Alice Pasquini has developed different paths in her research, from narrating feminine vitality to manipulating the three-dimensional possibilities of her work. She moves from urban explorations to installations using found materials, and her artworks have been exhibited in galleries and museums in more than one hundred cities around the world. We reached Alice in Italy at the end of the lockdown period to talk about her art and her upcoming projects.
Hey Alice, how are you spending these horrible days? Do lockdown measures convinced you?
In Italy the situation has been really tragic. Now thing are going better, so the lockdown looked like the only possible alternative.
My life as a street artist has always been on the road. Obviously this tragedy that surprised us all has upset my plans by cancelling in a very short time all the travels and long-planned wall projects. I found myself with a lot of time available in the studio, which fortunately is behind the building where I live. But I really missed the contact with the city. All my art speaks about people and feeds off encounters and travels. Surely there will come a time in which I will be able to elaborate all of this artistically but now it’s too early.
How do you think it will be the return to normal life? I mean, we will all forget in a hurry about this nightmare, or we will not trust our neighbour and his potential contagiousness for a long time?
This time of quarantine is teaching us a lot and is giving us time to reflect. I hope there will be a change. The fact that nature is taking back space is something that is definitely heartwarming and a silver lining to the difficult time we’re facing. The sky is clearer, the air is more breathable and there is definitely less pollution circulating.
I dream of a green future, with increased awareness. The fragility of the planet is clear, and at the same time, it’s also much stronger than we are. So, I hope for a tomorrow when we’ll all be more respectful of one another.
Has the current situation inspired you some new work, or do you prefer not to be “infected” by the current proliferation of portraits with a mask?
I always have been painting girl with masks on the streets. Now not at all. To me the mask had a completely different meaning about protest and underground culture. Now, of course, I can’t see it in the same way anymore.
This gives me the cue to start talking about the relationship between street art and its online spreading. Started almost 20 yrs ago you are definitely one of the pioneers in sharing, your works have started to travel around the world thanks to blogs and socials. Today it seems to me that the balance between physical work and its virtual diffusion has radically changed. Many of the works that we appreciate on instagram are already designed and created with the clear intent of being lived online. Do you feel this change?
Times are different. In the beginning I needed to go beyond the limits of my studio, and beyond the elitist vision of art. Street art made more sense to me than a white canvas or a digital artwork ever did. Today I continue to feel that way even after having painted so many walls around the world, but I’m much more focused on creating social projects and collectives where art can become a way to shine a light on situations that aren’t always easy to speak about.
Yes, there was a moment that I understood that street art was becoming something “cool.” I’d already been working as an illustrator and street designer, but I’d never thought that what I was doing out of passion would transform into my work. Let’s not forget that as that time there wasn’t social media and graffiti was generally considered something ugly and horrible, and my father kept asking me why I was doing it… But I have to say that before anything else, it was actually regular people who pushed me to keep going.
Once in 2010, a few hours after I painted a door, I found it on eBay. That was the same year I discovered that people did street art tours and there was an explosion of street art galleries, festivals, and auctions.
It sounds like the physical location is no longer important, every wall in any part of the world can be a perfect blank canvas to express yourself, even the wall of your backyard. And I think this is positive, but at the same time it kills all the charm of night working, of appropriating unallocated spaces, and of course the magical discovery of a new piece in an unexpected place … What do you think about it?
Internet is playing an important role. People are able to see your piece, take a photo and to feel like it’s their own by sharing with the friends or on social media. For an independent artist, it’s meant that you are able to live on your own ability with a direct contact with your followers.
But to me a big part of the magic of street art is the moment a person is passing by and is suddenly facing something he likes out of nothing. It’s very different than the perception of a person going to a gallery or to watch something on internet, maybe with already an idea.
What’s also different is the way an artist is painting something in a rush in the street in context or with calm in his studio only with himself.
I think if an artist is an artist, the work is valid in the street or in the museum, on walls or virtually. But to me the street is always better.
In the street creativity is influenced by many things; from the light and colors of the surroundings to the people that pass by and reaction, as well as the surface of the artwork. For me, the painting comes from the place where it’s conceived and I find it very interesting that it evolves along with the city once I leave.
Have you ever felt the pressure of socials in your artistic choices? I mean, nowadays the feedback on a new piece is immediate, one portrait works, another less, some colours give different reactions … Does it ever influenced you?
Not really. Personally, I speak about human emotion and the relationships between people. That is what influences me more. Walls around the world were a way to get out a message of being united—even if that seems banal—as opposed to rampant cynicism. The walls themselves have always been a source of inspiration—the color, history, and context—and I take from that to start my creation. It always changes, from Moscow to Singapore, Berlin to Sydney. As I don’t believe in happiness as a concept, my inspiration comes from looking for the small moments that, for me, are the sense of life.
And in recent years how many times you deal with new stencil artists, who “inspired” by your style, have fortunately promoted their works? I mean, maybe their artworks were not so good but maybe they were better at using socials, capturing the attention of the media by promoting their works online … Do you think there is meritocracy on the web? I mean the same meritocracy that could have been on the streets 20 years ago?
