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article imageOp-Ed: The colourful stairway of Santa Tereza in Río de Janeiro Special

By Igor I. Solar     Jun 10, 2010 in Entertainment
Rio De Janeiro - Jorge Selarón is an artist and he admits being crazy. The tile-wrapped Santa Tereza Stairway in Rio de Janeiro is proof of this world famous, tireless painter’s insanity.
The Chilean-born artist first travelled the world for several years and in 1983 he stopped in Rio de Janeiro and settled in the neighbourhood of Santa Tereza, home to several artists, painter’s studios and art galleries.
There, starting next to the Lapa bohemian quarter of downtown Rio and extending for 215 steps up the Santa Tereza Hill is one of Rio de Janeiro’s main tourist attractions: Escadaria Selarón, also known as Santa Tereza Stairway because it ends at the Convent of Santa Teresa de Ávila, founder of the Discalced (Barefoot) Carmelites.
At the time Jorge Selarón moved into a modest house a few steps up the hill, the stairway was neglected and badly in need of repairs. In 1990, Selarón started working on some renovations to the steps across from his house and he never stopped. He confesses:
It became a passion. I was obsessed, possessed, everyone laughed at me. The rent was late, my phone was cut off, but any money I got by selling my paintings, I spent on materials to continue my work.
Twenty years later, after creating and selling about 30,000 paintings, installing thousands of tiles purchased locally with his own money, plus many more sent to him by visitors from 60 countries, the artist’s work on the stairway is not yet finished. The reason that is not finished is that he keeps on repairing, replacing and painting new tiles all the time.
I invented this new technique consisting in constantly changing the tiles, which results in a special energy that brings my art to life and makes it always mutable.
There is a theme to the stairway decoration. Most of the tiles are yellow, green and blue, the Brazilian national colors. Many are red, particularly the stairway borders. The pieces of ceramic are often odd shaped and of irregular size. But the resulting visual effects are dazzling.
Stairway Selarón. The tiles are mostly green  blue and yellow  the Brazilian national colours.
Stairway Selarón. The tiles are mostly green, blue and yellow, the Brazilian national colours.
The paintings which sales have funded for years the never ending stairway renovations (plus the rent and utilities, I assume), all have a common theme.
Painting by Selarón. Rooftops  pregnat woman  skinny cats and dogs  with Sugar Loaf Mountain.
Painting by Selarón. Rooftops, pregnat woman, skinny cats and dogs, with Sugar Loaf Mountain.
The colors are predominantly dark brown and red, they show humble hillside dwellings and favelas, skinny black cats and dogs, and iconic Rio de Janeiro landmarks in the background, such as Sugar Loaf Mountain or Corcovado Mountain with Christ the Redeemer at the top.
Painting by Selarón. Rooftops and pregnant women  Corcovado Mountain with Christ the Redeemer.
Painting by Selarón. Rooftops and pregnant women, Corcovado Mountain with Christ the Redeemer.
Some of those components may vary; however, a consistent element on every painting is one or more pregnant women. When I asked about the meaning of the pregnant women on his paintings, he gives a standard answer:
That’s a personal problem, in my past…
Taking advantage of the warm weather in Rio, Selarón often goes around half naked while showing the tourists details of his stairway and his paintings.
This reporter and Chilean artist Jorge Selarón at the famous Staircase of Santa Tereza  district of...
This reporter and Chilean artist Jorge Selarón at the famous Staircase of Santa Tereza, district of Lapa, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
He likes to talk loudly about his art and his passion for the world famous stairway, which he refers to as “my lifetime masterpiece” and “my tribute to the Brazilian people”. His amazing stairway has been featured in TV documentaries (National Geographic), commercials (American Express, Coca Cola, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes), as background in musical videos (Snoop Dogg, U2) and in several magazines (Time, Playboy). He proudly declares:
I will never forget the day an American model posed naked standing on my masterpiece!
There is no doubt. Selarón is an eccentric artist. Although, after purchasing a couple of his paintings and a few postcards, and getting my picture taken with him wearing wacky butterfly shaped eyeglasses while poking out his tongue in the Māori fashion, I had the feeling that somehow, I was sharing on his artistic madness .
This crazy and unique dream will only end on the day of my death” - Selarón
Stairway Selarón
Stairway Selarón
Stairway Selarón
Stairway Selarón
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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