CLET does not need to be introduced. This charismatic artist changed your vision of visual communication with his famous road signs creations. We met CLET in his workshop in the center of Florence.
In our interview CLET talks about the importance of the sense of humor and freedom, his message to the public and much more.
You are from Bretagne, why did you decide to come to Italy?
It was a chance, when I graduated from les Beaux Arts I wanted to go and live abroad, and I received a proposition to work in Rome. It was almost 25 years ago already.
You know, you have to live somewhere. Italy has a very good quality of life. After Rome I was in the Tuscan countryside and then I moved to Florence. So I would say it is all by chance.
You come from a creative family, your father was the writer Jean-Pierre Abraham. Do you think it helped you to find your passion for art?
For sure the environment in which we grow in influences us. Art is a way of being that has been natural for me. But there is also more doubts when you are the son of an artist. You wonder if you are an artist only because your father is one, or because it is your true conviction. However with years the results gave me the answer. I think I am an artist, who also has a natural attitude due to the artistic education.
Did you ever try to write?
I wrote a lot. Never with the idea to publish it. But I think I am very manual and very visual. So naturally it was a talent to develop.
Writing is something very personal?
Yes exactly. But of course you have to write to communicate, with journalists for example. There are times when it is necessary to write. I like it but I am very exigent. My father was very exigent towards his work, so I found myself being like that as well. If we have a certain level of requirements set as an example, we can not be less exigent afterwards. It is not possible, whether it is in writing or in painting.
Do you remember your first creation as a child?
I remember a certain strip cartoon that I drew when I was a kid. It was evident that there was a certain capacity and passion for drawing, as I could spent endless hours working on it. What was impressive is not even the quality of the result, but the significant amount of time that a little child could spent on a drawing.
How would you describe your artistic style and your technique? Could you tell us about your creative process? How much time does it take you to finish a project?
It’s rather variable. Sometimes there are images that come right away, spontaneously, immediately. Therefore in one or two days it can get from an idea to a final result. And in some other cases it can take years – even for a result reduced in its quantity – to refine it, to ameliorate it, to change it…
How did you come up with the idea of your famous character on the road signs?
I took the road signs as a language. I understood that it was a visual language. And what interested me was the synthesis of this idea, as if it was a painting reduced to its essential point.
Do you remember your first road sign?
Yes. It was the Christ. The Christ on the “No Exit” sign. It was here in Florence.
What would you call your artistic influences?
There are multiple. However there is a painter who somehow enlightened me about the sense of painting. It’s Bruegel. He made me understand that painting was a communication tool, a universal language. His paintings represent philosophical thoughts, sometimes very elaborate, translated into a popular language, to speak to everybody. And I understood that this is what painting is, at least for me: it is communication for everyone.
Do you notice the reaction of people when they see your work? Is there anything that you remember that really touched you?
The reaction that is really important for me is to see that people on the streets, without any artistic or intellectual preparation, can instantly understand the message. Weather they are very young or mature.
What is the message to your public?
The message to my public is the profound refusal of obedience.
What reaction to your work do you prefer?
Humor is the key of communication, and I also use it. Humor is the key of life as well. We can not live without a sense of humor. There is no perfect solution for anything, we can not find a concrete ideal. The only way to support all these imperfections and all the pain is to be able to laugh at them somehow, to make them lighter. Humor is fundamental.
It also helps you to communicate. If you made someone laugh he will be more predisposed to listen to what you have to say. Therefore if people laugh it is already a good point, it’s the first step they took.
However sometimes the message is more profound and complex to articulate, and of course I’m happy if the viewer can understand it, but obviously not everybody can.
Would you call yourself a street artist?
I am certainly a street artist. But not only.
Did you collaborate with someone from the street art world?
I created an important work with a young street artist from Florence. It was very nice and I enjoyed it. In this world, it’s difficult to have continuous relations, and sometimes it’s not necessary either. I think it’s nice to be able to create something together once.
It would be interesting to collaborate with other street artists, why not? It is another way to confront yourself. And its a rewarding experience.
If one day you would have to stop expressing yourself through art, what do you think you would do?
(thinking…) If one day I would have to stop expressing myself through art, I would probably see that day as a liberation, because it would signify that I am capable of expressing myself without it.
In your opinion, what is the best part and the worst part of being an artist?
The best part, I would say, is your relation to liberty, this is why I am an artist, I think. It is the need of freedom. The life as it is proposed to us has not enough freedom in it. And the field in this life that offers the biggest amount of liberty is art.
The worst part is that it is very difficult to be accepted as such. First of all, if you are honest with yourself, if you want to be free, if you want to express something, you are alone and original. You listen to your own thoughts or your own way to express your thoughts. So at the very beginning we are alone and misunderstood. It is the part of the game and you have to stay strong in these conditions.
What about the inspiration? Are you always inspired?
Inspiration is something that comes and goes. It has no reason to disappear either. It is the question of having a capacity to listen to yourself and to challenge yourself constantly.
If there is a day when I am not particularly inspired I will sit at my drawing table and try to do something completely opposite of the idea I had in mind. It’s like a mental exercise.
For example we concentrate on an idea or a drawing and then at one point you have to do something that was aside.
Why did you choose Paris as your playground?
Paris is only one of the places where I work. I also work in London, Berlin, Barcelona, in all big European cities. However I am French, so going to Paris is something natural for me. It is also a center of art, or i would say a cultural center. I love the fact that French spirit is very open minded. For me France is the country of Revolution. I feel it in me as well. There is a certain popular revendication for dignity. These are the arguments that for me are fundamental and I think we can find them in Paris.
What is your favorite place in Paris?
I like Belleville. When I visit Paris, I always go to Belleville.
Do you have a favorite museum in Paris? What do you like to visit when you come to the French capital?
I visited a lot of museums in my life. Eventually I would visit some contemporary art exhibitions, but I actually prefer to look at what’s going on in the streets.
How about galleries?
I go there, I have friends that have galleries, I have friends that visit galleries. But I am questioning all this process. For me street art has this fantastic aspect that surpasses the principle of the galleries. Of course I perfectly understand that you have to sell your work, and for that you might go to a gallery. I prefer to sell at auction sales or directly to the clients.
Do you think you are famous? And if yes, why do you think that is?
Its relative. Yes and no. It depends compared to whom. I am known because of my work with road signs. It has a very efficient communication capacity. It touches everybody and it speaks to everyone.
And in my opinion the work in the streets, the impact in the streets is more important than when you see it on the internet. Internet helps, and because of it i’m known even in the places where I did not work, but the real power of communication truly happens in the streets.
What would you advise to young street artists that just start their career?
Certainly to be original. And I think they understand that. Originality is the key and also the capacity to put your work into a context. Not to make the same thing everywhere. What you do, in my opinion, has to have a dialogue with the place where it is.
Some street artists get that and make different and enriching things dialogue with the context every time. And I think people understand and appreciate that. The street artist that makes the same objects and put them about anywhere in the same manner, I find it a bit boring.