The Escadaria Selarón is a beautiful work of art bordering the neighborhood of Lapa in Rio de Janeiro. It consists of 215 steps, leading to the Convent of Santa Teresa. The artist, Jorge Sealrón, moved to Lapa in the 1980s, where he fell in love with the Brazilian culture and decided to stay.
In 1990, Selarón began decorating the steps along the front of his house. He referred to this ongoing artwork as his “tribute to the Brazilian people”. He decorated the steps with tiles of blue, green and yellow, the colors of the Brazilian flag. He also utilized hundreds of porcelain tiles donated by friends and admirers from around the world.
About 300 tiles were hand-painted by Selarón, often with his signature motif of a pregnant African woman. When asked about the image, all Selarón would answer, “It’s a problem from my past.” It is rumored that he fell in love with a woman who became pregnant, but that the pregnancy didn’t come to term. The pregnant woman is a prominent motif throughout his works, in addition to images of himself pregnant.
Since the artists’ passing in 2013, the stairs have been declared a city landmark.
His statement at the bottom of the stairs reads:
This work of art began in 1990, as a personal tribute to the people of Brazil, using the colours of the Brazilian flag green, blue and yellow.
In 1998, when the stairway was almost finished, I discovered a place where old European tiles are sold (at Praca XV on Saturdays) to collectors and designers. I was so impressed that I knew I had to buy them, even if only one at a time. But as I brought these new imported tiles back, I realized there was no space left at all.
So I then invented the idea of always changing the tiles in a continual labour of substitution. This original idea generated a living, constantly changing, work of art.
Normally a work of art is changed or restored when there’s an earthquake or fire etc… But this work is very different. People sometimes think that I used broken tiles to save money; but the fact is tiles in the colours of the Brazilian flag are not available. I had them made especially for this stairway. Then I broke them up with a hammer and mixed the shards together with whole tiles. The stairway has become a world collection of tiles, with more than 2,000 (two thousand) different examples.
There are tiles from Portugal- Spain- England- Scotland- Ireland- Germany- France- Morocco- Holland- Belgium- Czechoslovakia- Austria- Switzerland- Poland- Egypt- Algeria- Turkey- Israel- Greece- Italy- Syria- Lebanon- Iraq- Saudi Arabia- Russia- India- Pakistan- China- Japan- Thailand- Indonesia- Philippines- Korea- Tunisia- Uruguay- Nigeria- South Africa- Argentina- Columbia- Chile- Peru- Venezuela- Bolivia- Ecuador- Canada- USA- Mexico e Brazil.
On 7 December 1999, I cried with emotion when I succeeded for the first time at painting my own tiles. It was an unforgettable day. This was all that I needed to be able to paint the Pregnant Woman who has always appeared in my painting ever since 1977 because of a personal problem… Since then, I have been painting tiles to honour all who have helped to make the history of this great nation: composers, singers, sportsmen, journalists, TV presenters, professionals, businessmen…
Also some of my friends, clients, neighbours, who have always helped me with this work of art with sacrifice, obsession and great love.
You too can take part by sending me a tile in the post. I promise to send you a photo of the tile in the stairway which has 215 steps.
I will only complete this crazy original dream on the last day of my life.