SOLO, Street Feature
SOLO is one of the most promising emerging street artists to come out of Italy (and, arguably, Europe). If you’ve ever passed through London’s infamous Brick Lane, you’re bound to have recognised one of his works — they are renderings of everyone’s favourite superheroes, after all. Here, SOLO provides an insider’s perspective on what it’s like being a street artist today, how the art form is growing, and the context behind his work.
When did street art begin to influence your life?
I’ve been drawing for most of my life. Since I was young, I always followed my father’s example; he was such a great man of the house and it was always through his hands that he used to fix things and occasionally paint. I decided I wanted to be like him and use my hands to make a living.
At 15 I was in high school. I came from a little neighbourhood in Rome called Trullo. It was like living in the 80s — we were without commodities like the Internet. There was no Facebook or Instagram, you had to experience things on your own.
My first year of high school was the first time I’d ever discovered a completely new environment (it wasn’t in my neighbourhood). For the first time, I had the chance to learn about things that were completely unknown to me, like graffiti. I started painting graffiti with some friends but felt uncomfortable about it. I enjoyed the environment and the atmosphere of illegality, but I didn’t love the art of creating and composing letters behind it. I wasn’t satisfied and I wasn’t good enough.
After high school and following several weeks of questioning myself about the future, I decided that attending a school of fine arts was the best choice for me.
“I chose superheroes as the main character of my work because they are extremely recognisable by everyone no matter where in the world or what age.”
I accompanied one of my best friends to her enrolment day at the academy. Coming from a humble family, I didn’t even know what a school of fine arts was. When I got inside the building, I was stunned by the atmosphere and mood in the air. There was a guy sitting next to a tree playing a guitar. Another on a staircase sculpting his own artwork. This was the place where I should have gone every day of my life. There I got the chance to meet some of the most important characters of street art in Rome. Working with them was the best gift I could have received. I tried to absorb and experience everything from them — their techniques, ideas, and projects.
In the years following 2000 and coming out of art school, I decided to create something that was figurative, like the stuff I did in the academy and more practical like the graffiti I did in my youth. It was the best of both worlds and I was fostered by two great and — at the time — emerging artists like Obey and Banksy. We all drew inspiration from them.
The next step was taking what I learned in school and bringing it to the streets. During those years, Rome was the centre of European street-art. Since then, I’ve done expositions in London, Berlin, Paris, and Prague.
Why are your works centred around superheroes?
Speaking of figurative arts, I chose superheroes as the main characters of my work because they are extremely recognisable by everyone no matter where in the world or what age. They instinctively become passepartout of communication for every person that approaches figurative arts.
Last summer I painted in Vietnam my personal representation of Captain America. I attired him with a different coloured suit more inspired by the colours of the Vietnamese flag. Immediately every person from Vietnam could look at the new Cap like the superhero of their own nation.
Most of them (superheroes n.d.r.) came from the 40s so it is basically saying that everybody knows who they are. It’s like speaking in an international language.
At the end of the day, what I enjoyed the most is seeing little kids stopping in front of one of my walls and saying, ‘Look mom, that’s Spider-Man’.
What’s the story behind your last work in Brick Lane?
For some time now, I’ve been collaborating with this company called TheMagPieProject.
They’re a group of Italian guys that produce and support London-based Italian artists.
I organised an exhibition at the Brick Lane Gallery with them, and at a later stage we decided to move my artworks from the galleries to the streets and walls. The project is called ComicsParkour and it will feature more artworks around the whole city. As of now, we have just a couple of works done — one in Brick Lane and one in Holborn.
For this project, I chose to adapt my heroes to the city. I drew an AfroAmerican Captain America to represent the cultural melting pot present in London. I painted a pink Iron Man with laser eyes that are burning the comic. I transformed Thor into a nerd and eventually I made Hulk wearing psychedelic glasses.
I’ll be back in London in the near future to finish this project. At the end of everything, we’ll make a conclusive film that will narrate the whole story paint by paint.
What is your relationship with an icon like Banksy? Both of you aim for a linear but very communicative style. Both of you aim to expose social inequality.
Banksy is like a divine entity for all of us. He is such an inspiration because everyone would be like him and express common ideas in the way he does if they could. Even more than his style of painting, I would steal from him his philosophy. He always makes fun of himself and at the same time he is like an erupting volcano. He could teach publishers and designers how to communicate if he wanted to.
Artworks, more than focusing on the aesthetic importance, have to communicate. Today more than ever, people need all of this — easy ways to approach the real meaning of arts. It’s paramount to have artists like Banksy around.
What do you think of British street-art in comparison to Italy’s?
I spent a lot of time in London throughout 2004 and 2010. As such, I got the chance
to connect more profoundly with the street art movement in London. It’s a real- ly exciting environment and it’s awesome that there are spaces like Brick Lane and Shoreditch where everybody has dedicated space to street art. If you want to create something, you just need the authorisation of the owner of the wall and then you’re free to draw.
But what makes London so special compared to other cities that have a devoted street art scene, like Rome or New York?
In London, people pay more attention to street art. It’s like they’re more used to it. In Rome, these kinds of things might seem new to most of the people who stop in front of a wall to appreciate an artwork.
The real twist in London is that it is way easier to reach street art for many more people since Shoreditch and Brick Lane are areas specifically designed for street artists. People come there from all over the world to experience such a beautiful form of art. Every artist is more valuable in this context than in any other.
“Peter Parker’s superpower is webs, mine is street art.”
Last question: who’s your favourite superhero?
Spider-Man, of course! When I was just kid and I first started to read comics, he was the one I most easily identified with. He was a superhero who has to face normal teenager problems — dealing with bullies and falling in love. When Marvel first invented Spider-Man, they intended to create something your average kid could identify with.
Peter Parker’s superpower is webs, mine is street art.
This article first appeared on ISSUE002 of UnsettledMag.
You can grab your copy here.
Words and Photos by Davide Cantelmo.