Dasic Fernández cannot remember precisely how or when he became an artist. Fascinated by Chile’s burgeoning hip-hop culture of the 1990s, he searched for a way to engage with it in public spaces. By the age of 14, he had found his answer in graffiti art. Today, at 24, the Santiago-born artist is a muralist of rising fame whose works dot urban landscapes across the Americas.
Fernández, who speaks with the cadences and dropped consonants of his native Chile, grew up in the small, rural town of Rancagua. He began painting simply by graffiti-tagging buildings with the stylized letters of his name. At the University of Chile in Santiago, where he studied architecture, he explored the impact of art on urban spaces while experimenting with content, themes and style for his own art. “I became more in love with painting on the street than with being in class,” he recalls. In his fourth year he left university to experience art in other parts of the world, including Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and eventually New York, where he moved in December 2009.
Fernández’ shift toward muralism that began during his student days intensified during his travels. Although he maintains that “everything I paint and everything I know how to do in art is rooted in graffiti,” he also cites nineteenth and twentieth century artists like Vincent Van Gogh, Wassily Kandinsky and Roberto Matta as his idols. Fernández prefers the medium of street art because it contains the “essential” quality of providing a space in which to connect with the public directly. Once, after a Chilean TV station distorted his remarks in an interview, he painted a graffito of a person with a lock on his mouth near his apartment in the heart of Santiago. The painting became a powerful and well-known protest of censorship, which Fernández never anticipated. “You never know what the consequence of your art may be,” he says. “Painting on the street carries great responsibility—both artistic and social.”
Fernández has brought that sense of responsibility to his work in the United States. A member of the New York-based Rebel Díaz Arts Collective—whom he affectionately calls his “family from the Bronx”—he helped paint a rooftop mural earlier this year to protest Arizona’s controversial anti-immigration law. Seventy feet long, the mural is dominated by giant yellow block letters that spell out the statement “No human being is illegal.” Interspersed among the letters are silhouetted human figures of all shapes and sizes, including a pregnant woman, a dancing child and an old man walking with a cane. “Our intent with the design was to restore humanity and respect” to the individual immigrant, explains Fernández.
His latest project, three years in the making, is a documentary film called Pan-American Graffiti and explores how art transcends borders. Fernández will travel for 100 days at the end of this year from New York to Santiago, painting 13 large-scale murals along the way. His goal is to document street art and build a pan-American art gallery and network. “It is a project for the long term,” he acknowledges, “but I believe I am laying the foundations for a community as I journey through this marvelous continent [which is]full of talent yet short on resources.”