Italian graffiti

By Katy Fentress • 3 Jun 2009 • Nessun commento

graffiti-image-by-triante2009When travelling on Rome or Milan’s railway and underground systems, it’s hard not to notice the huge amount of graffiti splayed across the trains. Words like “Tuff”, “Aser” and “Chico” shout out from the carriages in a cacophony of colour and line. Most of the scrawled “pieces” are pretty illegible. Occasionally though, even to the untrained eye, one particularly colourful and well-executed design stands out.

Unlike so many of their European counterparts, Italian cities seem not to have managed to stem the amount of illegal artwork that is painted on their public transportation. Some people find this to be a cause for embarrassment. For graffiti writers it’s just perfect.

Kimo, 31, who like most of his counterparts prefers only to be identified by his “tag” (graffiti name) was once a prolific Roman writer - as graffiti artists style themselves: “As a teenager it was really easy to get down on the train tracks and spend a few hours painting. I really loved the buzz it gave me, it provided an outlet to release the stress I had in my everyday life.”

“When we were eighteen it was us against the world” recounts Ozmo, 33, who in his late teens was one of five different writers operating in Pisa. “At the time, we were willing to risk anything to get our names up on a train”.

Much as in other European cities, Italian graffiti art became very big in the early nineties. Although graffiti began to appear across the country around the same time, Rome and Milan have always competed for the claim of birthplace of the scene. The current wisdom would have it that Romans were originally more prolific in a style called “Bombing”, which focuses on getting pieces up onto the most inaccessible spots. Milanese writers were from the start more concerned with honing in on specific styles. Milan’s focus on style is one of the reasons that Street Art, a recent spin-off of graffiti art, has gained so much success there.

According to Ozmo: “People began to be indifferent to tags. They went from being hostile to failing to acknowledge they even existed. That was when we decided to go for something that incorporated publicity into the mix. We wanted to do graffiti but with references to advertisement so as to attract lots of attention. This meant cutting down on the use of words and focussing more on strong images.” Ozmo is now one of Milan’s most high profile Street Artists and sells canvases at around £8,000 a pop. “During my first few years writing I couldn’t afford to buy my paint so as soon as we’d see a building site we’d raid it for materials. Now in my thirties I see things in a different way, if I’d just bought myself a house and was trying to do it up, I would get suitably p*$$ed off if someone came and stole all my paint!”

Both Rome and Milan still have writers with bounties on their names. Whoever turns them in is looking to win a hefty sum. Nevertheless, this rarely happens. While people are united in their condemnation of city monuments being “tagged up” and defaced, there is a muted acceptance of young people’s impulse to artistically express themselves on trains. Just don’t get caught …

graffitistreet art
Katy Fentress

Katy Fentress Born in Rome, to American academic parents, I attended Italian and International schools and spent time living in North Africa with my mother where I learned French. I have worked as a photographer since the age of 18 and as such have travelled to places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. I spent nine years living in the UK where I completed an MSc International Development and a BA in Anthropology. Although I have a keen interest in African politics and culture, I also have a well-rounded knowledge of UK current affairs, art and lifestyle.
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