Traffic signs are boring. They are the same all around the world, with a few aesthetic differences. The usual arrows, circles, triangles, bricks, human silhouettes and other universal symbols. Yet even boring things can trigger imagination and the outcome can be amusing.
French artist Clet Abraham has shown a good example. He started as a painter and sculptor but became known as an inventor of a peculiar form of street art. Armed with his own pre-designed stickers, he walks around cities and towns of different countries and makes people smile at decorated traffic signs. No-entry sign becomes a brick in hand or a lying nude, dead-end turns into a crucifixion, ahead-only acquires a shape of an angel with a halo, and one-way arrow gets warped. Context is also important: an angel sign appears next to a church, scissors cutting a piece of fabric (his favourite no-entry again) mark a street with fashion shops and a heart pierces with a one-way arrow may indicate an intimate services district.
Abraham started modifying traffic signs five years ago in Florence, Italy, where he has been living since 1990. Boring signs next to masterpieces of architecture didn’t seem right and he did something about it. Now he travels around the world armed with stickers and leaves cheery marks. Some cities and municipalities, like Paris or a town in Tuscany, are amused and allow the artist to alter traffic signs and others, like New York or London, turn a blind eye on it. His Japanese girlfriend got arrested in Osaka when they were decorating traffic signs there, yet Abraham himself was not detained. He was fined in some cities for vandalism, although he maintains that the stickers are easily removable, hence no damage is caused.
Current exhibition at Graffik Gallery on Portobello Road shows examples of Abraham’s decorated traffic signs. Detached from their original street environment, these universal symbols become an indication of how mundane objects can be stripped of their boredom with a slight artistic touch. Coincidentally, some examples also appeared elsewhere in the neighbourhood. Two of Abraham’s cheery signs hang at the dead end of Crowthorne Road, around the corner from the Latimer Road tube station. When you accidentally discover these new artistic images on streets straight after seeing them in a gallery space, you may want to find some more and, as a result, catch yourself paying more attention to traffic signs. graffikgallery