Tag Archives: graffiti

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Clet Abraham’s Street Art

I hate graffiti. I especially hate graffiti on the ancient Florentine walls. I want to hang the idiot, who keeps painting YOGURT on the walls in my neighborhood, up by some painful part of his anatomy. I especially want to throw away the key when the paint is on stonework or frescos created over 500 hundred years ago and can’t be cleaned off or painted over. I’ve written about this twice, here and here. So I was perfectly willing to condemn all street “artists” in Florence.

The Common Man carried away the Do Not Enter bar
The Common Man carried away the Do Not Enter bar

Until now. Well not exactly now. I giggled at this artist’s whimsical street sign work a year or so ago. And then he graced Ponte alle Grazie with the most imaginative sculpture (subject of another post). It was only when I got up close with his art on the walls of the innovative café/gallery La Buchetta that I was willing to say “he may be a street artist, but …”

His name? Clet. Where did he come from? France. Underlying philosophy? “As long as there are roads, there will be street art.”

Do Not Park gets unbuckled by Clet
Do Not Park gets unbuckled by Clet

Cletus Abraham is not exactly your everyday street artist. He was born in 1966 in Brittany. His father is the French writer Jean-Pierre Abraham. Clet attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Rennes. His art was exhibited at various galleries of Brittany, after which he moved to Rome where he worked as a restorer of antique furniture. He exhibited in numerous galleries in Rome and Paris. In 2005, he moved to Florence. Did his arte nella strada begin here? I don’t know.

In 2010, the blogs started to twitter about Clet’s nighttime raids on Florence street signs. Clet said that he suddenly saw the overwhelming banality and primitiveness of the ubiquitous municipal signs that rule our lives. He wanted to give them another meaning — a political, religious and philosophic interpretation — without obscuring the readability of the underlying sign.

One of the first street sign silhoulettes created by Clet
One of the first street sign silhouettes created by Clet

It began with a crucified Christ hanging from a “dead-end” sign. Then Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man graced a “no-entry” sign. But the favorite has to be the Common Man who is carrying away the “no entry” bar.

Unlike the taggers and the spray painted ugliness on Florence’s ancient walls, Clet’s street sign art is a removable adhesive silhouette. His work can be found in Rome, Florence, Paris, Turin, London and Valencia. It may be coming to a city near you.

Frenchman Clet Abraham leaves his mark in Paris
Frenchman Clet Abraham leaves his mark in Paris

Alexandra Korey, of ArtTrav.com fame has already asked the question that most interested me: “What is the difference between your work and graffiti?” Clet answered:

I’m not sure exactly what the fundamental difference is between a graffiti artist and my work. I can say for sure that my stickers are easily removable. It’s essential to me to create works that are thematically in keeping with the support upon which I am working, to adapt myself thus to any situation with complete respect for the work of others; I try to offer a service with my talent and knowledge. It’s possible that some graffiti artists have a similar work ethic. We do have in common a taste for the mysteries of the night and of surprise; a healthy attitude [or preference] for liberty of expression and breaking of rules – but these are the bases of being an artist!

I may be persuaded that street art, when done well is a gift to the city and its residents, especially that which is not permanent or destructive, like the Clet street signs.

Near Arezzo, Clet painted the town of Popi for the Castello di Popi
Near Arezzo, Clet painted the town of Poppi for the Castello di Poppi

For Clet, street art is more of a hobby than a vocation. His works are experiencing a notable success with private collectors in Paris, Monte Carlo, and New York. Many private entities, such as Banca Popolare dell’Etruria e del Lazio, the Istituto Tommaso Crudeli of Udine and the Castello di Poppi, have commissioned works from him. He participated in three exhibitions organized by the FuoriLuogo (“Out of Place”) between 2008 and 2010.

You can visit his studio in Via dell’Olmo, 8r in the San Niccoló neighborhood where he sells small items (stickers, t-shirts, and pins) based on his work, as well as his enhanced city street signs, both new and weatherworn, discarded by the Florence road works department.

Check out the videos of Clet and his work.

Burnt to a Crisp – Graffiti Redux

The mayor says he’s going to fix it, but he doesn’t seem to have time while he’s throwing White Night festivities and Blue Night parties and stopping the bus system in its track by creating the fabulous pedestrian zone around the Duomo. He’s having equal trouble with potholes. But potholes and graffiti aren’t sexy and aren’t likely to disappear. So I will stay Burnt To A Crisp about the graffiti destroying Florence.

OPEN YOUR EYES TO comics DAY & Duke of Urbino
OPEN YOUR EYES TO comics DAY & Duke of Urbino

The mayor granted a permit to OPEN YOUR EYES TO comics DAY –maybe to glam up graffiti. But it was for only for one day and now the artwork has been vandalized.

OPEN YOUR EYES TO comics DAY on Banco Toscano
OPEN YOUR EYES TO comics DAY on Banca Toscana

Florence has a long history of graffiti. But the graffiti of the 16th century  now peeks out from behind the graffiti of today.

