Meet Oliviero Fiorenzi, the Italian artist who, until very recently, was working under the pseudonym Dilen Tigerblu because of his graffiti practice – “when you paint illegal walls, you need to sign with a tag to preserve anonymity”, he confesses to us.
Hugely influenced by his background in street art but currently making more ‘white cube-friendly’ pieces, Fiorenzi is currently exhibiting his work at the exhibition S/S/P at The Address gallery in Brescia, Italy, in collaboration with Roberto Alfano. Of course, as Italy is on lockdown, the place is closed, but you can visit it virtually on Artland – the 3D modelling of the gallery space is impressive, and you can admire each artwork from home. Today, we sit down with Oliviero to discuss the importance of space, the ownership of art, and signing his work with his birth name.
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Oliviero, you are known as Dilen Tigreblu – you’ve been working under this pseudonym for some years –, but you’ve decided not to use it anymore. Why this change? What are the differences and similarities between Dilen and Oliviero?
Dilen and Oliviero are the same person, thankfully I don’t suffer from any personality disorder. They represent two different phases of growth on the same timeline. I created the pseudonym for practical reasons: when you paint illegal walls, you need to sign with a tag to preserve anonymity. My language developed around specific subjects and a recognizable style, and these characteristics are associated with Dilen Tigreblu because that’s how I signed my work for many years.
The ‘alias’ issue is interesting. I believe that it is an extremely useful formula that allows you to get rid of the initial pressure that may come from making mistakes in front of a real or virtual audience. But over time, the pseudonym risks becoming a cage for the person who’s using it. For me, Dilen Tigerblu had become too much of a fixed project, and I tended to make a selection on much of my work to make it stick to the idea I had of the project.
Today more than ever, especially because of social media, people tend to catalogue and divide what they see into genres. The public gets easily used to things and immediately begins to connect that name with that language, and they need to understand very quickly what is it that you do. I got myself and my audience used to an extremely specific language, and today, I intend to work so that I can’t be catalogued. By breaking genres, I am also hoping to break the threshold of attention my public is accustomed to. So I’m not using the alias anymore because I feel that it has grown to become more of a limitation than a freedom for me.
While working on my latest projects, I felt that they were very much outside of Dilen’s ‘fence’ and I thought, I need to sign these with my name and surname. I don’t feel the need to hide behind a fictitious character anymore, and the process to get here took quite some time. My guess is that it has something to do with the achievement of certain artistic maturity.
You are particularly known for your graffiti work. But how did it all begin for you? Was graffiti your first approach to art, or did you start with something else? What interests you from it?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a pencil in my hand. But something really important clicked when I approached graffiti. I owe a lot to that world, even though I can’t call myself a writer; I’d been drawing letters for quite a short time, and I almost immediately began experimenting with my own techniques and subjects.
When I began painting walls in 2006, the phenomenon that today is known as street art had already exploded, and I clearly remember that I thought, I want to be a part of this. The attitude was the same as in graffiti, but there were fewer rules. Graffiti, however transgressive it may be, has a very strict system of internal rules, especially as far as the technique is concerned. To me, technicalities have always been something to run away from.
When it comes to colour, your palette is very wide, ranging from soft and pastel to more vibrant, vivid tones. But it is also very graphic – I guess this comes from the influence of graffiti. Could you guide us more through the importance of colour in your work?
I have never really gone deep into the subject, but what I realized is that while the content of each image (as in the sign-representation) engages the observer by evoking something different (so a story, the imaginary and the imagination – the image, the shape, is somehow ‘animist’), the colour moves on other frequencies. It is bound to sensations, it is the place where the shape becomes affection. Colour is something truly powerful to me, something that should be used freely and spontaneously. When I choose my colour palettes, I let myself be driven by my state of mind. Then, when I’m using them, I follow my eye’s instinct.
I am very fond of primary colours, but I do not have a fixed reference palette. I often use bright colours and sharp contrasts in order to highlight and accentuate graphics. This changes when I’m working outside: when I do, I select my palette based on what surrounds me and on the effect that I want to obtain.
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Even though it’s closed because of quarantine, you’re currently exhibiting your work at Brescia’s The Address gallery in the show S/S/P, which is about territories and the province. You are originally from Osimo, a 30.000-inhabitants town, which is rather small compared to Milan, where you are currently based. How do the differences between Milan and the province affect your work and perception about territories? 
