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An art lesson in Rio

By CNN's Chief London Cameraman, Todd Baxter
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RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (CNN) -- To set foot in Rio is to set foot in one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world.

From the stunning beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, to the soaring granite rock towers dotted around the city like exclamation marks of awe.

But more and more there is an encroaching beauty engaging the eye in Rio: Graffiti.

For the past 11 years, the paint sprayed on the walls in Rio has moved away from simple scrawls of names and epithets to eye-catching displays of wonder.

Local Brazilian Andre Furtado and I spent a little time hanging out with some of the best of Rio's graffiti artists. They told us that it is not vandalism that spurs their spray can brushes but a passion for painting that drives them.

"Graffiti is above all things an art, it is an art," one of Rio's most famous graffiti artists, who paints under the name "Acme," told us.

"I know the definition of art is something very relative, today, so many things could be consider art. But I believe, that even when a guy signs his name on the walls, that it is art because the letters are calligraphy, and there is such care and and love in that."

Indeed, to drive around Rio, is to receive a virtual art lesson.

Echos of Warhol, Kandinsky, da Vinci, and Peter Blake intermingle with Japanese anime as well as the graffiti artists own ideas and concepts.

All of it swirling together to create a visual cornucopia of images drawing from fantasy and reality, intertwining both the beauty and stark reality of day to day life in one of the most economically divided cities in the world.

In Acme's case, he draws his inspiration from everything inside and outside himself.

"I go out to paint without any fixed idea," he tells us matter of factly, "I get the inspiration as soon as I get there. I think about my friends, some who are living in the favelas (shantytowns) and who are sleeping all day, who are not participating in society. Their paradise of Rio is lost quickly. We have got to get them to think, to reawaken them."

Through his graffiti Acme hopes to do that. The Graffiti artists while competing, are increasingly working together. On Saturdays, they get together to brighten up the walls in the many favelas around the city, bringing a rainbow of colors and a rainbow of hope to the dangerous streets.

"It's just great to bring color to places," says Acme, "to color a favela where there is so much destruction, so many people these days come to destroy and we come in to strengthen."

Acme says he would never trade painting on walls for painting on a canvas, the scope and audience would be too small he told us.

He is driven from inside to paint graffiti.

"I have to do what I have to do," Acme explains. " I can't leave these walls all blank and abandoned here, nobody else fixes it so it's left to us to take care of business."

And their taking care of business is very effective, creating some of the most eye catching beauty in Rio.


Graffiti created in Rio for CNN's "Eye on Brazil" week.

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