Florence Street Artist Interview: Clet Abraham

May 16, 2014 9:45:55 AM / by Stephanie Sadler

CAPAStudyAbroad Interview with Street Artist Clet in FlorencePhoto: Clet, from his Facebook page, taken by Mokum Magazine

A favorite game for some students who study abroad in Florence is to go on a treasure hunt around the city looking for street sign stickers created by local artist Clet Abraham. Born in France, Clet has lived in Italy for over 20 years now and calls Florence home. He cleverly alters road signs with removable stickers. He has an open studio you can visit in Via Dell’Olmo 8r.

In an effort to introduce some of the locals in CAPA International Education's global cities, we talk to Clet about his motives in creating this particular form of art, how he prepares a new piece from scratch and why street art is important.

CAPAStudyAbroad Interview with Street Artist Clet in Florence
Image from Clet's Facebook page

CAPA WORLD: Tell us about your background. Where are you from originally, how long have you lived in Florence and what brought you there? Are you a formally trained artist or self-taught?
CLET ABRAHAM: I'm from Brittany and I'm a bit self-taught but I also studied art in France before moving to the capital of art: Italy. My first stop was Rome where I worked for several years as a restorer in different ateliers. In my artistic career, this was a very important step which allowed me to gain a fundamental understanding of different materials and techniques as well as consolidating my need of creating physical things that would transcend paper. It is important to say that I’ve always carried on drawing whenever it was possible, giving me an important advantage when it was time to create. Then, I moved out of Rome to a place in the countryside called Poppi where I set up my small studio and went back to becoming a painter in the purest sense.

CAPAStudyAbroad Interview with Street Artist Clet in FlorenceImage from Clet's Facebook page

CW: Florence is not a city like New York or London in which street art is commonplace. How has your work been received by locals in Florence? What has the response been?
CA: It is true that Florence is not the best city to find street art; however, my art has been very welcomed by Florentines and the tourists. The local authorities now tolerate my work and the stickers I put on street signs a little more. I get a lot of support and also some criticism. I am often asked to do interventions in art schools or be involved in cultural events.

CAPAStudyAbroad Interview with Street Artist Clet in Florence
Image from Clet's Facebook page

CW: Explain the step-by-step process of creating a new sticker - from the initial idea, to creation of the actual piece.
CA: I love drawing, so [to prepare a new piece] I draw a lot, for hours and hours! This is not out of pretentiousness. I tried to learn software, but since I’m a perfectionist I was never entirely happy - or at least never as much as with my hand. So I draw, draw and draw. Then I have people who translate my drawing into a precise pixel-based creation.

CAPAStudyAbroad Interview with Street Artist Clet in Florence
Image from Clet's Facebook page

CW: How do you choose the location?
CA: The location is a bit random sometimes. It depends on the subject. I mean, the one called "Liberté", for example, I put up just in France. Others like "London" or "Freedom" I put up just in London or maybe in Amsterdam.

CAPAStudyAbroad Interview with Street Artist Clet in Florence
Image from Clet's Facebook page

CW: When did you place your first piece? Where and what was it?
CA: I started working on road signs three years ago. I put the first one up in Florence. It was the one with the Christ on the cul-de-sac road sign, and it's still my favorite creation.

CAPAStudyAbroad Interview with Street Artist Clet in Florence
Image from Clet's Facebook page

CW: Why is street art important to you?
CA: My art is continuously trying to challenge various institutions and stereotypes of our time. I particularly intend my sticky-man to make a temporary intrusion in people’s life to encourage them to re-think concepts of legality and justice. I want to be able to redefine and possibly discuss the frame around which our legal system rotates. As a society member, one should always question why - not just quietly accept norms and obligations imposed from above. By this, I don’t mean we all need to become criminals, but we need to reflect upon concepts of legality.

CAPAStudyAbroad Interview with Street Artist Clet in Florence
Image from Clet's Facebook page

CW: With an open studio the public can visit and an ongoing body of work appearing around Florence, have you developed a relationship with the authorities? Have you ever been fined?
CA: My work on the street signs is illegal and I revendicate it; I never hide my identity. The only country where I've been fined is in Italy. The first penalty I paid was a newbie mistake! Now I have two ongoing trials for subsequent unpaid fines. In other countries where I’ve done work on road signs (Germany, France, Belgium, Holland, Great Britain and Spain), I’ve never been sanctioned, or at least I haven’t received any fines. As long as I have the support of an ever-changing audience, no sanction can stop my creativity.

CAPAStudyAbroad Interview with Street Artist Clet in FlorencePhoto: Clet in London by Stephanie Sadler

CW: We've also spotted a lot of your street sign stickers around London recently. Talk about the differences in the way you approach your work in London where street art is more readily accepted versus a city like Florence.
CA: London is a much bigger city than Florence, and rather open to street art and other creative forms of expression. It’s one of the first cities I visited when I started creating the street signs for my art. However, the feedback hasn’t been immediate. They were removed almost instantly and very few remained in place. It’s only when I came back this summer that I’ve had a more significant response to my work.

CAPAStudyAbroad Interview with Street Artist Clet in Florence
Image from Clet's Facebook page

CW: What do you hope to communicate through your art?
CA: I just love to create and send out messages for the public to read and hopefully move something in their consciousness. I decided to modify the signs to defuse the meaning of road signs and irony on the social rules, offer a smile and, above all, encouragement to reflect on the current constraints on “civil” society. Note that signage is a form of universal communication, and it is also the visual symbol of undisputed authority and obedience. My contribution is to stimulate debate.

Thanks Clet!

Topics: Interviews, Florence, Italy