Wanted in Rome put a series of questions to the French street artist Clet Abraham whose mischievous stickers alter the meaning of Rome's street signs.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and how long you have been living in Italy?
I'm from Brittany and I'm a bit self-taught but I studied art in France before moving to Italy 20 years ago. 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 where I could gain fundamental understandings of different materials and techniques as well as consolidating my need of creating physical things that would transcend paper. 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 after three years, I moved out of Rome, in the countryside called Poppi [near Florence] where I set up my small studio and went back to pure painting, becoming a painter in the purest sense.
Can you tell us about your working practice, and whether your work around Rome is done by day or by night?
I love drawing, so I draw a lot, 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 translating my drawing into precise pixel-based creation. Regarding when I do my work in the streets, it is a bit random sometimes – could be day or night – but often it's by night, that also depends on the location.
Have you ever been caught in the act and have you ever faced penalties for your artwork?
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 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, UK, US 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.
What is the objective or message behind your work and what motivates you to do it?
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 rethink concepts of legality and justice. I want to be able to redefine and possibly discuss the framework around which our legal system rotates. As a member of society 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.
What was the first design you used in Rome and do you have a favourite?
The first was one called Il classico, the black character who carries the white bar of the No Entry sign. I do not have any favourite, I surprise myself every time I create a new one.
In addition to Rome and Florence, where else can people see your work?
I've done my work in several cities in the world, especially in Italy, but also in Paris, London, Amsterdam, Seville, New York, Kyoto, Berlin and Brussels.