16th century graffiti meets 2010 graffiti
16th century graffiti meets 2010 graffiti

Scrawls flank my front door.

Burnt to a Crisp about my doorway
Burnt to a Crisp about my doorway

The most famous ugly graffiti in Italy is in Verona – along the wall to the fake balcony of Shakespeare’s fantasy Juliet.

Mess in the name of Love
Mess in the name of Love

Most of the graffiti in Florence is attributed to teenaged dweebs. Gangs aren’t tagging boundaries inside the historic center. English proficiency isn’t common, which doesn’t necessarily let the thousands of American students off the hook. Italian is the language of choice for these vandals.

Madonna in tabernacle looks down on scrawled walls
Madonna in tabernacle looks down on scrawled walls

But not always … In 2008, a Japanese television crew filming on top of the Duomo caught some familiar scribbles and broadcast them. Unlike the justice system of Florence or, in fact, anywhere in Italy, the Japanese found in this a moment of national shame and came down hard on a high school teacher for expressing his love in ink on a wall.

A 19-year-old fashion student from Japan’s Gifu University was caught in another incident.  She offered 600 euros ($950 in 2008) to repair the damage.

“We accept the apologies (and) we accept the money exceptionally for the gesture’s great sense of civility,” said the Duomo’s chief curator Anna Mitrano, flanked by the university’s visiting rector, Yukitoshi Matsuda.

Except for Ms. Mitrano, Italians have expressed shock and amusement over Japan’s attitude. Perhaps a little more shame and pride and a little less official complacency and public cynicism would help bring Florence’s center back to its historic beauty.

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Graffiti, Then and Now

Graffiti is known worldwide, but word itself has nothing to do with scrawls on walls. In Italy, the words sgraffito and sgraffiti come from the Italian word sgraffiare (“to scratch”), ultimately from the Greek γράφειν (gráphein), meaning “to write”.

Graffiti, the bane of all modern cities in the form of spray paint, in its original sense refers to marks scratched onto a surface with a tapered point. The graffito technique has been used since prehistoric times. Decades ago, my father showed me graffito animals, birds and people carved on the tufa cave walls in northern New Mexico. But in Florence, starting in the 1400s, it was a technique of wall design, where the top layer of pigment or colored plaster is scratched through to reveal an underlying layer.

Elaborate 16th century graffiti on Bianca Cappello's house
Elaborate 16th century graffiti on Bianca Cappello's house

“The historian and artist Giorgio Vasari recorded the graffito technique step by step. First, one paints the wall of a palazzo with a layer of lime plaster, coloured with burnt herbs or other dark pigments. Once the first layer is dry, another is painted on, this time of white plaster, distributed uniformly. On top of this second layer are laid punched-out designs, or stencils, which are reproduced on the wall with powdered charcoal (referred to as tecnica dello spolvero in Italian). A tapered awl is then used to trace the resulting pattern on the wall, cutting through the layer of white plaster to reveal the darker, underlying layer. Thus, by using the same colours as a palazzo’s frescos, the graffito designs could be used to add shadow and depth to the overall decoration.” (FirenzeTurismo.it)

Allegorical graffiti on the façade of Palazzo Ramirez de Montalvo
Allegorical graffiti on the façade of Palazzo Ramirez de Montalvo

My favorite examples of historic graffiti in Florence were created during the second half of the 16th century, when the graffito technique was used to design Mannerist allegories incorporating grotesque (meaning in the style of the “grotto”) designs and figures. These are still partially visible on the façade of the Palazzo Ramirez de Montalvo in Borgo degli Albizi and fully realized on the House of Bianca Cappello (grotesque sgraffito decoration by Bernardino Poccetti, 1566) on Via Maggio.

When using the term graffiti to mean defacing buildings, Michelangelo has the dubious pleasure of allegedly being one of the first famous graffiti artists – not with paint, but in the caveman version of scratching a design with a sharp point. On the corner of the Palazzo Vecchio, the one nearest to the Uffizi Gallery, any visitor to Florence can find a carving of a man’s face.

Did Micheangelo deface the front of the Palazzo Vecchio?
Did Micheangelo deface the front of the Palazzo Vecchio?

There is more than one version of the story, but the artistry is attributed only to Michelangelo. One version states that ever willing to take a dare, and supremely confident, Michelangelo turned his back, carving free-hand without looking, into the pietra serena of the city hall’s wall, he etched his own profile into the stone. Another variation has it that he carved blindly the likeness of a personal foe, so that Florentines would never forget the man’s face.

Sanctioned graffiti for OPEN YOUR EYES TO Comics DAY
Sanctioned graffiti for OPEN YOUR EYES TO Comics DAY

Last week, a one-day comics festival, OPEN YOUR EYES TO Comics DAY, came to Florence. Via del Corso was decorated with four modern graffiti wall decorations – sanctioned by the mayor. These were not scratched into walls, but painted on to wallboard. They won’t last 400 years, but they are better than the scourge that defiles most of Florence’s walls.

To be continued …