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A Student’s Guide to Street Art in Florence

Jan 12, 2019 12:38:00 PM / by Payton Meyer

Florence is known as THE city for art and history. One of the lesser known types of art in this city is its street art. In this week's post, Payton tells us about the street art scene in Florence and gives us some background on the artists and their inspiration for adorning the city with their expressions.

Everyone knows that Florence is chock full of art, just about everywhere you look. Generally when you think of art in Florence, your mind jumps to the renaissance, and artists like Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Donatello, Botticelli, Brunelleschi...I could go on and on. Florence is the home of the renaissance, but there’s so many other art forms that have been practiced here. One of them, that is pretty much impossible to ignore, is street art.

Street art lines the walls and street signs of Florence, in many different forms. In one single block you can find illegible graffiti, paste ups of Italian poetry, sculptures popping out of the wall, gorgeous paintings of people of all shapes, sizes, and colors, and cheeky stickers with links to different movements and initiatives. I’ve taken notice of a few recurring motifs in the street art that I see all around town, and done some research to find out the meaning and the artists behind these urban masterpieces. So, without further ado, here are 3 different local street artists in Florence to follow during your semester abroad!

A Wall Covered in Street ArtA wall covered in street art, including work by Blub, Enter Exit, and 1+1=1. Can you spot them all?

1. Clet

A Dove on a Do Not Enter Sign by CletA Dove on a Do Not Enter sign by Clet.

Clet Abraham is a street artist who is originally from France, but has spent the past 20+ years in Italy. His work is a bit different from what you usually think when you think of street art, as it incorporates pre-existing street signs, such as dead end signs, no entry signs, etc... His adhesives interact with what is already on the signs in a very clever, comedic, and sometimes even profound way. His work all over Florence has really brought the streets to life. In an interview with a fellow blogger in Florence via visittuscany.com, he described his work as such:

“My street sign work stem from a reflection upon our 'common visual space'. The omnipresence of street signs, other than being a sign of the [Italian] culture of 'anti-responsibility', can verge on the absurd. The message is very poor (sometimes I feel like I’m being treated like an idiot by them) and yet they have a highly invasive aesthetic. As a professional in the world of visual space, I feel called to intervene, both to notify the public of the absurdity of the situation, and to propose a constructive and respectful alternative. My adhesives are developed to add a further level of reading [to street signs] constructed on the base of their original signification in order to maintain its utility but give it some intellectual, spiritual, or simply amusing interest. The final objective? That traffic keeps flowing without us feeling spoken down to!"
(Source)

A Heart Pierced by Left Arrow Sign by CletA heart pierced by left arrow sign by Clet.

There’s a little shop called Clet’s studio where you can purchase some of his work in the form of stickers, buttons, etc..., and see some of the bigger stuff he’s been working on that isn’t for the street on Via dell’Olmo 8.

2. Blub

BlubStreet art by Blub.

Another Florentine street artist that’s become very prevalent goes by the pseudonym Blub, and has a very distinct style in his paste ups. The yellow-beige walls of the city center are covered in pieces from his series “L’arte sa nuotare” which translates to “Art knows how to swim.” The series features Blub’s renderings of iconic figures in black and white—usually people related to the art world (either artists or even subjects of world famous paintings and sculptures), but I have also seen versions featuring Dante Alighieri, Abraham Lincoln, and even Santa Claus—submerged in water with scuba masks on. When Tiana Kai of tianakai.com interviewed Blub, he explains:

Lincoln By Blub Street ArtLincoln by Blub.

“L’arte sa nuotare, meaning art knows how to swim, is about two ways one can live life, like eros and love or life and death. We can choose to be stuck with fear due to the crisis or we can choose to take it as an opportunity to overcome our limitations while being confiden[t] in the future and in our potential. So, even though it seems like we are all underwater it is time to learn how to swim!

Renaissance art in Florence is still strong and hides today’s art that is alive and contemporary, so by using icons of the past with diving masks the theme presents a mix between the past and the contemporary world. There is no need to deny the past in order to look at the present, but at least acknowledge it.”
(Source)

Blub possibly with Exit Enter Above itBlub, possibly with an Exit Enter art above it. Do you recognize the subject?

3. Exit Enter

A stick figure flower by Exit EnterA stick figure/flower with a message by Exit Enter

The city walls are also dotted with spray painted stick figures by the street artist known as Exit Enter. Each stick figure is doing something different, and often interacting with the physical characteristics of the cityscape or saying something. Exit Enter paints his figures in black, but also frequently uses hints of color, especially red, and especially in the form of hearts or balloons. His work appears very whimsical and light hearted, but is meant to be thought provoking, and encourage viewers to question the meaning of life as we know it. I felt a strong meaning behind each piece of his that I stumbled upon and appreciated how each illustration was unique from the others, and from any street art that I’ve ever seen.

an Exit Enter Piece that interacts with hook in wallAn Exit Enter piece that interacts with a physical characteristic of the wall.

An Intricate Piece of Street Art by Exit Enter next to a poem
A more intricate piece by Exit Enter, next to a poem.

These are just 3 of the artists whose work can be spotted all over Florence, but there are so many others worth mentioning, like one who stencils the features of a beautiful woman’s face, or one who does an image of a man and a woman in hijab with the accompanying expression “1+1=1,” or sometimes just the expression alone.

A Piece by Exit Enter and Blub near Payton's ApartmentA piece by Exit Enter, along with a piece by Blub, a blacked out 1=1=1, a pasted-up poem, and even a cryptic reference to Clet on a wall near my apartment.

Walking by the painted walls and finding new pieces every day was one of my favorite things about living in the city. Make sure you do some exploring of your own and see the underground art scene in Florence for yourself! I highly recommend the Street Levels Gallery at Via Palazzuolo, 74 to learn more about these artists and even purchase some versions of their work for yourself!

Thanks, Payton!

Payton Meyer

Payton Meyer is an official CAPA blogger for fall 2018, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A Strategic Communication major at  University of Colorado Boulder, she is studying abroad in Florence this semester.

Payton's journey continues every Thursday so stay tuned.

Learn More about the CAPA Florence Program

Topics: Florence, Italy, Local Culture