There is absolutely no doubt that one of the things Italy continues to gift the world is art. The Bel Paese gave us Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Leonardo, Dante, Artemisia, and more recently Modigliani, Boccioni, and Cattelan, to name a few names. But it’s not just indoor art that we should be paying attention to: the Italian street art is just as flourishing, intriguing, astonishing, and incredibly diverse.
When Street Art Arrived in Italy
Street art as a movement was born in New York City in the 1970s. It took about two decades to arrive in Italy. In the 1980s, it was the Italian art critic Francesca Alinovi who curated the first ever European exhibition of graffiti art in an art institution. The Emilian city of Bologna is considered the cradle of street art in Italy. Imagery and text in public was used as a tool for political protests. But before all that, there were the Madonnari–nomadic street artists who would paint the streets with images of Virgin Mary during religious festivals and holidays.
Today, the Italian street art is going strong. Cities around the land have become proper outdoor museums, through street art festivals, guide tours, and even entire districts repurposed to serve the cause. Some of the must-visit quartieri of street artworks gracing the streets and buildings are: the Giardino delle Culture; Barriera di Milano; and the Isola district in Milan; the neighborhoods of Quadraro; Ostiense; Testaccio, and Tor Marancia in Rome; via Stalingrado in Bologna, and via Aldo Moro in Genoa, among many others.
Creating these splendid artworks, of course, are the street artists. Staying true to form, Italy is in no shortage of talented, creative individuals behind all these works of graffiti, street, and urban art. Many of the names you will find below are also famous on the international scene. Their unique techniques and styles range wonderfully, from small to large scale, from intrinsic portraits to eye-catching abstractions. And the best part? You can see their artwork by simply taking a walk around your favorite città!
If you like dark humor, the art of NemO‘s is definitely for you. There numerous ways to describe his artworks: eerie yet poignant, slightly disquieting at times yet carrying strong, unambiguous message. In a practice that spans muralism and works on paper, NemO’s gives life to naked, wrinkled, bald human-like figures in various contexts, although he sometimes dips his brush in the world of animals as well. To the artist, painting imagery rather than writing text conveys his social commentary much better, through scenarios that are universal and quite memorable.
Looking instead at the bright side of the human existence is the street art of Alice Pasquini. From illustrations to murals and paintings, this Italian artist creates vibrant portraits, very often of female subjects, conveying their vitality. Her works also explore and engage with the surfaces that support them, sometimes using found materials, giving the impression of colorful, quite elaborate drawings. Originally from Rome, Pasquini has traveled the world, always leaving a work of art behind. She also collaborated with a number of big brands over the years.
Etnik (aka Alessandro Battisti) is one of the longest standing figures of Italian street art. His art is like something coming out of a video game. Seemingly 3D, it combines colored geometric shapes to create futuristic urban structures. Evoking fantasy world, Etnik’s murals pay a kind of homage to the cities they end up inhabiting. They essentially becoming the subjects of his work. The artist effortlessly encompasses his love of geometry, architecture, and urban landscape. But, at the same time honor his roots in graffiti writing.
Speaking of portal-like abstract art that definitely doesn’t look two-dimensional, here’s Peeta! Another veteran of Italian street art, this artist (real name Manuel Di Rita) creates anamorphic murals, paintings, and sculptures that explore the potential of lettering. Always directly communicating with the urban structures they are painted on, his murals transform shapes to alter our perception of space and perspective. Our reality gets warped and altered in the most stunning visual way possible, leaving us hungry for more!
The elusive Blu is perhaps the best known Italian street artist on our list. He has painted over 200 murals around the world over the past 20 years. These can be described as surreal portrayals of social injustices everywhere, using vivid coloring and precise, contrasted sketching. The artist is dedicated to the depiction of the plight of man: “Hombre Banano” (Banana Man), for instance, refers to the protest of the workers on banana plantations in Nicaragua. Because of its political nature, Blu’s artwork is sometimes censored, banned, or outright destroyed – sometimes even by the artist himself.
Whimsical, dreamy, entertaining, relatable – such is the street art of Millo, one of the most beloved actors on the Italian street art stage. Born Francesco Camillo Giorgino, the artist paints mainly black and white city-like landscapes, with occasional splashes of color to break the monotony. His protagonists appear to be children, as if trapped in multi-leveled dreams to contemplate their own existence. New and exciting every time, Millo’s street art never ceases to amaze. It seems that the longer we look at his murals, the more we discover about them, and about ourselves.
By the artist’s own admission, PixelPancho‘s work is “driven by a forgotten world that sits under a blanket of dust.” He creates robot-like figures, which he pairs with the natural world from either flora or fauna, or both. These characters seem hollow, yet so full of emotion at the same time, suggesting a participation in a much larger narrative – one where the rusty and the discarded live on. The artist also draws from history, sometimes portraying famous people from popular culture as well. PixelPancho’s imagery has also found its way on apparel, design items, and shoes.
If there ever was an artist that successfully combines lean graphic design with the world of flora, in form of monumental wall paintings and installations for public and private institutions, then it’s Agostino Iacurci. Simultaneously pages from design magazines and illustrations of everyday life, Iacurci’s work is extremely aesthetically pleasing, to say the least. With solid coloring and flat structuring, he tells “vernacular tales” open to interpretation for whoever observes them. In line with his original visual language, he also creates three-dimensional environments, as charming and alluring as his two-dimensional art.
From a colorful world to a completely black-and-white one (with an occasional red cameo) by the Italian street artist duo Sten Lex. A perfect mixture between Op Art, stencils, and possibly abstract Xerox art, their monumental murals wrap entire buildings in mesmerizing designs. Their style ranges from different line patterns and portraiture, often using the halftone stencil technique, meaning that the greater part of their stencil portraits is composed of thousands of lines. Sten Lex also work with paper, which they paste onto walls and left in the hands of time in order to be deformed and ultimately destroyed.
Last but certainly not least, we have Gionata Gesi aka Ozmo. With roots in comics, he started adorning the walls of Milan with posters, drawings, stickers, and graffiti in the early 2000s. He’s been an important fixture of the city, and country, ever since, taking his art abroad as well. His style is indeed a versatile one: from surrealistic scenery to ultra-realistic portraits, Ozmo tells the stories of our time while using symbolism from our history or popular culture. And because of these continuous fluctuations in aesthetics, Ozmo likes to keep us on our toes, always curious to see what it is he will do next!