First time I heard about CT was through a college friend. Exactly two days later, another friend from Rotterdam dropped his name during our conversation about most active trainwriters and street artists. I had to admit to him that, no, I didn’t know CT personally, even though we live in the same city.
Since there isn’t a club or particular place to go and get to know who’s on the scene, I had to go through a long process of asking around for his contact. One month later, we finally met. Meanwhile, I looked at his works online and a few live inside a huge park full of other graffiti pieces.
Online, some people have labeled him the “King of Italian minimalism.” He, in person, made it very clear that he doesn’t belong to the graffiti world if we intend it in his purest form. Nor does he consider himself a street artist, since rather than street, he prefers creepy abandoned factories. The only label we agreed to adopt when speaking about him was a simple, but meaningful, “artist.”
An artist that saves buzzards.
SPRAYTRAINS: What’s your background and when did you start?
CT: I started with this particular approach to graffiti about a decade ago. At the time of middle school, I had classmates who were doing tags everywhere, so even if I didn’t know exactly what they were, I liked ’em and started to produce some of my own. I thought it was culturally limited - I never imagined that there was such an important story behind [it]. I started in a very amateurish way. Shortly [after], I discovered that there were books and zines, but it was in the late ’90s and those were hard to find and the Internet was not there. However, I didn’t stop my passion towards graffiti, and for years I did only tons of sketches and nothing more. Back then, I didn’t live in the city of Turin, but a bit out where reality was far from the metropolis. For example, I didn’t know where to buy spray paint! For me, my sketchbook was my job - I took care of it with passion and precision for each drawing.
When did you move to walls?
In 2003/2004, I started painting walls and I did it with my friend Kurz, with whom I have always painted with since a few years ago. Mainly our outcomes were based on what we saw on the fanzine, but we were also looking to find out our own way. I always made sure not to follow a particular style - to change what I saw and try to bring out something new; which for me is very important and has led the development of things. So we started making the first wall along the train’s tracks here in Turin.
We were happy with what we were doing, because in my opinion, our works were quite different and quite innovative compared to [others from] that period. Obviously here in Turin. there were already writers that with their painted walls had made history: Crews like Ots, Tot, KNZ and 108.
“I HAD TO BUILD MY OWN TOOLS TO BE ABLE TO GET THE RESULTS THAT I WANTED.”
But we were of a different generation, young people who were trying to look out on the scene and bring something new. We continued like this for a couple of years, then fanzines started to pop around and we started to use the Internet - that allowed us to see what was happening in the rest of the world’s graffiti scene. Especially in 2005, we started to look at the scene of Barcelona where stickers and posters were spread everywhere and that was what would become the “street art.” I began to see the birth of a hybrid between the writing and street art; artists like El Tono did his work in Madrid, in Paris there was Honet, Stak, L’Atlas and Tanc and in Bordeaux there was Foe.
Were you and Kurtz inspired to try other forms of expression?
Yes, we absorbed and brought in our works all those things we saw, whether they belonged to graffiti or street art. So our letters have changed quite a bit and have started to have much more geometry to fit the adhesive. In fact, we moved from the walls to making stickers and posters. It was something new that I had never done and since I never used the computer, all the posters were sheets of paper attached together and then adapted to various spots in the city.
So I started putting stickers around my town, but I wasn’t the only one: there were guys like Pixel Pancho who studied at the Art Academy with me and my other fellow academy, DEP, that made these little women silhouettes, etc. Many years have passed and now there is little left. By this time, my letters, after being modified to adapt to the support of the sticker, have brought with them those changes that I applied to wall painting.
In 2005 I started traveling. Went to Spain to see what I had seen only on the fanzine live. And then in 2006, I went to Berlin, the place that fascinated me the most.
What’s the development phase/process of your letters?
When I returned to Italy I started painting a lot more on walls - to tell you the truth I do not know why. But just by chance, I started to create modules to be able to build my letters before painting them. From the stickers, I evolved my painting skills, but maintaining a cleanliness in the letters that would look like they were printed. I was not interested in freehand spray painting.
