Friday, 24 September 2010

LSD Magazine Interviews - Michael De Feo (Issue 5)

From the hustling, bustling, innocence rustling streets of New York City to the rainbow nations of the world, Michael de Feo’s primal aesthetic of the simplicity of organic perceptions has taken root in the recesses of global urban consciousness. The man behind the iconic flower image that has winked it’s petals at so many hardened communities, Michael’s work ranges from the unsettling self portrait to the exploration of the underwater world on a faded street corner, and with both his role in the evolution of modern street art since the early 90’s, and his unique incorporation of this subversively natural medium into children’s books and imagination, he has truly helped reshape the understanding of public art as a social force. We had a word with the man himself...

Can you tell us a little about your background and your journey into street art? 

My whole life I’ve known that I’ve wanted to do something with art and while I didn’t know how or what that would be, I knew that I wanted to be creative in some way for the rest of my life. Throughout my time at high school I got into it really heavily and it led me into 5 years at the School of Visual Arts in New York. I moved on from there to another college in New York called Manhattanville where I studied art education. It was during this time period in New York City at SVA in the early 90’s that I got into street art and it prompted me to participate as well.

How do you feel about the kind of nature of urban life and the context of art within it? 

Well I think it’s inseparable especially in a big urban city. For somebody like myself I’ve never felt anything other than a need to participate in the fabric of that city life and for me that venue, that way of dong it, was through my art and sharing it publicly.  

Was there something specific about the vibe in New York that really drove that explosion within you? 

Absolutely, New York has always moved something within me ever since I was a child…… it has this energy, this sparkle, and I always was drawn to it. I grew up about a half an hour outside of New York, about 5 minutes outside the Bronx. As a child time my parents would bring me and my siblings down for whatever event happened to be going on, I was always so charged up about it and so thrilled to be there and even back then I knew that that city was something that I wanted to participate in. I felt that attraction, that pull to New York my whole life.

Looking at New York as a city famous for its neon and its billboard culture, do you think that society is dangerously unconcerned by the corporate use of public space? 

Tremendously so. It’s downright frightening. In such a short space of time, some neighbourhoods that I’m familiar with in the city have completely changed with the introduction of billboards and signage and so forth... it’s downright criminal. Many in our society are passive and I think that street art starts to jar people out of that. When people start to pick up on what’s happening creatively on the streets, they not only notice more street art that’s happening but more importantly, they begin to notice their surroundings, the place they actually live in. So, instead of darting out of the house and going straight to work and not really seeing their environment, they’re becoming more aware and engaged. I think that’s really important. 

How did flowers evolve into such a major aspect of your work? 

Quite accidentally actually... I came up with the image from a drawing session one evening years ago, and that particular one leapt out at me off the wall. I made a silk screen out of it, made hundred of prints of it in different colours, and then felt that I had to share it in the same way that I was putting my paintings up on the walls of lower Manhattan. When I first started, street art wasn’t anywhere near as ubiquitous as it is today and of course, the internet wasn’t a part of our everyday life like it is now so little street art was actually on the streets. Naturally, there was some stuff going on - occasionally Shepard would be in town and you’d see some of his stuff or you’d see a Jenny Holzer or a Phil Frost piece... Cost and Revs were everywhere but that was more or less it. There certainly wasn’t a large roster of people doing this stuff. At the time I was more prompted to do it as a way to side step the gallery system because I knew that galleries wouldn’t be interested in showing the work of a freshman in college. Things are a little bit different now but that was the impetus for me and the more I did it, especially with the flower, the more I began to realise the subversive implications of what I was doing. It was all kind of accidental and then grew and grew and quite honestly, I’m still learning from it, particularly with the flower project which is why it’s the only project that I’ve done that I still continue to this day and it’s been almost 18 years.

Do you think that the transience of street art is a metaphor for the transience of the organic world?

Absolutely. And that was one of the happy accidents of the flower project because it is a living thing, and just like all living things they’re born, they sprout, they live their existence for whatever length of time and then they either slowly wither away and die or they abruptly die and then sprout again elsewhere . 

You’ve got a background in graphic design as well don’t you? Where do art and graphic design meet? 

That also relates to how street art and advertising meet. It’s a funny contradiction and a lot of street artists like myself enjoy that we can subvert advertising by doing work in the streets but inevitably the more you do your work in the streets, the more you’re advertising yourself and I kind of like that contradiction. It tickles me.


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