"COMPROMISES SHOULD STOP AT THE POINT WHERE THEY START TO COMPROMISE WHAT YOU LOVE TO DO."
Zed1 (born in 1977) is the tag name for the Italian-based street artist and painter for over twenty years. He was born, raised and is living in Florence, Italy. Through his work, he invites us to see through his own inner lens what he has seen and experienced. His work doesn’t depict just any art, he makes sure to offer us unique and provocative interpretations that tells us a detailed story of his experiences. Zed1 sees urban spaces as an untapped format for personal artwork, which allows him to reach a much broader audience than other styles or galleries would allow. His art is a poetic mixture of elegance and reflection, romance and comedy, irony and sarcasm.
"When I look at my work, I retrace the steps of my life and relive them like a diary written on the walls."
His work is best known for the fine details incorporated into each image, depicting his own personal style and characters that intensify their involvement in social themes. A distinct characteristic of Zed1’s art is the communion with his public. As one can see in his works from “Seconda Pelle” (Second Skin) project, he paints a mural then covers it with a thin layer of paper. This thin layer of paper represents the Second Skin. With the passing of time and curious passers-by who tear off pieces of this paper, the real painted mural is then revealed. This symbiotic involvement between artist, art and public gives it a special sense of connection where there is a giver and a receiver. And both simply comprehend what just occurred. The message was delivered first hand.
Zed1 has participated in numerous personal and collective exhibitions. His work has decorated many walls around the world such as Italy, Belgium, Brazil, Holland, Madagascar, Romania, Spain, UK, Norway, United States, Japan, and Denmark among others.
Q. How did it all start? Tell us about your particular style and how you came to it?
A. Street art and graffiti weren't popular at the time. I came aware of its existence by studying at a graphic school in Florence while studying Hand Lettering. There, I got the chance to meet some writers who also painted and knew of it. They were the ones to introduce me to it, and through them, I met a group of guys from Tuscany. We began to travel, and leaving our signatures everywhere we went. At the time, street art was illegal and people considered it as a vandalism act, so people often looked down on us.
I was the guy setting the backgrounds because I had a good hand for figurative art. Slowly but surely, I started to transform the letters into characters, from a classic 2D to something more pictorial and realistic. Over time I abandoned the lettering for the figurative; I felt I needed to narrate stories, and it would have been so much better to do it with images rather than letters.
Q. Do you intend for your work to challenge the viewer?
A. street art should carry a message. My work is not meant to challenge anyone, but I like the thought that it gives people the opportunity to reflect. Painting is not only a passion but a real cure, in the sense that, since forever, it made me feel better and give a tangible form to my hidden fears. The walls tell my personal life and my thoughts over it, being the representation of what happens around me. This often leads to people recognizing themselves in my works. Whatever the case is, I narrate what surrounds me, the world filtered through my experiences and my way of seeing things.
Q. What has been the most touching or memorable moment you've experienced in your career as a street artist?
A. The best moment for me has been when I started getting invitations to make my first large murals. Certainly, the wall I painted in L’Aquila has been one of the most touching. I made it a few years after the earthquake; the wall belonged to one of the evacuated buildings on which I had free rein. I wanted to narrate what I had seen, without being pimp or taken for granted. The word L’Aquila means “eagle” in Italian, so I painted a humanoid eagle fallen on its back, with its plaster mantle breaking apart revealing the bricks the bird was made of. I painted little hard-working men at the bottom of the eagle, intent on helping her get the fallen bricks back and right next to the giant bird, a vulture with a black jacket and a gold watch to symbolize the speculation that has been done after the earthquake.
The intervention was so appreciated that the neighbors asked me to continue painting on their walls, too. It’s been a great responsibility for me, the result a heart-breaking work.
Q. Who are your biggest influences? Are there any particular painting traditions or 'old masters' that have influenced your work?
A. Back in the days, when I only did Hand Lettering, all I wanted was to find my personal trait so I never let others influence my work. I do however used to admire the ABC crew, Daim, Loomit, and Toast. Not to mention, the best lettering in my personal opinion at the time was and still remains that of Dare; he is my idol, the maximum point to reach for my personal artistic evolution.
Plus, I’ve never really followed modern and contemporary art, so I don’t feel like being inspired by traditions, even though I’d still name Bosch, the pioneer of surrealism. You see, my motto has always been “The less I know of it, the less I can copy from it.” Among contemporaries, I like artists who can create characters that could be included in urban pop-surrealism, such as Osgemeos, Phlegm, InterzniKazki, Dome and, of course, Blu.
Q. Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
A. The life of the artist is a way of living for which compromises have to be made, both at an emotional and an economic level. But if you really love what you do, it becomes lighter, and the highlights overcome the shortcomings of what’s considered to be a “normal” life.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
A. I don't think I've ever received true advice from anyone, maybe it's me who never truly accepted it. That's also because I have been a stranger in my homeland and to my parents.
They have never properly accepted my lifestyle. The only suggestion I follow is to always try to do what I am passionate about and to move forward in that direction. Compromises should stop at the point where they start to compromise what you love to do.
Q. What advice would you give to the next generation?
A. Never think about money, but to research the expressive form that is the most enjoyable. That is the direction to take in order to avoid art becoming a burden. If you don't think about money and fail, you have the experience. If you also succeed, then this becomes a real wonder.
Second skin project by Zed1
Zed1 conceived this visual project with the intention of emphasizing the aging and inexorable decadence of the multiple aspects of reality, we are that character, environments or situations and to highlight the interpretative levels hidden behind an obvious image or idea. In addition, with these works, the viewer can interact to form an integral part of it.