show The Amazing Race 18 where teams are tasked to find a tile resembling a route info sign.
- "Chilean artist found dead on famous Brazilian steps he spent his life decorating". The Daily Mail. 2013-01-11. Retrieved 2013-01-21.
- The Travel Rag - Stairway to heaven Sasha Naod meets an artist taking steps to pay tribute to his adopted hometown of Rio
- (Portuguese)"Artista de escadaria, Selaron é encontrado morto na Lapa". O Globo. 2012-01-10.