Blu (artist)

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Blu is the pseudonym of an Italian artist who conceals his real identity. He was born in Senigallia. He lives in Bologna and has been active in street art since 1999.

Early career[edit]

Blu: Ponte Stalingrado, Bologna, 2001

Blu's fame began in 1999, thanks to a series of illicit graffiti painted in the historical center and suburbs of Bologna, the capital of Italy's Emilia-Romagna region. In the early years of his career his technique was limited to the use of spray paint, the typical medium of graffiti culture. His characteristic style appeared in 2001, however, when Blu started painting with house paint, using rollers mounted on top of telescopic sticks. This new solution allowed him to increase the painted surface area and convey a stronger intensity to his visual vocabulary. Huge human figures, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes dramatic, who looked as if they were borrowed from comics or arcade games, began appearing along the streets of Bologna around this time.

Another aspect that influenced his early career was the practice of a shared artistic action. Artists such as Dem, Sweza, Run and, above all Ericailcane,[1] were his companions during nocturnal raids where an anonymous creative participation overcame the need of signing their pieces. Also, during those years, Blu started experimenting with digital animation and he created short interactive video clips that were used as a visual contribution to the live musical performances of the collective OK NO.[2]

The collaboration with Ericailcane had its best results from 2003 to 2006. The two personalities complemented each other; while Blu was painting his characteristic human figures Ericailcane made his typical animals. The two artists, friends in real life, continue to work together although less often.

Starting in 2004, some art galleries noticed Blu's artistic value and invited him to take part to one-man or collective shows. Yet Blu, throughout his entire youthful career, attempted to limit his presence within the official art world, preferring other kinds of territories.

Since his major pieces, outside of his videos, have been immovable murals, the survey below of Blu's work is geographical rather than chronological.

Places[edit]

Central and South America[edit]

His nomadic spirit reached its peak in 2005. From the end of that year Blu spent most of his time jumping around in self-guided travels, linking his itineraries to the festivals to which he was invited. At that time he collaborated with Ericailcane and several artists from Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Honduras in a festival in Managua called "Murales de Octubre." On that occasion he painted a wall, significant in the history of South American murals, on the Avenida Bolivar where, in 1979, Victor Canifrù celebrated the Sandinista revolution.[3] With this he achieved one of his most imposing murals which was immediately dubbed Hombre Banano (Banana Man) by the locals, referring to the protest of the workers on banana plantations.[4]

The following year, from October 2006 to December 2006, he returned to Central and South America for a long circuit of murals that included Mexico City, Guatemala City, Managua, San José (Costa Rica), and finally, Buenos Aires (Argentina). A year later he was again in South America, in São Paulo, Brazil, participating in the festival "A Conquista do Espaço" (Conquering Space). On that occasion he came up with a new interpretation of the "Christ of Corcovado" of Rio de Janeiro. In Blu's version Christ is literally submerged by tons of guns and rifles.

Blu: São Paulo, Brasil, 2007.

From the Fall of 2007 to the Spring of 2008, he lived in Buenos Aires, devoting all his efforts to the creation of a video called Muto[5] (Silent). In addition to receiving many international awards, such as the Grand Prix 2009 from the Festival of Clermont-Ferrand,[6] "Muto" has been seen by 10 million-plus viewers on YouTube. It is also available in high definition on Blu's website under the Creative Commons license.[7] This video is composed of hundreds of paintings on walls, made throughout many streets of Buenos Aires and, frame by frame, creates more than seven minutes of an animated mural.

In 2009 Blu started his umpteenth tour around South America visiting Bogotá for the festival "Memoria Canalla", then to Montevideo, Uruguay, back to Buenos Aires and, for the first time, to Lima, Peru, where he painted the entire façade of an historical building in the central Avenida Arenales. In this huge mural Blu seems to reinterpret the history of South America, a continent that has been violated by both ancient and modern conquistadores.

