Interview with Florentine artist MONOGRAFF:
In summary, I look for inspiration in those who are able to create interventions that have a real link with the place, who do not allow their works to be exploited by advertising or institutions, and who, even at the cost of being more unpopular than others, always keep these principles alive and transmit them.
You studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, specializing in graphic art. How did you approach street art? What inspired you to present your work in public space?
I graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence with a degree in art graphics, or engraving, a subject that includes all the techniques (ancient and not) of chalcographic engraving and printing. At high school I could see some murals by Florentine artists like Ninjaz inside the schoolyard and I was fascinated. I admired both the spray technique and the transgression behind the act of appropriating a space with an illegal painting: a killer mix for a teenager!
Then the turning point during my first year at the Academy was when, I still don’t know why, I was contacted by Jamesboy, who invited me to paint with a group of friends. Initially, what pushed me to draw in the street was the gesture itself and the strong feelings, given by the illegality of the action, that pervaded me entirely.
Lately, however, I feel the need to leave a message, a sign with which I can communicate and tell my personal experiences, reflect situations and thoughts of certain periods and, when I really feel the need, a theme that is very close to my heart.
How did the name Monograff originate?
My name unfortunately doesn’t really have a story to tell, other than a teenage choice that gave birth to my character in 8th grade. I would probably choose to call myself something else today.
Over the years, however, people have come to know me as Monograff or Mono, and I have to say that, all in all, I like it.
How would you define urban art?
Complicated question. I’m afraid to answer in a banal and obvious way. So I prefer to say what I would not define as urban art, what should not be interpreted as urban art.
I’m not a lover of all those empty and banal interventions that we see mushrooming in the cities in times like these, often not related to the place, but only to a media event that can give them visibility. Let’s take the disappearance of Franco Battiato as an example. I’m sure that in a few days “works” will appear depicting him, posters with obvious photomontages that trivially try to celebrate the character. In short, real looting.
I do not appreciate the “street artists” who perform, without any research, what is asked of them and those who seek only notoriety through social networks and news broadcasts by launching banal and obvious messages: immediate art devoted to consumption.
Those who create a commercial product, those who exploit events for their own visibility, those who sell their art to the world of advertising… and I could go on citing examples of Florentine and non-Florentine artists who do not reflect the principles that should tacitly prevent certain abuses from being implemented. Unfortunately, however, the ignorance of people often tends to idolize these interventions, perhaps trivially because they are simplistic, a bit like in politics where the “here and now” has become the sentiment that drives many people to vote, without framing all the facets of the problems to be addressed.
Ah, I also hate all the hundreds of works that have appeared in recent months with masks: politicians kissing with masks, replicas of famous works with masks, and so on.
It is through the mishmash of clichés such as masks, little hearts, and the S of Superman that the viewer is attracted: a fuck you to artistic research.
Many of your paintings, the urban portraits, depict people in the everyday and capture snapshots that are almost reminiscent of photographs, but feature light brushwork – what are your sources of inspiration? Is it the beauty in the small things and intimate moments of life?
Over time, I have developed and changed my way of painting, studying various techniques and comparing myself with my colleagues. I always try not to stop and to increase, implement, and evolve style, signs, and themes.
The urban portraits are part of a series I painted a few years ago using a gray spray on pieces of fabric. They are part of my artistic journey, but now I am focusing on other themes and techniques.
What stories do your works tell?
They often talk about me, even if in an indirect way. I try, or rather it comes instinctively to me, to make the atmosphere of the painting a description of what I feel in real life: a figurative transposition of my sensations with paint. Then there are issues that I deal with often and repeatedly because I think it is important or even fundamental to spread and discuss them, for example the situation in Rojava and the Kurdish struggle or the landings on the Italian coast from Libya. My future projects will tell about the situation of the city system and, in particular, that of Florence: the urban voids, the abandonments, the hundreds of potentialities that are ignored by the administrations and not utilized for the community, a theme that I am analyzing in depth together with some friends.
Are there any other artists you are inspired by?
Yes, there are many that I am inspired by and many more that I would like to be inspired by in the future! Having studied at the Academy I have a good knowledge of the history of modern and contemporary art and, having attended the course on graphic art, I am in love with the engravings of Rembrandt and Goya. Taking a leap and approaching street art and muralism instead I love the work of artists like Sainer, Zoer and Velasco. I appreciate their way of painting very much. The first two are very graphic and, in the case of the Spanish artist, more realistic.
These artists inspire me from the aesthetic point of view of the work.
I study and document the work of artists and collectives that with their methods of work and research manage to keep intact the principles that should regulate street art in all its forms. One of all is the collective Guerrilla SPAM, provocative, critical, and consequently often not appreciated by most. But unfortunately it doesn’t happen very often that doors are opened to projects like these. Instead, we end up seeing the creation of advertising walls or paintings with no context or connection to the territory. In summary, I look for inspiration in those who are able to create interventions that have a real link with the place, who do not allow their works to be exploited by advertising or institutions, and who, even at the cost of being more unpopular than others, always keep these principles alive and transmit them.
Paintbrushes or words – which is the more powerful means of communication?
Interesting question. Tying in with the previous one, I believe that paintings, if done with careful research and in-depth study of the content, can be very powerful. At the same time, I don’t deny the enormous power that words can have, so I would suggest a mix of both, to get the message across as clearly as possible to the viewer.
You create murals, paintings on canvas, urban portraits, and illustrations – do you have a favorite medium with which to express yourself?
The technique I prefer varies depending on the period and the research I’m doing. I’ve used sprays a lot and acrylics lately, but I’ve experimented with many painting and printing techniques such as lithography, etching, silkscreen and monotypes. I am fascinated by photographic techniques: experimenting with cyanotype and darkroom printing. I love all these techniques, and I consider their knowledge indispensable for my maturation as an artist.
If I have to choose one: ink pen and paper.
You have also started the punto_serie project that develops handmade screen prints and limited T-shirt collections in collaboration with various artists. Can you tell us more about this area of your artistic endeavor?
As I said before I experimented with the technique of screen printing, I made a couple of series of T-shirts in collaboration with Florentine artists and friends, and I am happy with them. The project is now finished, even if every now and then I think about how beautiful this printing technique was… maybe in the future I will use it again but in a totally different way!
What are your plans for this year (or as soon as Covid allows)? Do you have any plans, or dreams for the future?
A new studio and big projects!
Pictures © MONOGRAFF
by Laura Vetter