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Last week, Jorge Selarón, a Chilean artist most famous for his tile-covered steps in Rio, died next to his masterpiece. Back in March, we were lucky enough to see Selarón painting on his steps, and he agreed to take part in our superpower interview series. The 215 steps were one of our favourite art pieces we came across in South America. Selarón continually changed the design and invited visitors to contribute tiles from their country, which he eventually added to the steps. He also painted his own tiles, most often with the image of a pregnant woman who sometimes had his head or the head of a fish.
True to his artistic temperament, after five questions, he turned away and declared “I am painting now”, and that was that. If you’re ever in Santa Teresa in Rio, don’t miss his spectacular steps, covered in tiles from around the world.
Interview with Jorge Selarón
If you had a superpower, what would it be?
I’d have enough money to travel to London and buy all the collections of tiles. England has the best quality tiles. ‘Made in England’.
Describe your perfect day
The day that I had the idea to paint the pregnant woman in 1978.
When were you happiest?
When I went from being a simple painter to a serious, famous, genius painter. It is difficult to be both original and famous. I have painted more than 35,000 pregnantwomen, and last year I did 1,000 self-portraits.
What’s the love of your life?
If you could have dinner with three people, dead or alive, who would they be?
Agatha Christie, Da Vinci and Michaelangelo.
The year after we went to Rio, Selarón was found dead on his famous steps in a suspected suicide. The police also didn’t rule out homicide as Sealrón had received death threats. He was 65 when he died.
Sealrón moved to Lapa in Rio de Janeiro in the 1980s and began decorating the steps in 1990. There are 215 steps in all and they lead to the Covent of Santa Teresa. Selarón decorated the steps with hundreds of porcelain tiles donated by friends and admirers from around the world. It took twenty years to complete and when he finished he started again with a new design. It was an ongoing artwork that he called a “tribute to the Brazilian people”. Since his death, the stairs have been declared a city landmark.