I think it’s interesting that I had to build my own tools to be able to get the results that I wanted. When I talk about tools, I refer to forms of construction paper (3mm thick) shaped as semicircles and rectangles that allow me to create forms quickly, but at the same time, remaining quite complex and precise. The modules are the quarter of a circle and the square, usually combined by two or three. “CT” is based on two quarter-circles and seven squares. Every work of mine is made with the same amount of letters of CT: this is the strong bond that continues to be with the writing culture (not intended as limited to only panels).
“THERE IS NOTHING IN MY HOUSE THAT PROVES WHAT I DO, [EXCEPT] SOME LOW QUALITY IMAGES ON MY COMPUTER.”
My painting process goes like this: I draw the outline of the shape with a pencil, then I put the tape all around them and do the filling. So with this method, I could do my things clearly and simply from the point of view of aesthetics without neglecting the complexity. In the 2008/2009, I began to make a sort of isometric effect, after which I duplicated the layers, creating overlaps. And my very minimal work was becoming quite complex, especially when I was using 6/7 colors. It was crucial for me to be able to have a technique that was suitable to make me work faster.
In this way, I had a much more thoughtful approach to the wall, I had to take measurements of the wall before going to paint and to be able to snap a picture. It was interesting for me, this phase of building my tools, because it was a time when writing was something already quite fashionable. So for example, you could buy the spray cans from Graffiti Shop, we weren’t in the ’70s and ’80s anymore when you had create the cap or spray cans were rare to find.
How was your lifestyle in those years of fervid work?
I entered into a kind of vicious circle where I painted a lot. I understood what the catch was. In short, I realized how I could work best on those letters, so every week I could produce a new work. I was breathing and working on my letters each and every day.
Same years, '08/’09, I went to Holland where I met Zedz, Wood, ZIME and Graphic Surgery - a bunch of guys who were doing that at the time and still making graphics with very particular aesthetic; very abstract and not based on the letters. We got in touch through Fotolog - that was the Facebook of street art and graffiti in those years.
My trip to Holland changed and enriched my point of view and what was going around in this environment. Meanwhile in Italy, the mentality and style was straying towards what was going to be the scene of the following years.
How was your first solo exhibition?
It happened in 2009 and it was something special because I did not think this type of work could end up in a gallery because it was something I have never imagined when I started. The gallery was an independent space called “The Crypt 747” in Turin. I knew the guys who ran that space and they were the ones that got me into exposing some of my works. We worked together and wanted to do this exposition in our particular way. We took the supports from an abandoned place, we load them in the car disassembled, and then reassembled them inside the gallery where I painted 'em. The supports were partitions made of wood and polystyrene and PVC and we didn’t remove the dust or dirt. In short, we were trying to recreate as much as possible the effect of an abandoned factory.
The major difficulty in wanting to bring into the gallery what is born on the street is to keep the things in their same way. From this first exhibition I came home with positive feedback. The public was made up mostly by people who were doing things similar to mine and some people sensitive to this type of work and aesthetic.
“WHAT IS INNOVATIVE IN THE WORLD OF GRAFFITI IS PROBABLY TRIVIAL IN THE ART WORLD.”
Shortly after you had serious health problems, how was the comeback after the operation?
There’s a black hole in 2010-2011 and the comeback happened slowly. The approach to my works required attention and care in the details, plus going to abandoned buildings isn’t exactly a piece of cake. After the operation I started to do simple works, summarizing everything in order to do something very quickly. In 2011-20-12, I began the breakdown of the letters. Before, I was very interested in the readability of my works; that it was possible for everyone to read the C and the T.
In the following years, I gave less importance to the concept of readability, and more towards the capability of my letters to stand out more thanks to their forms, but always using the same amount of forms of CT. In this period, my interest in graffiti changed. Before, I was attracted only by the panels, silver-pieces, and tags. But during hospitalization I started to discover contemporary art.
I realized that the way I work is very far from doing graffiti and I felt compelled to explore a more contemporary look. I felt compelled to investigate what was happening in the field of contemporary art, and whether we like it or not, it’s what is done today. My goal - but I believe it should be everyone’s - is that I try to take off some influences of the avant garde of the ‘900 that are present. In my opinion, in 90% of those who do graffiti do it inside a gallery environment only. So in my opinion, the novelty doesn’t lie in aesthetics, but in the background that one person has. Let me explain: If a contemporary artist proposes exactly the same stuff that a street artist does, he probably wouldn’t have any kind of appreciation/success. If yesterday, I was a person that did only panels and today I switch to painting canvas, my work does not come from an academic work that is filtered through the different aesthetic, it’s a richer type of work. What is innovative in the world of graffiti is probably trivial in the art world and vice versa.
