Clet Abraham: the artist behind the traffic sign stickers
It was last year when I saw Clet Abraham’s traffic signs for the first time in London. It made me very curious about these small traffic sign stickers, which seem to stand out so easy in a big city such as London. They also come in a variety of style. I was passing through some streets near my house in Dublin earlier this year. I was fortunate to find the same irony that I found in London. It’s a very nice sensation when an artist changes your routine; it makes you laugh because it is so simple.
When you are looking at this kind of work it will make you think: why didn’t I think of this before? It looks simple, but it also means that when there is no simplicity, there is no complexity. Perhaps that is the magic. It is the work as created by Clet Abraham, a French artist based in Florence, who has shared his traffic sign artworks around Europe, New York and Japan.
During his career, before moving to Italy, Clet worked for several years as a restorer in different ateliers. He was creating paintings and sculptures. His work has been exhibited in different galleries around Italy, as well as commissioned by numerous prestigious institutions including Banca Popolare del Lazio, Instituto Tommaso Crudeli and Castello di Poppi.
It is on the streets where he is slowly getting more recognized. All of his art pieces are made to provok, debate, and to re-think about our daily life. Such as: legality, authority, obedience, religion, visual pollution, rules and justice. Or as a tribute, like he did a few months ago when his girlfriend (Japanese citizen) was arrested for 6 months for vandalism and breaking road traffic laws in Japan. It was his job, but the authorities tried to put pressure on her to arrest him. They did so because he was placing stickers on traffic signs in Osaka and Kyoto. Because of this Abraham cannot come back there anymore.
Read about his stories in the below Street Art Europe interview by Milenka Salinas.
SAE: How did you get into art?
Clet: I’ve always been into art. It is the only sector that gives so much liberty.
SAE: What made you decide to do interventions on the street? What motivated you to choose the streets to express yourself?
Clet: The need of a public bored with the maturation of my art career. Streets are for everyone and everyone is part of the streets. So it’s public art, but not decided by authority, just by whoever want to express himself. It’s a dialogue.
SAE: What made you decide to change traffic signs with art?
Clet: Traffic signs are the maximum visive expression of the authority power. It’s just a message that says “You have to do” something. I don’t like obligation and I don’t like sacredness of law. I try to open a dialogue and a discussion without covering the original message and by just adding something that can be easily take down. The idea is that there’s nothing that you can’t discuss. The other part is that traffic signs are a visual pollution, especially in a historical city. I can use them for street art. I don’t cover other art but just something that’s added without any esthetical sense.
SAE: Have you always only done these traffic signs or is there a history of you doing different kind of art?
Clet: Five years ago I started with road signs, but before that I was a more classical painter and sculptor. Nowadays I also do different things. For example: my intervention on Torre San Niccolò and the “Uomo Comune” in Ponte alle Grazie a Firenze or the more recent intervention in Siena on the Palazzo Comunale.
SAE: Seeing that you travel a lot, do you have different stickers (as in measurements) for each country? Different countries have different traffic signs. How do you do research for this?
Clet: Yes, every country has a different size and typology of road signs. For the research I normally use the web, and then I adapt my stickers to the country. I also usually do a subject especially created for the place that I’m visiting.
SAE: What is your inspiration when you create your stickers?
Clet: It’s a mix of what has happened to me, what has happened to the society and what’s happening in the place that I’m visiting, combined with what I think about those things.
SAE: How do you choose a location?
Clet: Locations are chosen first of all by visibility, than it is other factors.
SAE: Talking about the process; is there any special technique or materials required to do this kind of work on traffic signs? How has the process changed during the years?
Clet: No, they are simple stickers. The idea is that they can be taken down and that the stickers don’t ruin the road signs. The process is the same as when I started.
SAE: What is your relation with the authorities, especially after this episode in Japan?
Clet: My job is a questioning on the authority. So, an episode like in Japan is an example for how much to question on it.
SAE: Do you have any kind of sponsor to put into practice you ideas?
Clet: Normally no, but sometimes it happens that I find a sponsor for particular installations or events. An example is my work in Prato sponsored by Lion’s Club.
SAE: Tell me about your studio. What else is it that the visitor can find apart from stickers?
Clet: You can find a lot of different works, new and old. Statues, paintings, projects and merchandising like t-shirt, magnets and other things based on my road signs work.
SAE: What will be your next destination?
Clet: I will probably be in Hong Kong for an exhibition.
Clet, thanks for the interview.
Interview and photography by Milenka Salinas.