Visitors to Florence will be struck by the innovative, paradoxical and visually powerful contrast of the different eras on display in many parts of the city. Florence is a universal gallery of countless masterpieces from the history of art, an eternal Museum that overwhelms the senses, an unassailable refuge where, like Stendhal, visitors will be overpowered by so much beauty. Yet like many other large cities, it is also a place where highly innovative—perhaps even ground-breaking—creative movements can thrive.
Visitors contemplate them with awe, indifference and—in most cases—admiration. After all, who can deny the prolific genius of Clet Abraham, a French artist who resides in Florence and who modifies road signs with his stickers and stamps?
Blub. Photo by e-struc
The mission of this lauded Banksy protégé is not to spoil the urban environment but to make street art—a phenomenon whose roots lie in the graffiti that is part of the societies in which we live—more acceptable and better appreciated. It’s a phenomenon that is present in varying degrees of brilliance on walls throughout the world, embodying a philosophy of public space, complete—it goes without saying—with its proponents and detractors. It’s a vibrant and dynamic culture that is by turns metropolitan, local, cosmopolitan and occasionally transgressive.
“Graffiti is something that invades our city, something we’re forced to consume since it appears on the trains and walls we see every day. Marks, colours, ideas and messages we did not ask for,” reflects Francisco Reyes in an essay entitled Graffiti: Art or Vandalism?
The lecturer at Madrid’s Complutense University and expert in the field explains that “the concept of ‘art’ is highly subjective and whether graffiti is classed as art or not depends on the beholder and even the context.” Let’s take a look at Florence, a melting pot of trends that’s full of surprises, even for people who think they have seen it all.
For Jesús Martínez, co-author of the travel website Vero4travel, the “Quattrocento city’s mix of styles is impressive. In the space of just a few metres you can find examples of the Renaissance alongside the latest street art techniques.” You can go straight from the brilliance of Da Vinci and Boccaccio to the Florentine post-modernity of Blub, another symbol of the street art avant-garde, whose original drawings pop up in all sorts of unexpected places. The presence of this new art has led some to recognise the Tuscan capital’s ability to house the most elitist classicism alongside the popular tendency of street art.
Ana Fernández-Cuartero, architect and co-author of e-struc, a professional application for building technicians, adores Florence and its street culture: “I think it’s really positive. The work of Blub and Clet, for example is ingenious while respecting the city. It reclaims art as something accessible and commonplace, a critique of the art that is shut up in galleries.”
What better way to complement visits to sights like the Duomo, the Signoria, Ponte Vecchio and Santa Croce than exploring the graffiti temple emerging from the Piazza delle Cure tunnel, in the north-west of the Renaissance capital? Laura Torsellini, a professional tour guide from FlorentiArt explains to Ling: “Street art has a long tradition in Florence, and Italy in general, dating back to the end of the Middle Ages.”
Witty and polemic graffiti has adorned the grey of the suburbs for centuries. “It’s always good to see how human creativity can shape reality, transforming the most unexpected places into small art galleries, into places for reflection and social protest,” she remarks. “The Piazza delle Cure underpass, in a lively district on the outskirts of the city, was built in the 1970s and was an anonymous unattractive and decaying place, with an air of danger at night.
Then the street artists arrived, together with Totò Dinamita, a famous homeless man who looks after the underpass, keeping it clean and safe,” she explains passionately, stressing that “now people are always happy to walk through.” Indeed, the underpass has become something of a “gym for artists, a spot provided by the district council for street art. Even here, artworks are ephemeral, transient, reworked, painted over, true to the tradition and spirit of street art.”
Once again, the weight of art—in this context street art—imposes itself, revitalising what was once a dark and forbidding space, allowing people to enjoy a brief moment’s respite from the hustle and bustle of modern life. Under the street at the Piazza delle Cure, passers-by walk among genuine canvases. “In the old town,” concludes Laura Torsellini from FlorentiArt, “where spray paint can’t be used on palaces and monuments, street artists use different public spaces and provide an antidote and critical spirit to the seriousness of the home of Uffizi and Michelangelo’s David.”
Cities are unpredictable. And Florence is renowned for being a gift to the senses. who is to say that nowadays a Renaissance genius might not walk out his studio, smile at a winking street work by Clet, enter the tunnel of Piazza delle Cure and pick up a can. Michelangelo famously remarked that David’s figure was hidden in the stone. Audacious though it may seem, perhaps a street art Renaissance lies hidden within these walls.