North America[edit]

Blu has visited North America only twice, and the only notable trip was in 2008, when he accepted an invitation from the Deitch Gallery in New York to paint the exterior of their Long Island location. After being invited by the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art MOCA to paint a wall for the "Art in the Street" exhibition, its director Jeffrey Deitch ordered to whitewash the mural that the artist painted the day after it was made, probably for its political content. The mural represented coffins covered with one dollar bills in place of the American flag. [8]

West Bank[edit]

Blu: Bethlehem, 2007.

In 2007, Santa's Ghetto,[9] a London based art collective which organizes annual happenings of painting performances and print trade fairs, invited Blu to a festival that took place in the West Bank. Together with many other international artists—among them, Banksy, Mark Jenkins, Sam3,[10] Ron English, Ericailcane, Swoon, and Faile— Blu[11] has painted on the wall around Bethlehem that separates the West Bank from Israel. On a watchtower of the very symbol of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Blu[12] painted a figure who naively tries to tear down this open-air prison with his finger.

Europe[edit]

England[edit]

In 2007, Blu went to London for the first time where he made many pieces around Camden Town and Willow Street, and at the former headquarters of art-gallery website Pictures on Walls.[13] That same summer he took part in a two-man exhibit with Ericailcane at the Lazarides Gallery.[14] The following year, the Tate Modern[15] presented an exhibition on the phenomenon of street art and invited Blu,[16] along with J-R,[17] Faile, Sixeart, and Os Gêmeos[18] e Nunca, to paint its entire main façade.[19]

Spain[edit]

Blu has frequently visited Spain. At the festival "Segundo Asalto" in Saragossa, he, along with the artists San, Tono,[20] Nuria,[21] and Nano, painted a mural of a colossal minotaur picking up an astonished man. Blu's murals can also be found in Valencia, Linares, Madrid and Barcelona. In Barcelona's Barrio Carmelo neighborhood, Blu took part in the 2008 edition of the festival "The Influencers".[22] With the global economic crisis looming, Blu painted a threatening shark whose skin is completely covered in euro bills.

Germany[edit]

Blu worked in Germany on many occasions between 2006 and 2009, mostly in Berlin, and always around Cuvrystrasse in a multi-ethnic neighborhood called Kreuzberg. Thanks to his participation in several of the festivals "Backjump"[23] and "Planetprozess,"[24] he had the opportunity to create some of his works, one of which was painted in combination with gigantic photos by the French artist J-R.

In 2006, during one of these trips, Blu made his first digital animation from images painted directly on a wall, a technique that would be a recurrent theme of many of his future videos such as "Muto."

Eastern Europe[edit]

In Eastern Europe Blu has painted in Belgrade, Serbia in 2009, in Wrocław and Gdańsk, Poland, in 2008. In Gdańsk, located on the industrial harbor where the destinies of twentieth-century Europe intersected, he used an abandoned hangar as the background for his short movie, "Morphing,"[25] where the symbols of this place, loaded with history, are mixed together. Gdańsk Harbor was indeed invaded first by the Nazis, then by the Red Army and subsequently saw the birth of the trade union movement, Solidarność (Solidarity), and finally, the victory of capitalism. Also, in 2008, Blu was in Prague in the Czech Republic for the "Names Festival"[26] to paint a mural called Gaza Strip, where tanks and bulldozers are seen chasing each other along a Möbius strip.

Italy[edit]

Italy, above any other country, can boast of having the majority of Blu's graffiti, both illegal and legal. Among the public projects worth noting are the façade of PAC[27] (the Contemporary Art Pavilion) in Milan, finished in 2008; the murals in that city's Bicocca and Lambrate train stations, done in 2008 and in 2009; three editions of "Spinafestival" in Comacchio (2005, 2006 and 2007); two editions of "Fame Festival a Grottaglie[28]" (2008 and 2009). In this last one, Blu completed a video-animation with the New York-based artist, David Ellis. Blu has also taken part in many editions of the festival "Icone[29]" in Modena and in Ancona's "Festival Pop Up" in 2008 where he painted along with Ericailcane a gigantic silos next to the harbor waterfront. Other Italian cities where Blu has left his mark are varied, among which are Prato, Florence, Grosseto, Turin, Ancona, Rovereto, Verona and Pesaro.

