Dublin is a city with such great street art. Anytime I stumble upon any beautiful graffiti designs or murals, I stop and snap a photo. I love living in a city where I don’t have to walk into a museum to see a bit of artistic expression. So imagine my delight when I started seeing the cleverly-altered street signs of Florence-based, French-born street artist Clet Abraham.
I lived in Florence, Italy from 2006 until March of 2014. Florence is a beautiful city known for its Renaissance art, architecture, and historical contributions to the world of art in general. A few years ago, locals in Florence started to notice some street signs being “defaced” – the signs were still there, but someone was sneaking around in the night, putting vinyl stickers on the signs to make them look different, and clearly trying to send a message.
That “someone” is Clet Abraham, but everyone just calls him Clet. His altered street signs are, in my opinion, brilliant. His ability to transform a mundane object into a clever design is uncanny, and I was always surprised when I saw what new brilliant design he came up with. Once you see it, you can’t un-see it. A “Do Not Enter” sign became a barman serving people drinks, a blue arrow directional sign became a cupids arrow going through a heart, or a dead fish, or a dead end “T” sign became a crucifix. I often got a “sneak peek” into some of the new designs he was working on, because I lived about 3 houses away from Clet’s art studio in the San Niccolo area of Florence and passed his studio every time I left my house.
So imagine my delight that now, one and a half years into living in Dublin, Ireland, I am again seeing his fantastic street signs all over town. The first time I saw one I stopped and snapped a picture. I knew Clet’s work was all over other European cities, but I hadn’t yet seen it in Dublin. There is a lot of really great street art in Dublin already, and to see
Some people complained, saying he was destroying public property, or creating a potential danger by altering the sign. Others, like me, admired the hell out of him because his art wasn’t about defacing public property or disrespecting the town he lived in. It was more about raising awareness of authority, challenging it, and even the looking at the repression of certain aspects of modern day society. It was meant to make us think and question things, see the irony of societal rules, and in a country like Italy where artists and other independent, self-employed people are subject to frivolous laws and taxes, this is, in my opinion, ground-breaking. And, although the street sign is disguised, the symbol or meaning of the sign remains familiar as always, therefore is not necessarily dangerous- as many of his critics claimed.
On a trip to Japan earlier this year, Clet’s girlfriend, a Japanese citizen, was arrested in Osaka for being in a relationship with a street artist (they were seen on CCTV camera putting a sticker on a road sign there). She has since been released. Although the Japanese authorities claimed it was a public danger and offense, there were no road accidents reported due to the signs.
I am really happy to see Clet’s artwork in Dublin. For me, it brings back nostalgic memories of living in Italy and it feels like my own little treasure hunt. Next time you’re walking about Dublin, look up and think of Clet, the guy who is challenging the mundane rules of life with a removable vinyl sticker.
*As much as I would have liked to, I didn’t contact Clet before writing this article, I was too excited to see so much of his artwork around town so I just started writing. 🙂