The open horizon you can see in Osimo has taught me how to think about territory as a place where one’s imagination could be expressed. In that place, where I was born and raised, the flat line of the sea slowly becomes the curvature of a hill, and then of a mountain. The human impact is low, and it’s easy to perceive that big, untouched space as one’s own.
When I moved to Milan in 2011, since the very first moment I lived the city and its spaces as a playground to experiment that freedom I had always been used to. Everything I see and everywhere I go, somehow I feel it as mine; to me, borders go well beyond the perimeter of one’s home, and when you feel that a place is ‘yours’, you can imagine it to be something different. Growing up in a small town has taught me how to imagine places, and when I moved to a big city, I learned that the imaginative effort to be done was the same: feeling the city’s places as my own gave me many ideas for my work.
In this exhibition, you work a lot with symbols and language – like in Segnali or in a previous exhibition, Will Never Die But It Did. How did you get into the world of symbols? And how does this new language affect your world?
I like to think of my drawings as a visual code that is constantly being updated, a pictorial language where the images I produce symbolize memories that are primarily related to my childhood. I chase the feeling of wonder that comes with surprise, the wonder that was mine as a child. Today I transfigure images so that they resemble my memories. What I’m building is my own personal mythology, as described by Cesare Pavese in the book Feria d’Agosto (translated as August Holiday).
We owe our imagination to our very first experiences, those we are aware of and those we are not, that we had between our childhood and teenage years. Permanent and significant symbolic influences originate from everything we live through during those times. Again, Pavese said: “We need to know that we never see things the first time, but always the second. Only then can we discover and remember them”.
We also see that your work is politically engaged and tackles themes like the environment or tourism. How is art helpful to change the world? What do think about your position as an artist today (politically speaking)?
I dream of going back to the Italian province, of a future made of small communities scattered over the territory and connected to the big cities. I imagine the culture at the heart of these communities, with people like artists, writers, poets and philosophers that can truly encourage and challenge the public. That’s why the artist’s role, as of today, is a role of responsibility. You can’t call yourself an artist if you don’t have a perception of your work’s weight on society. However, I do not think of my work as fully, directly political; my interests are elsewhere. Doing politics through art has never been a priority for me, I’d rather call it a consequence.
“The artist’s role, as of today, is a role of responsibility. You can’t call yourself an artist if you don’t have a perception of your work’s weight on society.”
In S/S/P, you are exhibiting with Roberto Alfano, another Italian artist. His style is influenced by graffiti too, as well as art brut/outsider art, reality and dystopia. How do your two different ways of approaching the subject of the province as “plural territories” (words of Piergiorgio Caserini) dialogue or communicate with each other in the exhibition? How are they complementary or different?
Roberto and I, however close, are very distant from each other. And I believe that these differences between us are the true strength of the exhibition. We managed to work so well together because we’ve been friends for many years now, years during which we’ve been sharing a lot. With Roberto and other close friends of mine, I painted walls for many years, and we had a really good, enjoyable time together. This lighthearted, playful approach to work is what let us work in synergy, but our groundings and home towns, our provinces, are really distant; I think this can be perceived in our work.
It is by building on these differences in style and by imagining the diversities of our small town backgrounds that a plural identity of territories can truly emerge. This aspect is also involved in wall painting, a technique in which all of these plural images, all of these representations somehow manage to bring these provincial territories close together in spite of their diversities. Here lies the complementarity of my work with Roberto’s. The difference, on the other hand, lies in the suggestions that we draw from our places of origin, in the way in which these places have acted and somehow shaped our imaginaries.
You have mostly exhibited in group shows or, in fact, duo shows so far. What does collaborating with other artists bring to you and your work?
I’ve practised collaboration a lot. From 2013 to 2018, I was part of a collective called Turbo Safary: it was five of us, and together we developed a shared aesthetics, all of us worked together on each project. I think of collaboration as an exercise in empathy: you need to create a lot of empty space so that the other person can move freely, and this goes both ways. You see that the dialogue is well set up when there is a quick give-and-take exchange. At that point, mutual influence is inevitable.
