The second city on my '18 European trip was the birthplace of Western civilization: Rome. The first ever metropolis was a destination not only because of my Italian heritage, but because it is the original city. Way before the Big Apple, there was only Rome.
While we visited the traditional tourist attractions: the museums of Vatican City, the Sistine Chapel, Spanish Steps (Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti), and the Pantheon; I still made sure to get low, and always look up high. This trip was to celebrate my friend & my milestone birthdays this year. Two friends sightseeing, eating delicious food & drinking delicious wine in the birthplace of our ancestors. I didn't want to overwhelm her with my urban art hunting obsession, so I kept my search within our routes. Since I wasn't looking for location specific murals and large scale pieces, I found something much different instead.
There was a collection of consistent faces throughout my 5 day visit; just as you would find multiple Phoebe & rae_bk pieces in NYC - Rome has its familiar faces too. At the end of the article, I have a special Q&A with one artist who invited me to a Sticker & Sneaker event to close out our trip! But before that, take a look at the streets of Rome, see what my lens saw, and who I met along the way.
The first of my notable neighbors is Bibbitaro, and his 3 dash-eyed funny face. This artist hails from the Northern Italian city of Reggio Emilia. Most of the pieces I found were right around our Airbnb, on Via Acaia, 24; but as we traveled around, I found him tucked away in all sorts of locations! After I got home, looking back through photos, I found him in La Tabacalera as well! I love the variety of stickers, wheatpastes, quick collabs, and larger colorful pieces. There is so much more, please take a look through his colorful instagram. I'm only further driven to find more of his happy faces all over the world!
Alongside a 3-eyed face I also found EXIT ENTER, a Florence urban artist. As I discovered "after-the-fact" with Bibbitaro, this figure can also be found worldwide, and in so many unique positions depending on the surface. The simplicity in street art and graffiti (especially illegally), is due to time constraint. The characters align with the idea of limited strokes, but emotion is still evoked with these stick figures. There is feeling and intention within the movement of each piece. Give this artist a follow "Free Art for Free People", you will definitely find them on your next trip abroad!
As our walks around the city continued, I found multiple wheatpastes with the same "QWERTY" tag, but there were different series repeated. One was a child reading an over-sized book, another was Jesus depicted as a "migrant for life", a female face with QRcode eyes, and a paracas skulled figure in a cage. As my research continued, I saw where the social commentary threaded all of these topics together.
From the artist's website:
After a fifteen year journey, made of art-exhibitions, art galleries, art magazines, books of poetry, inaugurations; finally tired, disgusted by the rules of the institutional artistic environment… the QWERTY project is born. The confluence of streets, in one street, starts from QWERTY. It’s the opposite direction: from art galleries to the street. An artistic revolution, the conjunction of visual art, poetry, minimal art, parasitic art, made of quickly created productions, recognizable, but above all an art which is itself …simple.
QWERTY stands for the positions of the keys in the alphanumeric keyboard, this sequence was patented in 1864. It is the only word you can compose on such a keyboard, QWERTY is the most used password.
QWERTY is the contemporary human being, he is getting drowned in a virtual ether, but still needs to get near the real life of a flower. It’s a man who roars, and knows that wherever his roaring can be heard, there can also arrive his clutch. The world changes, when codes change.
The next artist I discovered on the Italian city streets was a very simple profile & a more intricate pair of sneakers, both claimed by the artist K2M. Rome is this artist's hometown, and more than 10 years in the game he started putting up collages, but found his big nosed face to be the familiar addition to a collab wall. When you see more than a few paste-ups, you can be sure K2M is tucked in there too!
Clet is from France, but currently living and working in Florence, Italy. While not entirely legal, the whimsical alterations of Europe’s road signs take care not to alter the main function of the originals. The artist uses stickers to not damage, but to wake people up and create a dialogue. Like many of us traveling to Europe in 2018 we see the juxtaposition of old and new. He was struck by the incongruity between the beauty of the Renaissance city of Florence and the road signs peppering its streets. His work can be found in many major cities around Europe.