QUATTORDIO URBAN ART
It is surprising to think that in New York, the birthplace of graffiti writing, there is no wall like the one that can be admired in the small Italian town of Quattordio. This work of art was created in 1984 by the young writers Phase 2, Delta 2, and Ero, who later became international legends of the graffiti movement and street art. This allows us to understand the importance and uniqueness of this historic work, which has escaped the traces of time and human intervention thanks to its rural positioning and has survived until today, almost 40 years after its creation.
In 2017, on the occasion of the QUA – Quattordio Urban Art festival – which aims to transform the Piedmontese town into an open-air urban museum, the municipality and the association Stradedarts Urban Gallery decided to carry out a conservative restoration of the work. This is an innovative and unique project, the first of its kind in the history of graffiti writing. Now, as part of the second edition of the festival, from June 25 to 27, 2021, the restoration process will be completed and this significant work will be preserved for posterity.
We spoke with Marco Mantovani, artistic director of Stradedarts and organizer of the festival, as well as a pioneer of the Milanese graffiti writing scene, who has been active on the streets since 1988 under the name KayOne:
The wall of Phase 2 and Delta 2 in Quattordio is a unique case, which tells a never-ending story of Italian and international writing: it is difficult to find a similar wall. It was important to save it before it disappeared for good, to pay homage to Phase 2 and to what it meant for the history of writing worldwide.
The wall created in 1984 by Phase 2, Delta 2 and Ero.
Marco, you are festival organizer, artistic director of Stradedarts Urban Art Gallery and a graffiti artist – what can you tell us about yourself and your various activities in the field of urban art?
What started as a game has become my life. In 1988, when I discovered writing, I was a young boy fascinated by the pieces on the wagons, rap music, and breakdancing! Today, I’m 49 years old, I’ve never stopped painting, and I’ve transformed my daily life into a workshop that divides itself between expressing myself and organizing, with the fixed idea of leaving a trace, a sign of my own actions… This is the pivot around which I’ve always moved. Since I started much has changed; the same road has become a container of many different expressions. My feeling to be a writer or a street artist has remained unchanged, but it is also true that in the meantime 33 years have passed and things have changed, though without me ever forgetting my background and my past. I always thought that painting was not enough for me. It’s my private, personal, intimate part… I wanted to do more, something for the “scene” too. And so I started to assemble fanzines, I made books, I organized jams and exhibitions… There was an innate need to give my contribution to that world we call hip hop, respecting and remembering the great masters who have preceded us.
Artwork by KayOne, Quattordio Urban Art 2017.
Can you explain in your own words why this work has such great significance for the history of urban art?
The history of writing is full of nuances. One of them is the encounter between the early New York pioneers and the “official” art world. Many of the great masters of graffiti writing made careers in the world of museums and galleries, exhibiting their works of post-graffiti art, in search of the social redemption that many of them were looking for: a sort of emancipation, quite similar and extremely akin to the very reason why writing was born. Italy, in this sense, played a fundamental role, hosting in Rome in 1979 the first world exhibition of two prominent New York artists: Fab 5 Freddy and Lee Quinones. But 1984, with the exhibition “Arte di Frontiera” (Frontier Art) held in Bologna, Milan, and Rome, was the year that left its mark, decisive for the official entry of these masters into museums. The sponsor of the exhibition was the paint company IVI (now PPG), based in Quattordio (AL). On the occasion of the Phase 2 exhibition, Rammellzee, Ero, and Delta 2 were invited to the country by administrator Renzo Gay, a great fan of writing, which he had discovered during his many trips to New York. During their visit they created paintings, vehicles, and a beautiful wall in the central square of Quattordio. It was 1984: a meeting of two apparently distant cultures that united in the name of art and music. A wall is much more than a wall, because in a certain sense it represents the beginning of the Italian history of writing and, in a broader sense, of all street culture. A unique case all over the world! In New York, where everything was born, you won’t find another one… To see it, you have to come to Quattordio! And this is the reason why it must be saved, to pass on the work of the father of writing, Phase 2, and, as he himself said, his legacy.