Which contemporary artist you dig?
I started to investigate the artists who have an aesthetic similar to mine, because I liked them and found something in common with me. Mostly, I looked up to the American and the Italian ones. I always try to understand the value of their works and I try to imagine if some techniques can be applied to my letters. Why do I continue to paint only the walls in the factories and take good pictures? I think that’s an understatement and a limitation of my possibilities. Now I need new stimuli: Having never had a parallel production studio for paintings and prints in quantity, I feel I’m missing something. As a matter of fact, there is nothing in my house that proves what I do, with the only exception being some low quality pictures on my computer.
Do you have a perfect photographic documentation of your works?
[Laughs] I have everything, but it is not catalogued in a sublime way. I have pictures for each work I have done. Few analogue photos of the 2004/2005 walls, and then I bought a digital camera and still have the same one 8 years later.
Can you tell me the different approach you had the first time you went out painting compared to the approach you use now for your works?
My attitude is basically the same, so there is no big difference, maybe just the situations were very different so it’s not comparable. I always had what I wanted to do and how to do it in mind. For me it was something very serious like a job.
The first time I painted, my mind was full of images and I have always had great respect for this culture and to be able to do something, or give my contribution, was something really important to me and it shows in the type of work I’ve done.
Of course at the beginning having a less clear view of the world scene and this culture, it was possible to imagine even more. Today, instead, an artist is well aware of what they’re doing in them all. I can see the exhibition, which was inaugurated two years ago in Los Angeles, I can see the graffiti -jam that happened a week ago in Holland, etc. So I have perfectly clear dynamics that are around me.
“THESE VERY SHORT SPANS OF TIME BETWEEN CREATION AND THE DIFFUSION, IN MY OPINION, ARE THE BANE OF THIS CULTURE.”
At that time it was different because you did not have this immediate perception of what was going on so you could be more focused on your work and nothing else. Now, I think the problem is the extreme speed at which a person creates and can put what he produced into circulation.
These very short spans of time between the creation and the diffusion, in my opinion, are the bane of this culture. Soon everything will end up in a short circuit caused by this speed, and you will have an extreme homogenization of works because you will not have time to unplug. It was unthinkable 10 years ago, that while I was painting a wall I could publish a photo on Instagram of the action before I even finish it. Now all we need more is to make a video conference while we are painting and we would have done everything.
On one hand it could be very nice because I do not want to criticize this period of time I live in, because this is what I got, but it is my personal choice to be able to decide when it is time to close; to take the time to focus on the work without having the pressure to see everything at once. I’m not saying not to show it to the world. Because this type of work - if you don’t share it around on the Internet - obviously is not seen by anyone.
So how fundamental is the Internet for you?
My work, “my personality,” is well alive on the Internet, thanks to platforms as Fotolog, Ekosystem, and now on sites like Grafffuturism, il Gorgo or Facebook. I do not want to criticize the Internet because it gave me the opportunity to gain visibility. But I criticize the way it was used even when I think there is an actual need. We need a minimum of more autonomy.
Some aspects I think are wrong, because you end up having a generation of works completely empty, only pure aesthetics, perhaps at a higher level than in the past because a person in 6 months or less, having a good eye, good communication skills, and good taste can become one of the artist that are attending many festivals and galleries. They are people who do not have a background in writing, graffiti, or street art, but still do exhibitions most of the time with people who actually have this background. I find it a little bit wrong and it was as if we were talking about different things. I think it’s vital that we don’t create a big cauldron to throw all the graphic designers who recently graduated by the IED with those coming out of the academy or with the ones that just make graffiti on the streets. We throw them all in this cauldron and out of it we make pseudo exhibitions with a pseudo geometric/pseudo comic aesthetic and then call them artists or vanguards. It makes no sense! And if someone tells me this is the reality of today, I say that we should use more boundaries and give names to things, otherwise we will lose the identity of this culture and there will be a generation of blog- artists that will surely sell because the market is not lacking in these things. However, it is lacking that little bit of poetry that comes when one has lived a certain environment and certain situations.