Blu has also painted in several "Centri Sociali", places that are between squats and self-managed cultural centers. In Bologna his work is visible at XM24, TPO, Livello 57, Crash; in Rome at Forte Prenestino and Collatino; in Milan at Cox 18 and Leoncavallo and in Pisa at Cantiere San Bernardo.

Techniques, themes and ethic[edit]

The list of the places where Blu has left his trace is as long as his collection of sketchbooks which contain sketches, thoughts or simply visual notes. Often these drawings function as a script for his improvisations on walls.

His graphic mania is directly proportional to the epic scale of his murals. His paintings seem to interpret the architectural language of public spaces and reinvent them into new shapes. Thus, his murals are never detached from the places where they were conceived because Blu is a painter in the landscape, urban or industrial. He always tries to communicate with the society which inhabits those spaces, searching for the uniqueness of each place. Besides drawing and painting, the technical universe of Blu is completed by a skillful use of the digital medium. Proof of that can be seen in his website where his manual craftsmanship is combined with computer programming language. The recurring themes of his imagery play on the distortion of the human figure. He speaks a pop vocabulary which resembles the automatic writing process of the surrealist tradition with purely rhetorical processes.[30]

In short, Blu's artistic practice has contributed to a radical change in the art market. His murals and his videos are given for free to the public space of the cities and on the World Wide Web. His income comes from the sale of multiples, like silkscreen prints, in those few galleries which represent him, or through the sale of self-made editions. The works of Blu appear abrupt because they are derived from the free creativity of an artist who has decided to occupy a position outside the sheltered field of art. As magically as they appear they can disappear, sometimes covered by other paintings by Blu himself, sometimes ruined by time and weather, but mostly erased by the authorities in the name of tidiness.

Blu's aesthetic search is motivated by a belief in an open source philosophy,[31] persistent in its anarchical revolt against contemporary art conventions and unique in beauty.

Censored in US[edit]

Principal exhibits[edit]

  • 2009 - Memoria Canalla, Bogotá.
  • 2008, 2009 - Fame Festival, Grottaglie, Taranto, Italy.
  • 2008 - Street Art, Tate Modern, London.
  • 2008 - Influencers, Barcellona.
  • 2007 - Santa's ghetto, Bethlehem, Palestine.
  • 2007 - Super Fluo, Lazarides Gallery, London.
  • 2007 - BackJump Live Issue#3, Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien, Berlin.
  • 2007 - Street Art Sweet Art, Padiglione Arte Contemporanea, Milan.
  • 2007 - A Conquista do Espaço, São Paulo.
  • 2005 - Murales de Octubre, Managua.
  • 2005, 2006, 2007 - Spinafestival, Comacchio, Italy.

Videography[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Back Jumps (2007). The Live Issue #3: Urban Communication and Aesthetics, William Stratmann.
  • Dietrich, Lucas (2009). 60: Innovators Shaping Our Creative Future, Thames & Hudson.
  • Hundertmark, Christian (2006). The Art of Rebellion 2: World of Urban Art Activism (No. 2), Gingko Press.
  • Iosifidis, Kiriakos (2009). Mural Art, Volume 2: Murals on Huge Public Surfaces Around the World from Graffiti to Trompe L'Oeil, Gingko Press.
  • Lazarides, Steve (2009). Outsiders: Art by People
  • Lewisohn, Cedar, editor (2008). Street Art: The Graffiti Revolution, HNA Books.
  • Tristan Manco (2007). Street Sketchbook: Inside the Journals of International Street and Graffiti Artists, Chronicle Books.

Editions[edit]

  • Blu (2008). Blu 2004-2007, Studio Cromie.
  • Blu (2006). Nulla, Zooo Print and Press.
  • Blu (2005). 25 disegni (with Ericailcane), Zooo Print and Press.

See also[edit]

Media related to Blu (artist) at Wikimedia Commons

References[edit]