Things have changed. I was living the city, being on the streets everyday my goal wasn’t to be popular or to sell art. It was about finding my own voice and sharing emotions with the city again—the idea of art with the big A.
Right now there’s a bit of an ebb in the movement. It seems like a lot of artists want to try and move beyond the street or to have more followers. To do what, enter back into the system? I wanted to escape the standard art system after the fine arts academy, but it’s obvious that the avant-garde moment has been over for a while now. Also talking about meritocracy from a woman’s point of view there are different obstacles. I try to propose a real woman as a model in a world where heroines of comics have to be beautiful, magazines for women are filled with tips on makeup and ‘tests’ or ‘quizzes’ about women and their role. My whole work is from a girl’s perspective and speaks about real life—at times which can be also brutal for women.
From work life to private life. From an artistic point of view I’m always happy to see that there are increasingly more women in the scene than there were in the beginning.
This gives me the chance to talk about your technique. Maybe you can reach fame for a week by guessing the right image to post on instagram, but the natural selection of time discards the weakest. Your stencils remain technically unmatched after a decade. If you could answer me with a single word, which one would you choose to express the secret of their beauty?
More than technical reason I think it’s all about the chance for the viewers to identify themselves with the subject of the painting.
Do you think you have reached the maximum possible in the stencils technique? Do you believe or hope you can experience something completely different in the coming years?
To me stencil is just a tool not a style. I used stencil to go fast but all my big wall are made freehand with no projector or grills. To sketch, I use acetate paper that I can look through to find the right proportions.
Every wall that I paint takes shape in one of my many sketchbooks that I always bring with me. My sketchbook is my travel journey, where I collect thoughts and emotions that, in a second moment, get painted on a large scale.
After over 2000 paintings on different surfaces and modes of transport, I’ve done a lot of what I’ve set out to do, but I’d still love to paint a hot air balloon.
Speaking instead of the choice of subjects, even in this case I think it can be said that you were a pioneer bringing portraits of ordinary people into street art, involving them in the creative process, something definitely 2.0. Do you think it was decisive in your artistic career? Would it have been the same if you had dedicated yourself to portraits of…you know, Marilyn Monroe?
I would not anyway. Because it’s not a fascinating form to me. I’m interested instead in real people—representing movings pictures, moments of life that in some way are universal, in which the concept doesn’t change with time or fashion: it was the same fifty years ago, it will be the same in fifty years. I draw people on the bus, or at the airport, in the bar or at park. I draw my friends, my sisters – sleeping or taking the coffee. I am not a portraitist. I like to tell the very little and intimate stories. My pictures celebrate private moment in a pubblic space. The beauty of fragility.
You have definitely created a recognisable style, and I believe it is the best result an artist can aspire to. Nowadays people see your work and exclaim: “Alice” in an instant. But could you tell me, if there have been, moments you said: “This style cages me! I want to change everything!”
Your sign is your style. And style is everything for an artist. I believe that to find an instinctive sign is fundamental. Of course, as an artist I’ve always trying to experiment with different techniques when we talk about gallery work. Through working with artisans or other artists I’ve created mosaics, 3D artworks, terracotta sculptures, installations. My exhibitions in a gallery aren’t the exact photocopy of what I do in the street.
Photo Credit: Francesca Gattai
Could you tell me three key moments in your 20 years career? They can be people you met, or important exhibitions and festivals you attended… Please try to highlight three moments/people who made the difference in your artistic path.
Seeing my big monograph published: Crossroads, published by Drago. The Cvtà Street Fest, the festival I’ve been organizing since 2016 in an abandoned village in southern Italy with the goal of repopulating it. Being included in Treccani, the official Italian encyclopedia.
Small curiosity: although you have succeeded in affirming your style all over the world, tell me a talent/quality you would like to “steal” from your favorite artist. I mean, that thing you think you could never achieve by yourself.
There are lots of artists that I admire. Often the artists that I like don’t have much to do with what I do. For instance, when I was 18 years old, traveling with friends around Italy, going to the Palladian villas painted by Veronese was definitely moment that greatly inspired me for the strong connection between paint and architecture. But also for the capacity to fight morality with irony.
Then let’s play with time: you’ve booked a dinner table for 4, and you can invite whoever you want from Ramses II to Billie Eilish. Tell me your DDT, Dinner Dream Team.
The Emperor Hadrian, the English author Virginia Woolf, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and the Marx Brothers, but probably not all together.
Then I am generous and I give you a second super power: you can take something from the present, anything you want, an iPhone, or a Tesla, maybe Facebook or Google Maps and bring it as a gift to an historical figure. Who do you choose and what do you bring?
A gps to Christopher Columbus.
Well, I guess our time is running out, let’s leave ourselves with your vision for the end of this nightmare. Please tell me the projects you would like to achieve, and something you would finally get rid of.
I would like to paint in Antarctica—the only continent I never visited. I am not good at getting rid of things. Still learning.
Featured photo credit: Craig Schultz (B4 Flight)