Four years ago you began the first maintenance restoration in the history of graffiti writing. What do you think this could mean for the urban art and graffiti movement? Is this the next important step toward holistic recognition of this art form?
Our idea as Stradedarts is not to set a precedent to be adopted on other occasions, other than particular and specific ones, such as the one represented by this case. The wall of Phase 2 and Delta 2 in Quattordio is a unique case, which tells a never-ending story of Italian and international writing: it is difficult to find a similar wall. It was important to save it before it disappeared for good, to pay homage to Phase 2 and to what it meant for the history of writing worldwide. The idea that this restoration could serve to make people recognize the importance of this culture is, for me, a paradox… useful perhaps to people who don’t want to confront a language that has changed the contemporary world and the appearance of our cities. We have dealt with this wall simply because we wanted to, without the intention of starting a practice of conservation and restoration of writing in general.
How can one imagine the restoration process of a graffiti work?
Being a forerunner doesn’t help. The idea of carrying out the first conservative restoration of a work of graffiti writing in the world is the challenge I posed to Alessandra Carrieri and Elena Astolfi, academic teachers and professional restorers, with specific previous experience in the restoration of post-graffiti and contemporary works, and with a passion, a real love, towards this culture… a nice challenge. The intervention we agreed upon was of a conservative type, which does not modify the state of deterioration but stops it, preserving the work from further deterioration and therefore from definite disappearance. In fact, people will continue to enjoy the work in its current state, without noticing our work. We will guarantee for our children, in the future, the possibility to enjoy it again, without losing an important and unique chapter in the history of writing and, at the same time, without restoring anything to its previous state: nobody will add anything to the original hand of the artists. During the first phase, the two restorers performed a diagnostic analysis on the wall and took micro-samples, in order to find the best technique to intervene without distorting the pictorial film, while making it safe, and decided to use nanotechnology.
To fund the project, you have launched a crowdfunding campaign on GoFundMe, which will run until the end of May. Your goal is 25,000 euros. What will the money be used for?
The fundraising on GoFundMe is public and organized by Stradedarts together with the Municipality of Quattordio. The money raised will be used entirely to continue the restoration started by Alessandra Carrieri and Elena Astolfi, who in this second phase will also be engaged in a phase of “uncovering” part of the work, covered over the years by a whitewashing of the plaster. We will act according to what we can raise: this is why I encourage everyone to make a contribution, even a small one, to help us. Because a very small contribution from everyone is enough to guarantee the survival of the work of Phase 2, Delta 2, and Ero to future years, giving to the citizens and visitors of Quattordio an exclusive and unrepeatable piece, a mnemonic trace of our history and of our artistic and cultural heritage.
For those who donate 30€ or more: Commemorative t-shirt dedicated to the recently passed away artist Phase 2, depicting his original signature.
The artwork from which the T-shirt motif is taken, preserved on an original work by a citizen of Quattordio.
The QUA Festival aims to turn the small town into an open-air museum. Besides the inauguration of the restored wall, what else will there be to see and experience during the three days in late June?
Quattordio Urban Art is now in its second edition. In the first edition, which was entirely dedicated to writing, we invited many names from the Italian scene: Flycat, Ores, Rendo, Zeus, Erics, Mr. Wany, Napal, Tawa, Airone and, of course, I painted too. We also invited KoolKoor, a New York artist and friend of all the pioneers of 1984. During the second edition, which will be held from June 25 to 27, 2021, we will open up to the world of street art and invite artists such as Acme 107, Pixel Pancho, Diamond and Solo, Sea Creative, SteReal, CoquelicotMafille, Cheris, and Amina… Our special guest from New York is a writer who needs no introduction: Skeme. During the three days of QUA 2 the traditional feast of the country is also planned, with culinary festivals, organized tours to the walls and the inauguration of a small permanent museum dedicated to the event of 1984 and Quattordio Urban Art. The involvement of the entire village will be, as usual, special and unique. Clearly, this year, in regards to Covid we will do everything safely, while keeping the original spirit of sharing, welcoming, and meeting.
Pictures © QUA & Stradedarts
by Laura Vetter