I encountered ALO walking through the East Stand in London. I was having one of those days when I jump on a train and leave the coast heading to the City, looking for exhibitions, museums and, of course, Street Art. Something familiar hit me, an echo that reminded me of the Avantgarde masters: Expressionism, Cubism, Fauvism, almost all the -ism actually. But on the other hand, something new, something bold and exciting and unique. I couldn’t get pass it. I was enchanted. So I couldn’t help that find the author of that marvellous piece and ask him few questions:
Watching videos of you at work I can see how you draw perfectly straight lines to compose your figures and their backgrounds. It looks like you are turning the world’s chaos into geometry and precision, somehow like Mondrian used to do. It looks like a ritual, something therapeutic in a certain way. Did you developed your technique with this intention?
ALO: I consider my technique a mix of instinct, intuition and geometry. An ordered chaos in a certain way. Of course my approach to art is based on a strong need of expression. This need has translated in a precise technique that evolved step by step painting over and over through time. By the way, I paint every detail free hand, it allows a certain kind of imprecision that makes my patterns more real.
I’ve also developed my technique using different tools my own way, mixing brushes and markers, since I was looking for something impossible to do exactly this way hundred years ago, when some kind of tools like varnish and acrylic markers were not available at all.
I consider my art as a kind of rebus, in which you have the solution right before your eyes, straight and clear, but on the other hand you can’t find enough clues in order to get it solved, I can’t either, most of the time.
My intention in getting a certain result has been a development of planned ideas mixed with a deeper side of myself, who takes control in many ways, not following logic rules.
You can call it subconscious, mind or soul, it depends on your point of view.
When did you first start painting on the street and why?
ALO: I started painting as a studio artist, oil paint, years ago. Self taught, by the way. I’ve learnt how to paint just looking at paintings, observing many masterpieces many masters have realised throughout time, from Caravaggio to Pollock. But I perceived the official art world too narrow, and too elitist, sometimes with no reason in being so. I’ve grown up mainly following underground cultures, and even if I feel much more influenced by the so called fine art, I was influenced by the graffiti and urban art world for their general attitude and approach. Mainly by the idea of creating art on metropolitan outdoor walls for everybody and for free. That’s why, even though I sell many paintings, I keep painting for free in the streets, whether it’s an authorised or a non authorised wall. Nowadays many urban artists are paid to paint walls, that’s why I’ve been painting not authorised walls for years. I have been painting on permission for a while now, since I wanted to paint on a much bigger scale. Because of my detailed style it’s impossible for me to paint on a large scale without any permission. In the past I made only medium size artworks on outdoor walls, for this reason. By the way, I use the same technique both for studio and outdoor paintings, acrylic paint, varnish, brushes and markers.
I was arrested two years ago and spent a night in jail for my urban artistic work, even if I didn’t get any criminal charges at the end. This isn’t the main reason I started to paint authorised walls, but it’s one more reason for me to be a bit more careful about permissions.
I began to paint on walls briefly in Italy, but I consider London as my real starting point, about ten years ago. When I moved to London, art wasn’t my full time job, but it became so just in a couple of years. Meanwhile I did random, low qualified jobs, like handling newspapers at the tube stations, and I got unemployment benefits for the toughest periods.
Your first exhibition at Saatchi Gallery in 2014 was titled “Hail to the losers”. Are you still painting “losers”? What kind of people are you more interested in?
ALO: Since my first solo show at the Saatchi Gallery I’ve focused much more on the female characters. They’re usually described as elegant and deep, so I thought painting them may be a way to talk about deeper connection to the human soul. But I never think too much when I’m focused on painting. I’ve realised I tend to represent the male figures often as beggars or outsiders, but I’ve also focused on Shamans and other kind of characters. Some people say every portrait is also a self portrait in a certain way, I like this definition. I depict also real people whether I know or I have a connection with them or not. Many times my characters are a sum of people I’ve encountered in my life and different parts of them are all conveyed in a single figure. I’ve also begun painting urban landscapes and scene where more than one character is represented at once.
Which are the main differences you experienced between the Italian art scene and the English one?
ALO: I think the main difference is the role politics, institutions and art critics play in each of those countries and scenes. In Italy, for instance, politics and institutions (both local and national) are much more involved and in control of the art processes and events. In UK the art world is much more independent. I’ve also noticed that in Italy the official art critics are much more important and powerful, sometimes they’re the real stars, running the exhibition while the artists are secondary. I personally prefer the UK way. Speaking of urban art, I think countries like Italy are just following an English trend, using techniques and styles born in UK (stencil, pop art attitude etc). I think the development of a specific Italian style would have given much more to the Italian scene. Italy has a unique and very long art history which could be helpful in creating a much more original style. That’s why I’m really focused on bring something personal whether I paint in UK or in any other country.
Do you have any specific plan for the future?
ALO: Even if planning is not easy at the moment, my main plan is getting properly organised for my next solo show at the Saatchi Gallery next May. It was supposed to open last year but I had to postpone it and even if I’m keen to have it, I’m still waiting to know which kind of restrictions are gonna be in place in the next months. I don’t exclude to postpone it again if restrictions will make it hard for people to attend it properly. I had a solo show last October at the BSMT gallery in London, right before the second lockdown took place. It went very well from every point of view, it testifies that, despite the hard moment, people need to relate with art more than ever. I’m also waiting for a better moment for travelling to plan big walls abroad. For these reasons I’m currently mostly focused on painting walls just in London.
Is there a particular question that you want to be asked? If so, why?
ALO: I love (and sometimes it happens) to be asked about the link my work is supposed to be between fine art and underground/urban art. I don’t feel I fully belong neither to the Urban nor to the Fine Art world. From the very beginning I aimed to become a bridge to connect these two realities. On one hand, my influences are almost totally from the fine art history, on the other hand, my approach is much more connected to the urban and “underground” culture. I think if a person doesn’t know my work at all, they’d consider me a fine artist if they’d see me in a fine art gallery. On the contrary, they’d see me as an urban artist if they’d see my art on an outdoor wall around the city. So the category they put me in is just a matter of context, nothing more. That’s why I’d like sometimes to get deeper into this kind of matter. I consider art as one, I really don’t like to be included just in one of those categories, I consider it a shallow approach.