The exercise of collaboration is not easy for an artist, you need to expose yourself a lot and going outside of one’s comfort zone can cause some distress. You really need to be sure that you want to do it. But it’s an extremely useful exercise, having to question yourself and change your point of view is true oxygen for ideas.
Would you like to have an individual exhibition soon?
I’d definitely like to do an individual exhibition, and I think I’m ready for that.
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Previously, in 2019, you did an exhibition with Yoan Mudry titled, Sonnenstube Offspace, in Lugano (Switzerland), in which you occupied the building and reinvented its architecture. How do you (re)interpret urban spaces?
It depends, I have no fixed formula. Urban space, as every other pre-existing element, can be a starting point for the development of a project. For example, the wind blowing on a city: in Rotterdam, where I lived in 2014, I built a cart that was pushed around by the wind, leaving a white trail of paint behind. The idea was that of delegating an illegal action – altering road signs – to a completely random element as the wind. I like to think about the urban space as an extension of my studio, a place where I can practice and experiment.
As an artist who’s been working on graffiti, urban spaces are very important to your work, but I feel space in general is a pillar of what you do. What can you tell us about this?
There are two elements: the work of art and the space. To me, the space is crucial because the work of art is always ‘installed’ inside of it. That means that the spatial element must, of necessity, be taken into consideration when designing the work of art. Having worked mainly in open locations, I’m used to taking into consideration the specificities of the space where the work will be installed. Now we’re talking about theory, but there’s actually a practical reason behind this: if you don’t take the space into consideration when designing a piece of art, that piece is probably not going to work. It’s all about planning. I believe that this is what ‘site-specific’ refers to, to the action of working for a given place, a given space.
I haven’t worked much in a studio, so my learning process is not bound to the production of an object for itself, of an ‘art object’. I’ve never worked this way, but rather depending on the space and for the space, with which I establish a physical connection. This way, the space itself becomes just like any other alive element, leading to a number of cause-effect reactions that need to be taken into consideration during the planning phase.
With time, this approach to planning led me to a reflection upon a number of consequences, such as those impacting the more ephemeral side of the work. The piece of art that is placed outside, exposed to the passing of time, undergoes a transformation due to the action of both weather and human action. It is more ‘sensitive to life’, we could say. It’s different from when a work of art is safely exposed in a gallery or museum.
Another issue of great interest to me is ownership: having painted on walls for most of my life, I got used to not getting attached to my work. There, when you’re done working on something, it’s not yours anymore, you need to leave it behind. It’s only yours when it’s being created, and by moving away from it, you’re giving up every intellectual property right. As a consequence, that work is owned by the community at large.
Working with these terms made me ask myself a lot of questions: who owns art? Who is art made for? What’s the true impact of art on the community? When you’re working in open, non-institutional contexts, art is truly everyone’s property.
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Graffiti has become very popular, and today, we see high-end fashion houses or major art institutions collaborate with street artists. What’s your take on street art being more recognized and even ‘institutionalized’? Do you believe that the purpose of street art is not consistent with the art and fashion industries/market? Also, when street art enters the white box, is it still street art?
If there are collaborations with institutions and major brands, all the better. I used to be very critical toward these issues. Today, I choose to abstain from judgment on these choices; some artists begin their careers by doing commercial projects, but that doesn’t mean that the quality of their work is lower. Others carry out really experimental kinds of research that may not be suitable for the product. The best way to present such research may be the white cube. It really depends on the work that the artist is doing, and for every content, there is a suitable container. To give an example, street art was born on the streets and for the streets; taking it into a museum is an obvious stretch, that’s just a business operation.
Generally in your work, we see pop culture references as well as some Japanese influences. What are your sources of inspiration?
As I mentioned earlier, when I choose my subjects, I let myself be driven by my own experiences. My references are pop because the universe I grew up in is pop. The same goes for Japan, I practised judo for many years as a child and I think that it left something in me.
We would love to see your work more! Any upcoming projects you can talk about?
Many interesting projects are on their way, but to this moment everything is on hold due to the health emergency we’re going through. Speaking of further projects, I’ve been invited to an interesting exhibition next August, a collab on Lesyos Island, in Greece, hosted by K-Gold Temporary Gallery. I’m really happy to participate because I was asked to think about a work of art that can establish a dialogue with the island community that, as the rest of Greece, is going through a peculiar situation. I’m really curious to find out what may come out of it.
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