Along the streets of Europe’s leading cities, you may have been left baffled by a black stickman sneakily carrying away a ‘No Entry’ traffic sign. This is entirely the fault of Clet Abraham, a 43-year-old French-born artist that ‘attacks by adhesive’ – artfully turning drab, functional traffic signs into funny, clever caricatures. Metro spoke with Abraham about his mission to “humanize” inner city landscapes.
How do you go about your sticky business?
I just hang around by myself usually, but sometimes I’ve got some friends helping me out. We jump on bikes’ handlebars or on each others shoulders, and we apply the removable sticker to the street sign.
Which cities have you ‘attacked’ so far?
Right now I’m in Paris spreading my art. In the past, I have plied my trade in London, Valencia, Milan, Rome, Turin, Florence, Bologna and basically throughout central and northern Italy.
How did you come up with such idea?
It all started from a drawing, that of Christ on the crucifix. Then, I applied stickers of Christ on the cross onto a ‘Dead End’ traffic sign. At first sight, it just looked like a provocation, meaning there’s no way out of religion. Then I thought about it, and figured out that it could have been something deeper, it has all sorts of religious, political, philosophical feelings attached to it.
So you started creating more stickers, applying the idea to a broader range of street signs…
Yes. It’s a form of symbolic rebellion. In a way, it’s like taking the streets back again...it’s a sort of urban repossession.
How would you define your art?
It’s definitely social art, pop art. Most importantly, it has a sense of direct usability anyone can appreciate. It also makes the urban landscape better, it plays along the daily need to improve our dull cities and make them more livable. This street art is a personal need when people are prone to depression.
You have made headlines across Italy with a typical ‘Cletian’ stickman – made from fibreglass – installed on the Ponte alle Grazie Bridge in Florence. The stickman looks like it’s either admiring the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge in the distance or stepping off, about to commit suicide. What was that all about?
It was the synthesis of my work with road signs. For me, it was a celebration of the common man standing as a real hero of society, paying homage to those people who struggle to make ends meet every day, every month.
For me personally, making a living has never been easy, but my road signs, I feel, have been a breakthrough for me as an artist.