Street artist TV Boy will be in Florence for Pitti Uomo. The Italian artist living in Barcelona is renowned for his pop art-inspired street paintings and especially for his series of sarcastic and fun “Modern Icons” paintings portraying, among others, famous personalities kissing each other including Renzi and Berlusconi, Pope Francis and Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Trump, Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Most recently portrayed were apparently rival Italian politicians Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio in a mural in Rome, which was quickly removed when the new Italian Parliament was formed. TV Boy, who will launch a collaboration collection with Italian sneaker brand MOA Master Of Arts at this month’s edition of Pitti Uomo, explains why he loves sneakers so much and why he thinks that an artist is like a child and that kisses are most powerful weapons.
Where does your name originate from?
When I started doing my first graffiti I was 16 and I was a great fan of paintings decorating metro trains. In those years I used to sign my works with my name and surname. Only later, after I met insiders of Italian street art I saw each of them using other element like, for instance, Pao, who was one of my teachers, using a penguin. As in those years I did quite some small characters employing stencils of TV I decided to create my own signature using a TV Boy to sign my works as in the ’80s I watched TV quite often–TV was what is today the cell phone for young kids. Plus I liked it as this pseudonym as it is short and easy to remember.
How do you like to define yourself?
I like to define myself simply as TV Boy. If I am an artist time will decide that. What I do is viral and I think I am hanging in the balance between art and design, even if the border between these two worlds is more and more blurred today. Surely I cannot compare myself with some great names such as Takashi Murakami and Jeff Koons as they have built some real enterprise. Although my approach is similar to theirs even if I am more tied to the street. In any case I also work in different contexts including the street, galleries and various collaborations with brands. In Europe such an attitude is seen with suspicion, differently from the US where commercial works are not considered negatively. Already Keith Haring used to collaborate with chains like Topshop in the past. As not everyone visits art galleries regularly, nor can afford to pay expensive art pieces, I think that people are happy to buy a poster, a -shirt or sneaker characterized by art elements. Collaborations with brands are a means through which younger generations can appreciate and access art differently. Moreover contemporary art is now also speaking about topics that were never touched before such as, for instance, sport. Take, for instance, my work showing Messi and Ronaldo kissing each other.
The street is the key of my success as it scatters old and traditional patterns. Street art can be seen by a very wide and transversal audience–it is no longer only accessible to the very sophisticated ones. Moreover it has to always evolve as the artist has to astonish by showing always new ideas.
You have become especially popular in recent times for your apparently “impossible kisses.” Where do you find inspiration for your works? A most popular kiss was the one painted on Berlin’s Wall between Erich Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev. Was that the idea you started from for your many “kisses”?
It’s hard to say how ideas are born. When me and my team–as I work with five to six people like in a collective, as design teams do by sharing, discussing ideas and making paintings–finding a cool idea doesn’t always work out. You might you have a great idea, though it sometimes may not produce a great result. Differently, what you may think is useless may generate an interesting artwork.
When speaking about that picture of the Berlin’s Wall, in reality we are immersed in daily life, loads of ideas are influencing us and in the end you don’t know where that idea came from. That Berlin painting was originally inspired by a real photograph then painted by a graffiti artist on that wall. I have also always liked–and they inspired me–photos taken by Oliviero Toscani for Benetton showing controversial kisses such as, the one between a priest and a nun, between people of different races and of the same sex. That was why I painted rivals such as Trump kissing Hillary Clinton. Also before a much expected football match in Barcelona I painted Messi and Ronaldo kissing each other on a wall along Paseo de Gracia. As it was the feast of St. Jordì, the equivalent of Valentine’s Day, I wanted all the pressure that was in the city–and the great rivalry between the two teams to calm down. I also painted another kiss between Pope Francis and Trump in Rome the day before they met in Vatican. Similarly, we had portrayed that kiss between Salvini and Di Maio on the night before an important vote happened both in the Italian Parliament and Senate in Rome in a street near to both locations. Although that image had already been canceled the morning after we did it, it had great resonance.
An artist has to behave like a child. Even if anyone has not the courage to state obvious things everyone is thinking an artist has to say that loud–as it happens in the fairy tale of the naked king. In this case Salvini and Di Maio looked like enemies but many thought they could find common points–as they have some. Plus often opposites attract and end up loving each other.
How did you collaborate with MOA Master Of Arts?
During the June 2018 edition of Pitti Uomo we will launch a limited edition capsule collection for MOA Master Of Arts and within the launch I will prepare a never released painting, “Urban Pop Sneaker.” The capsule collection collaboration includes two sneakers–a cleaner and street-minded one for men, a reinterpreted high-ankle skate shoe from the “Playground” line for men, and a leather tennis shoe I intepreted in a “cuter” though cool way for woman. I liked that MOA Master Of Arts left me total freedom to decorate these sneakers as if they were a white piece of cloth. Not many let you express yourself as this.
Is it the first time you collaborated with a fashion or accessory brand?
Since 2008, when I did my first personal exhibition of works in Copenhagen and two years after I had become a full-time artist, I registered my TV Boy brand name and started working with licensing partners offering covers, backpacks, T-shirts and accessories, though in parallel I also started capsule collections with renowned brands. A most recent one was with luxury watch brand Hubolt for whom I also decorated an exclusive limited edition of wall watches and in the future will collaborate with the brand Eleven Paris for a project in the US.
How do you dress? Are there any favorite items in your wardrobe?
I like casual apparel. I wouldn’t see me wearing a shirt and a tie, and–even if I am 38–when there is some special event I like to wear clean jeans, a T-shirt and sneakers. I especially like sneakers, though especially authentic and “classic” brands. I like them as they look like masterpieces–almost like sculptures–as they are so beautifully built. I also keep a selection of the models I like best, for instance, a pair of Reebok Pumps. I like to wear them once in a while as they make me think back of what I did in those days.
Do you collect anything else?
I tend to keep a lot of different crap like newspapers, magazines and many other useless things for the sake of keeping them but, after a while, I have to throw everything away as they make me feel overwhelmed by so much around me. What I carefully keep are old empty paint spray cans, especially those I used at the beginning when paint for graffiti didn’t exist and those old cans are no longer sold. I also keep protypes of my TV Boy products–flip-flops, sweatshirts and other single exemplars. One day I will make an exhibit of all of them.
Are there any new projects you are working on? Are you traveling much?
I will go to Palermo as I was born there and left the city very young when my family moved to Milan. Sicilian people want me to go there and meet them. I would like to return to Rome as my work on Salvini-Di Maio was immediately removed. I like the idea to make some other work there. As an artist has to be, I like to be ironic and not provocative, but I also like to make people think about such an act of censoring. Consider that what I do is not legally permitted but there are towns whose mayors invite me to make my paintings on dedicated areas. They often also protect them with a plexiglass layer and a tag carrying the name of the artist....