Blu

 
Blu, as
he is known in graffiti circles, has quickly developed a rabid following
in the street-art world. Blu’s images—typically rendered
with black lines filled with white paint and intermittent spot
color—change with every wall he paints, yet remain absolutely
distinctive; this process sets him apart from street artists who rely on
repeated tags or stencils. Although his work is well-known, the
thoughtful, 28-year-old, Italian-born artist is himself elusive. His
paintings have appeared on walls all over the world, yet he has
maintained his anonymity (his given name remains a mystery), seemingly
less out of a concern for his safety than as a way to enjoy the act of
putting his work in the public sphere. In fact, his greatest pleasure is
“sitting down and looking at people’s reactions” after
finishing a piece. It’s also why he dislikes the monotony of most
graffiti today. “Many people don’t really feel the need to
search deeper into this artform, and they keep doing the same things for
years and years,” he says. “This can turn a nice young
artistic movement into a boring hobby for middle-aged people.”
Blu’s images are anything but.

What is your most essential
tool?

My sketchbook and some kind of pen for the drawings, and a
long pole with a roller and brushes for painting walls.

Do you have
a favorite kind of notebook?

I don’t have a favorite. I
have a lot, and every one is different. I really like to collect
sketchbooks, and that’s the first thing I buy when I go to a
foreign country. Last year, I filled up six.

What are some of the
worst jobs you’ve held to pay the rent?

I had a short,
seasonal job with my uncle who is a house painter. It was terribly hard
work, but I learned a lot of tricks about painting walls. It has been
one of the things that made me change my painting technique. Doing
shitty jobs made me understand how important art is. Sometimes it can
really save your life.

What do you like most about drawing and
painting?

Painting in public spaces is a really interesting
social experience. What I like most is not the piece itself, but
people’s reaction, and how the piece is digested by the city. At
the beginning, it is something new: It can be pleasant or disturbing,
depending on the point of view. Then, with time, it becomes part of
everyday life, and it can take on an old, familiar flavor, like those
old, rusted billboards or advertising murals, forgotten in the corners
of our cities.

Is your work Italian in some way?
If I try to
look at my work from outside, I can clearly see some typical elements
that come from the Italian art tradition, but it’s not something
that comes from the deep study of art; it’s just the fact of
living in a country that has ancient art everywhere. Everywhere we can
see examples of giant decorated buildings, with frescoes and big statues
all around. For sure, in my work, I can see the influence of certain
rhetorical techniques that come directly from this ancient Italian
tradition. It is something I have eaten and digested over the
years.

What’s your favorite museum?
I really like the
British Museum in London—the biggest collection of stolen things
in the world. In Bologna, I like the Palazzo Poggi Museum, which has a
large collection of anatomical wax models for medical teaching.

Where would you like to see your work most? Or do you like it
perfectly fine on walls?

Public walls are the perfect place, and
cities are the perfect museums: They have a large public, they have
giant, unused spaces, and they don’t even have budget problems,
because thousands of artists every night are going out to make some new
artworks for free. And most of all, there are no stupid directors and
curators to tell you what (not) to do.

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