I first met [X] and 999” this past spring during a backstage stenciling session at the closing party for the Vinyl Factory exhibit in Rome, where you’ll see below they sprayed everything from records to serving trays. I figured it only fitting that for my first contribution to CFYE I turn the spotlight on them, as they’re both participating in the Unholy Grail exhibit opening Friday. They’re just two of a number of talented artists from Termoli, a small town on Italy’s Adriatic coast, which strangely seems to churn out quite a bit of talent. Here’s what I found out about them (translated from original Italian).
For people who don’t know Termoli, can you tell me a little bit about the city? It’s small, right? It seems to me that there’s a good group of street artists there, with you two and Mess2.
999″: Yeah, it’s a small city on the coast — sun, beaches, people drunk on the streets. There’s a lot of tourism and vitality, but at the same time it’s also kind of monotonous and boring. It’s probably the strange atmosphere we’re surrounded by that pushes us to express ourselves and interact with the city. Like us, there are a good number of artists, as well as a group of well-known writers.
[X]: It’s a fishing town that’s unfortunately now been contaminated by industrial development. You’ll find it in one of the least important regions of Italy – Molise – but maybe one of the most beautiful in terms of geography and climate. There are a bunch of guys who are writers and then us three who lean toward street art.
When did you start putting your work out on the street and why?
999”: About four years about I tried out my first form of communication, small stickers, which I’ve grown away from in order to perfect my stenciling technique. My start grew out of my need to express myself, express my thoughts and opinions; at the same time, I felt like I needed to interact with the environment in which I spent most of my time, the street. I started out with friends, spending nights together in the street. Later on it transformed into a personal mission — obsession — that I can’t pull myself away from.
[X]: I started out not that long ago helping out Mess2. He was doing stencils, among other things, and between one chat and another, between one bottle of wine and a beer, I found myself with a cutter in my hand and thought, “Well, I guess I’ll try it too.” After that, one stencil came after another—little by little you get better and you’re always searching to perfect your work and to find your style.
How would you describe your style?
999”: My style is diverse and takes a lot of forms, but communication is fundamental. I use a lot of different methods of communication, but I’ve particularly focused myself on the development of stencils and posters. My style is based on researching old illustrations, engravings, and woodcuts of both famous or completely unknown artists, found in old books in the library, on the internet, or at vintage markets. The next step consists of redesigning, mixing, combining, and retouching to create an end result that fully mirrors my original idea. Then using stencil techniques I can reproduce the image on any surface, from the wall straight to paper that then becomes a poster I can install on the street.
[X]: You said you wouldn’t ask hard questions! I work with stencils using halftone technique so I can give a more realistic, almost photographic effect to images. I usually make posters of varying dimensions, from A3 to 3 meters x 2 meters and more!
What are some of the inspirations for your pieces?
999”: With my work I always try to express my ideas, to express myself, and so the inspiration for a new piece comes out after I’ve thought about a news article, a book I’ve read, a song, even a simple idea, or a scene from everyday life. The sources of inspiration are infinite and it could really be anything that sets off a spark in my head.
[X]: Most of my work portrays people in pain, people that live on the street, people who are owners of the street: senile old people, poor children, screaming people, vagrants. Now I’m starting to work on portraits of gypsies. I like giving value to any type of person without a voice. I don’t like portraits of famous people or self-portraits.
How does the idea of “urban space” function in your pieces? Do you create something with a specific place in mind or do you create something and then think of the space for installation after?
999”: Urban space is really important. Currently I follow two different philosophies. The first is based on studying the place where I’m going to install something and planning out the poster. I take measurements and create a piece that completes the space in a harmonious way. The work is divided into three phases: measurement and planning, execution in the studio, and installation. The other secondary philosophy that I use in my work is based on the idea of mass communication. In order to diffuse my work, I try to use every, and any, format possible depending on the context, with small stickers, stencils, and posters in different areas, often using the same image as a logo or face.
[X]: In the beginning I made posters and put them up without any sort of thought. Now I try to seek out a place first and take measurements. I’ll study a space using Photoshop, think of the image that’s most appropriate, and then prepare the stencil. This way both the poster and the place take on a better esthetic quality.
In your opinion, how is the atmosphere for street art in Italy? Is it becoming something more accepted by the general public, given the country’s long tradition of art?
999”: There’s a lot you can say in response to this question. Italy still isn’t completely in the right state of mind to accept street art totally. The average Italian associates any form of art on the street with vandalism, to the defacement of a place or private property. Certainly not everything on the street is appropriate or in good taste, like fools who write on monuments or other precious reminders of our artistic and cultural heritage, but it’s not all bad. The important thing is to understand the difference, and to do it, all you have to do is stop, think, and enhance your own culture by using a bit of common sense, without being ignorant or stubborn.
[X]: Yeah, people like it, a lot of people like street art and some would even like to make money off it. It’s something completely different than the Italian tradition…. I don’t know, I don’t know very much about art, but it’s an expression that hits you, whether you want or don’t want a poster in the street, it’s something that makes you curious and you look at it. For me it’s just a hobby and I definitely don’t consider myself an artist!
999”, give me a reason that someone should keep an eye on [X]’s work?
999”: He’s a maniac, thoughtless and fixated with halftone. He obsessively tries to reproduce photographically what he’s thinking, seeing, or finds interesting. His is a constant work about man and society.
[X], give me a reason someone should follow 999”’s work?
[X]: He’s young and talented.
Do you have any projects you want to share with us?
999”: There are two interesting projects you should check out. One is by our friend, “The Silent Project.” The other, by another friend whose always busy, is called Accorgitene.
[X]: Agreed. I support Silent Project and Accorgitene