Tell me the kind of relationships you have with friends when you go to paint.
I always painted with friends, I never go alone just because I find it quite boring and at the same time it isn’t such a clever idea to go alone in abandoned places.
From the beginning until 2009, I painted with Kurz, who is a good friend of mine. Initially, we did works together like putting stickers around town, walls nearby train-tracks, and then decided that each of us has turned to his own way; doing separate works inside a factory, but going there together.
All those who are part of this culture know how many good feelings you get when you go together with your crew/friends to paint, whether you go in an abandoned factory during the day or to do panels at night… the anecdotes and situations that come up are fabulous.
Want to share one of those anecdotes with us?
There is one that is both absurd and funny at the same time. We used to go to an abandoned factory so often that we ended up knowing the place really well. One night in this factory that we were hitting often, and that is still half there, while we were taking measurements of the walls we heard the noise and saw a buzzard! This animal was stuck at the top of a pillar of concrete, about 15 meters high, since it was the shed of a steel mill. We realized it was unable to move and it would end up dead. At first sight we thought we couldn’t be of any help so we went back to our homes. Later that night, I spoke on the phone with Kurz about this poor creature and we decided to do something. We went back to the place and called the fire department. When they arrived, we said we were photographers and quickly we explained to them what the situation was. Of course we didn’t have the number of the owner of the place so the firefighters had to cut the front gate with a circular saw.
Once inside, we discovered that their ladder wasn’t long enough to reach the buzzard. So a second fire department truck had to arrive and finally reached the animal. Way past midnight, we found ourselves in the situation of trying to figure out where to put this wounded buzzard. The only solution was to call the Wild Animals Protection squad and the firefighters had to be the ones to bring the animal to them at the opposite part of the city.
Those firefighters were deeply mad at us, for the situation we put them into and because they had to cover the rest of the night shift. After we gave them our emails for an update the following day we received this few words: “If it happens again, call during daytime.” Let’s say I did it because if one day a similar situation happens to me, I would like someone to make the phone call.
Another situation that stuck in my mind is this one: Often in these abandoned places you can find many people that live in them, mostly from Eastern Europe. In one fabric we became friends with some of them, we exchanged phone numbers, and we would leave our paint with them if we had to go back the following day. Those people were very curious about the fact that we would go to abandoned placed instead of public ones, and asked if we were paid to do them. So for them it was a completely different dynamic than in their country, and I think that these different dynamics are a result of our time. The world around us is made up of different cultures and, above all, different levels, which are then incorporated into what is our reality.
What’s it like painting abroad and with foreign artists?
The fact of belonging to a certain type of environment - as happens in writing - and to a certain type of group, shall cause one to immediately befriend this person. Although I do not know you, but you do these works like me, we are automatically friends and we have something in common. Each time I traveled abroad, I made friends that later would come visit me in Turin. At the beginning, to communicate we would use Fotolog or exchange emails and soon the feeling was like we knew each other for a long time.
We overcame the obstacle of the different language barriers, after 5 minutes we joked and laughed. And after 3 days with no inhibitions, we were like brothers from different moms. Indeed, the fact that I painted abroad and have seen the European scene is why my style has evolved in this way; I have never been provincial. I think that provincialism is the worst thing. Today, I think it’s hard to be provincial thanks to the Internet. But 10 years ago, it was difficult to find people out of your city with your same interests.
Current and future projects?
Right now I am working a lot with ORE and recently for the first time I did a big collaboration in Breda, Holland, with an artist that had no background in writing or street art. It was an interesting experience and even if the dynamics were different; the outcome of our joined work was very impressive.
In November, I will be part of an exhibition inside a gallery in Milano, where I will bring my background and experience.
If I could choose I would try, again, to work with someone who has no graffiti influence and see what comes out. I am likely to do more exhibitions inside the galleries, as long as what goes into the gallery is not the postcard version or a reduced size of what you do on a wall without adding or taking away anything.
The style is what one has and that should not change completely inside a gallery. I think we should raise questions and give answers on what you can bring to the galleries while staying connected with your time.
Describe yourself in three words.
A normal person.