Although an already-established street artist for nearly 25 years, Michael De Feo has more recently been raising the well-groomed eyebrows of the fashion-conscious with his series of flourishing fashion advertisements. It all began when he acquired a key that opens the bus stop shelter advertisement cases in New York City and would replace the ads with his flower paintings, before experimenting with painting on the ads themselves. With work that’s Instagram-gold, he soon attracted illustrious publications and fashion brands, as well as garnering his own exhibitions – the most recent opening this week at NYC’s Danziger Gallery.
Why did you make flowers your focus?
My initial flower project began back in 1993. I was drawing a variety of child-like images with a brush and black paint. Of the images, this one flower really stood out from all the other drawings. It had this presence and vitality; it really spoke to me. I quickly decided to use it to create a silk screen and in no time I had many flower prints in a rainbow of colours. Because I was already creating work in the streets at that time, it was a very natural and obvious decision to take these colourful prints and glue them onto the streets. I had no idea at the time that the project would continue to nourish me as long as it has. It’s been almost 25 years.
It’s obvious why your nickname of “The Flower Guy” was thought up, but when did you first become aware of it and how did you feel about it?
I was at a party in the early 1990s and a friend was introducing me someone, explaining that I was the one responsible for the flowers on the streets. Their response was, “Oh! So you’re the flower guy!” It just stuck. I’ve never minded it but I’ve always used my real name when presenting my work. I’ve never wanted to hide behind a moniker.
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How did the idea of painting over fashion advertisements and photographs present itself?
About a year and half ago or so my friend Jordan Seiler gifted me a key that opens the bus stop shelter advertisement cases here in New York. He’s the creator of Public Access, an initiative to distribute the tools needed to reclaim outdoor advertising infrastructure for public use.
Initially, I was removing the advertisements I found in the cases and was replacing them with floral paintings on paper. After doing this for a little while I had accumulated a collection of the removed advertisements at my studio. I thought I should experiment by painting on top of these fashion ads instead of the plain white paper I was using. I really liked the results both aesthetically and conceptually. Like the other paintings, I then installed them into the bus-stop shelters. A little before I started working with these removed advertisements, I was also in the process of designing my line of women’s accessories for Echo New York. Working on this fashion line sparked my interest in fashion itself so I was already purchasing and reading fashion magazines. Once I started the bus-stop shelter project it was pretty obvious to me that I should tear the ads and editorial photos out of the magazines to paint on top of, as well.
When I paint on top of the advertisements, I don’t do so very aggressively. I’m much more interested in working together with the ad and creating something that may in turn end up looking like it was actually designed that way. In this way, the subverted advertisements on the streets sometimes go unnoticed. It’s a much more subtle way of intervening with them.
Tell us about how your Christian Louboutin collaboration came about.
The Christian Louboutin team discovered my work via my Instagram feed and asked if I wanted to be a part of their influencer campaign for their new Hawaii Kawaii collection of nail colours. They supplied me with bottles of the new nail polish and I used them together with my paints to create new paintings on magazine pages. Around this time, I was also invited by Neiman Marcus to create two covers for their April 2016 catalogue, The Book.
How does the city of New York inspire your work?
I grew up just outside of New York and ever since I can remember, I had a love affair with this city. It has an energy and a buzz that always got me excited. I knew back then that I wanted to be a part of the fabric of this town when I got older. Years later by doing art in the streets I literally achieved exactly that by creating art in the streets. I also live and work here.
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Which artists (past or present) do you most admire?
I’m always looking at the work of others and usually I find that what I’m presently exposed to is what I’m most interested in. I don’t have any single one or group of artists that I most admire; the list is constantly changing and rotating.
In the beginning of this year I greatly enjoyed the exhibition Salmon Eye by Eddie Martinez at Mitchell-Innes and Nash. I’ve always loved his work and in this show he really knocked it out of the park. While in Houston I loved the Yayoi Kusama exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts and the fine collection at the Menil. Jasper John’s Gray Alphabet from 1956 really captured my attention. At Rice University my wife and I had the great pleasure of experiencing a sunrise at James Turrell’s Skysace… it was spectacular. Most recently, my daughter and I saw the Manus x Machina fashion exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art here in New York. This stunning show explores the influence of technology in haute couture. We loved it.
Street art is such a huge aspect of your work, how have you found that it translates into exhibitions?
The works I’ve been doing in the bus stops of New York and other cities are very different from the types of street art I’ve done in the past. It’s the first time that the work I’m presenting in the streets is protected under glass, just like the ads themselves. Usually when I paint or glue a painting on the streets, it’s physically accessible to the public. People can touch it or interact with it if they wish. When paintings are within these advertisement spaces, they’re inaccessible but on view.
I recently created a large-scale site-specific installation for Rice Gallery at Rice University in Houston, Texas. The gallery invited me to create a work of art for their annual Summer Windows project.
Basically, while the gallery is closed for the summer, they have an artist create an installation to be displayed behind the giant glass façade of the gallery. For my installation, I selected and scanned four fashion advertisements from magazines then had a billboard printer print them onto vinyl almost 16 feet tall apiece. I painted on top of the four advertisements and we installed them behind the glass of the gallery side-by-side. The completed piece measured over 44 feet wide. I really like the contradiction of these advertisements in a university setting, a place where education occurs, not outright commerce or a sales pitch. Interestingly, the gallery façade is just like the bus-stop shelter ad spaces. The paintings are presented behind glass for viewing but physically inaccessible to the public. The completed work is titled Crosstown Traffic, a reference to the street level advertising spaces from which we normally encounter such ads and to the subversive nature of the works.
“I’m interested in working together with the ad and creating something that ends up looking like it was actually designed that way.”
What can we expect from the exhibition at Danziger Gallery?
For my exhibition at Danziger Gallery in New York, I am presenting over thirty paintings on magazine pages as well as on advertisements from bus-stop shelters and magazine pages mounted on canvas. The images feature a variety of familiar faces from the fashion and entertainment worlds and come from a big of international magazines. I’m really excited to share these new works with New York. The exhibition opens July 13th and runs through August 12th.
What is your personal favourite from the works on show in the exhibition?
It’s very difficult for me to select one painting from the show as they’re all so different. Within this body of work I’ve explored a variety of ideas and broadened my visual vocabulary. The process for each piece has its own set of explorations and each are special to me in their own way.
Can you tell us about any projects that you’re working on at the moment?
I’m designing some women’s clothing for a large fashion brand, I can’t say with whom just yet but it will launch in Spring 2017. I’m continually painting and coming up with new things. To keep abreast of what I’m up to, please sign up for my newsletter at and follow me on Instagram.
Michael De Feo opens at Danziger Gallery (New York) on July 13th.
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