Florence is the best city for art in the world. A bold statement, but I really can’t think of any city that per square footage packs such a picturesque punch.
For centuries artists have proliferated and flourished in Florence (Firenze). Birthplace of the Renaissance, Michelangelo, da Vinci, Botticelli, Dante, Donatello, Brunelleschi, and many other greats have left their mark on the city. I’m not sure any other single city has encouraged so much great art and architecture…largely due to the patronage of the Medici family over the years. Today Florence street art has unleashed an urban Renaissance proving the arts are still alive and thriving. Walking around the city, one need only to look around to see great art…no museum ticket needed (although Florence boasts some of the world’s finest in that department too).
My two favorite street artists are Clet Abraham and Blub. These artists decorate the city’s street signs and walls with their talents.
Although generally not a fan of modern art, I’ve fallen in love with the work of Clet Abraham—the Frenchman is a street artist who has spent decades in Italy. Before he became famous, Clet gave the local police a run for their money by sneaking around in the night and applying stickers to street signs altering their meaning and making them infinitely more desirable! The poliziotti of Florence don’t seem too interested in stopping Clet’s art today. In fact, at the time of printing Clet’s “common man” (see image below) is back on the Ponte alle Grazie. This bridge has points at the pylons that jut out. Keeping teenagers off of them is a constant job. As you can see by the photo, Clet’s art makes it look like a man is going to jump. I’m sure its shadow at night causes many a police officer’s heart to skip a beat.
Most of Clet’s work in Florence takes the shape of stickers that he’s applied to street art. A crucifix on a T, Pacman eating a line, a man stealing part of the sign, Michelangelo’s David walking away with the sign, and so on. As Clet stated in an interview with “Visit Tuscany” (link below), “As a professional in the world of visual space, I feel called to intervene, both to notify the public of the absurdity of the situation, and to propose a constructive and respectful alternative. My adhesives are developed to add a further level of reading [to street signs] constructed on the base of their original signification in order to maintain its utility but give it some intellectual, spiritual, or simply amusing interest….”
A couple of years ago, I had my own chance to meet Clet when Jon and I stopped by his studio. There you can buy stickers, magnets, postcards, and other works of his famous street sign art featured all over Florence. I had stopped before and thought it was just a shop selling his goods—I didn’t realize he actually worked there. But sure enough as I was perusing the postcards, a distinctly French accent caused me to turn my head. There was Clet speaking with an assistant. I approached him like a school girl coming face-to-face with her favorite star. Gushing, I asked for his autograph. He signed the postcard I purchased. To his credit, Clet was gracious and didn’t so much as smirk at my babbling. I didn’t think my estimation of him could grow higher, but it did that day.
Look around Florence and you will see iconic figures from famed works of art “swimming” under water. Blub dubs her/his work “L’Arte Sa Nuotare” (Art Knows How to Swim). Botticelli’s “Venus” floats underwater with hair flowing out and water goggles on. Piero della Francesca’s “Duke of Urbino” wears a swimming mask over his famous hooked nose. A Raphaelite cherub contemplates life under water. This is the distinct style of Blub who recreates famous works of art with scuba masks on and submerged in water. As Blub told Tiana Kai (link below), the art inspires people to be self-assured and know what they are capable of doing. “So, even though it seems like we are all underwater it is time to learn how to swim!”
The skill and imagination of Blub certainly is inspiring! The sheer whimsy of the art makes me break into a broad smile when I stumble across it. I delight in the beauty before me and admire how the artist has reinvented great Renaissance works and displayed them in the most humble and equitable viewing way possible—on the street.
Clet and Blub are just two street artists in Florence–there are many more to uncover. I suggest taking a walk on the Oltrarno side of the city (that is the other side of the Arno River from the historic city center where the Duomo is), especially make sure to visit the San Niccolo neighborhood (via dell’Olmo 8) where Clet’s studio is located.
Over the years, I’ve had to check my impulse to take pictures of every piece of street art I see. I’m afraid they would take up too much space on my camera’s storage, but I have captured the image of the ones that spoke to me most. You can check out some of my favorite pictures around Florence (and Rome). If you find a picture below that you love and isn’t listed on our Etsy shop, you can still purchase a copy through: Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the Etsy shop link and I’ll create a personal listing for you.
If you enjoy our pictures, please check out our photography shop on Etsy where you can purchase our prints. We don’t have all of our prints listed on our Etsy site, so don’t hesitate to contact us if you see a picture in a blog post that you would like to order.
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