The body of Chilean-born artist Jorge Selaron was found on the world-famous candy-colored steps of a staircase in Rio's bohemian neighborhood of Lapa that the artist himself created.
Selaron, who was most famous for turning the alley and stairs into a vibrant "tribute to the Brazilian people," was found dead in front of his house which faces the staircase as it ascends into the St. Teresa Convent above, according to the Associated Press.
While investigators would not disclose the cause of death, the possibility of Selaron having been murdered is not being ruled out.
In 1983, after traveling and working as a painter and sculptor in more than 50 countries around the world, Selaron finally settled down and created a life for himself in Rio de Janeiro. It was in 2005 that the staircase became a city landmark and the artist was declared an honorary Carioca, or Rio resident.
"We can speak of Lapa before and after Selaron. He changed the face of Rio. His death is something brutish that makes no sense," Jocimar Batista de Jesus, a capoeira master who also lives along the steps and shared many a beer with the artist over decades, told the Associated Press.
Named “Escadaria Selarón,” the staircase project began in 1990, when Selaron began tiling the steps and collecting old porcelain bathtubs to use as planters along the sides.
"He had no resources, no support from the city," Jesus told the newswire. "The neighbors helped as they could. I brought him tiles from my trips, from Spain, Holland, as I traveled. As it grew, people began to contribute, to send him tiles, to bring them to Rio when they came to visit."
The famous steps run from Joaquim Silva Street and Pinto Martins Street, officially known as Manuel Carneiro Street, and straddle both the Lapa and Santa Teresa neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro. There are 250 steps measuring 410 feet long, which are covered in more than 2,000 tiles collected from moreo than 60 countries around the world.
While tiles for the work were originally scavenged from various construction sites and piles of urban waste found on the Rio streets, most of them have been donated by visitors from all around the world. Of the 2,000-plus tiles, 300-odd are hand-painted by Selarón depicting a pregnant African woman.
The staircase that was born of this "great folly," as he writes in a tile, tells stories, shares notes and even reflects on great memories.
In one, Selaron thanks a friend for helping out with the tiling. Elsewhere, proud mother Jandira announces the birth of her son, Bruno. In one tile, Selaron apologizes to his landlady, Dona Elena, for having neglected to pay rent during the years he spent working on the staircase.
"I hope you understand," he pleads.
Selaron meant the work to last a lifetime.
"I will only end this mad and singular dream on the last day of my life," he wrote on the wall.