Clet Abraham (a.k.a CLET) is a french artist now living in Italy (Florence). His work is not just placing stickers on street signs, driving councils people mad; it’s not just about entertaining passersby, there is more than that, every sticker is hiding a message. Like an onion as he says. We had a nice chat with him, making an interview that reveals his incredible (and crazy?) plans.
(ISSA) -What you choose to drink? Coffee, Tea, Beer, Soda or something else?
-Introduce yourself to us!
I am a French artist living in Italy since 1990 and I specialized myself in recent years on interventions on the road signs as a protest against the established power. It’s like road signs were a symbol of an order coming from above, without discussion, on how society should be organized. I represent a sort of popular response to such imposition. This is the principle of my work on the road signs.
– Where does your tag name come from?
Clet is my real name; it’s a name from Brittany, from a small Breton island. “Clet” has a Greek etymology, with two very different meanings; it means “barrier” or “call”. I prefer “call” (laughs)
-How do you define yourself? Artist? Street artist? Anything else?
I’m a bit of both; I am an artist who makes street art. We must succeed in defining street art, which is not an easy task, for me the main element is to have a role, to give something positive, something constructive.
– How did it all start for you, and what is it nowadays?
I joined the School of Fine Arts in Rennes, I come from a family of artists, and my father is a writer. So for me the artist’s life was something natural. It is above all a need for freedom, a personal need to have a free role in society, so I chose to be an artist. I had some manual skills so I developed my drawing skills in communication. This is not art itself that interests me but more the content, to use visual communication. With road signs I found a perfect medium because it is the essence of visual communication in the street. It is a synthetic universal language that appeals to me. Today everything is going well for me, I’m quite successful (laughs) and for the rest we’ll see.
-What is the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?
I try not to repeat myself in my work and in my private life. We must learn to question ourselves, to renew. I love my job when it surprises me.
-Street art is mostly a visually stimulating form of art. To add one more sense to it, what music would you pick to accompany your art work?
Any type of music, my father introduced me to jazz and classical music. I discovered the rock rather late. I like the protest songs; there are some nice politically-aware singers in Italy. I like music with groove as well, such as soul and reggae. I like Music that makes me happy.
-In all forms of art, inspiration is crucial. What inspires you?
Daily stuff, everyday problems, problems like paying the rent, our relation with Power, neighbours, and so on.
-Before going to paint, what is on your check list to take along?
In my bag I accumulate new topics that I’m willing to stick, I select them based on location, I adapt my work to the place. My subjects are geared towards novelty; I stopped doing my classical characters, like the character that carries the “no entry” road sign bar. So if they are destroyed, they’ll disappear forever.
-Do you have an artist you admire and why is it?
There is one artist that I particularly like: it is Bruegel. Because he helped me understand what could be the role of painting; to explain through visual communication emotions, simply, it is this message I perceived. He helped me understand the social and political role of painting. It’s universal.
-Which cities do you think are the most inspirational in Street Art?
This is a difficult question; there are some cities that are better hosts than others. We can work freely in Paris, feel free to act on it and you can sell your work as well; if you allow me to talk business. One can “invest” in Paris for example and create a long-term relationship with the city. Paris welcomes street art. It’s harder in smaller towns, there is less understanding, and local authorities are more hostile and less prepared. But big cities generally absorb quite well my work.
-Do you have other passions apart from art?
I love Music, but I like to let myself be surprised, surprised by people, by everything.
-What is your wildest project that you dream of achieving some day?
I’m working on it right now, interventions on large building facades; I want to turn the facades into faces with minimal means, it is a kind of intellectual game. In Paris, there are plenty of monuments, and I have an ambitious project to work on the Arc de Triomphe. I have no idea for the Eiffel Tower (laughs) but for the Arc of Triomphe I know what I’ll do.
-Does your art include symbolisms, messages or repeated patterns?
It’s a very symbolic work, basically I use road signs in a direct and popular way, but there are several readings, it’s like an onion with many layers, very symbolic, it’s also a philosophical thought on society in general. It’s the symbol of the relationship between man and his own limitations, or those imposed on him.
-What is your reaction when you realise someone has vandalised your creation?
It is a pity of course, but strangely, it can also be challenging, when someone removes a piece of my work that can also give me new ideas, it also motivates me to carry on. But generally it shows a misunderstanding, hence the interest to continue.
-What do you think people first think or feel when they see one of your works on the street?
They smile, I use humor in my work as a weapon, there are people who do not like it, it happens, but often it affects people. But the keyword is “surprise”. Surprise is an important aspect of Street Art. Again it’s like an onion, with many layers, after smiling people start thinking.
– If you were a president what would you change in this world?
I hope not to become President (laughs). Every man to his trade, I’m not gifted to be a world leader (laughs). The message I want to deliver to this world is that a better world requires more freedom. The rules take too much space, they can be an obstacle to a better world, and it is the responsibility of everyone to become freer.
– What kind of responsibility do you feel you have towards society as an artist?
Yes, I think so. I have often asked this question to myself when I was young; can the artist reveal his shit to the public or should he offer refined stuff? I am convinced that the role of an artist in the world is to deliver something that makes sense, it must be valuable. It doesn’t have to be beautiful or joyful but it has to have some utility.
-Do you have any interesting creative plans for the future?
I’m currently working on this project to transform facades into faces, even if I still don’t exactly know what I’m doing with it. Parallel to my work on the road signs; I look for major interventions between the discrete and cheeky (laughs); I want the city to become a sculpture in motion. But I’m not about to do that yet, it’s a project.
It’s been great to get to know more about the mind and person behind such talented and inspiring works. Thank you !
by the ‘’I Support Street Art’’ team.