Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday ProFiles: Michael "Flower Guy" De Feo

My friend Will has a theory that people need super-heroes more in times of crisis. The Golden, Silver, and Bronze Ages of comic books conveniently coincide with major history events. On the eve of the Second World War, comic book icons like Wonder Woman and Captain America appeared during The Golden Age. These icons reinforced patriotic propaganda and set an example for readers to support their country. After Cold War censorship thwarted cartoonists' dreams, the Korean War kick-started the Silver Age with a host of new adventures. Captain Marvel spent time in Korea fighting Communist spies while The Flash and Aquaman revamped their images. Stretching from the Vietnam War into the 1980s, The Bronze Age appealed America's shaken confidence with revivals of X-Men and Teen Titans. Today, films like The Hulk, Spiderman, and The Dark Knight attempt to fill the void that comic books once did. Regardless of the format, dredging these characters up from the past gives people confidence and optimism. In times of crisis, people need a beacon of hope.

Could street artists be modern day super-heroes? The two seemingly unrelated groups share common traits. Street artists usually display their work anonymously or under a pseudonym. The mystery surrounding street artists breeds rumors, turning them into mythic figures. While sometimes misunderstood by the public, street artists are united by the desire to improve their surroundings. 
Michael De Feo is a modern artist with a double life. Born and bred in the suburbs of Westchester County, De Feo teaches art at a high school in Stamford, Connecticut. When he's not teaching, he loves spending time with the leading lady in his life: his five year-old daughter, Marianna. By night, he transforms into The Flower Guy, bringing his trademark blooms to city streets worldwide. De Feo describes the contrast as "enforcing the rules by day and breaking the rules by night." 
From an early age, De Feo knew he wanted a creative career. "In nursery school, all I wanted to do was paint and draw," he recalls. "I wasn't sure what job I wanted when I grew up but I knew I wanted a life full of art." As a child, De Feo was exposed to street art but didn't yet realize its significance. "My dad would always comment on how ugly the city's graffiti was, but I thought it was neat. When I was in middle school, my shop teacher brought in some older students to tag the walls.  Then I got my hands on a copy of Subway Art. That book was crucial!  I realized, 'Fuck, stuff’s happening only 30 minutes from my house!'” As a young adult, art school conventions left him feeling discouraged and constricted. Acceptance into a gallery took ages and limited the number of viewers. The do-it-yourself style of artists like Phil Frost and Dan Witz inspired him to say "Fuck it, I'm going to hang my stuff up in the streets where everybody can see it." De Feo has since worked in cities across the US, Puerto Rico, and Europe. While he doesn't pick favorites, New York is high on the list. "It's not my favorite for the process of installing," he adds, "but it makes for an excellent setting." Sharing his work with a broad audience was such a thrill that he was unfazed by the dangers of getting up. He says, "Getting up is like an opening; a whole bunch of people are judging your work and it's awkward in the beginning, but I've always been a button-pusher and I'm no stranger of getting nabbed for stuff."
Over time, De Feo's style has evolved to include several trademark figure. In the beginning, he replaced the heads on street signs with TV set stickers. Later, he moved on to wheatpasting and painting colorful daisies in urban landscapes. On a recent trip to New Orleans, new characters emerged as he pasted a curious scuba diver and a school of fish onto a lonely building. "I try to mix things up so the viewer has an art experience," he explains, "but I've stuck with flowers because they're so rewarding. I'm learning about myself and the world around me so I'm still exploring this project." Lately, his work has become more introspective and personal. "When my wife and I broke up," he discloses, "I did a lot of introspection. Street art became less of an exercise and more of a personal activity. The self-portraits were a way to put my insides out for display." Plastered across Chelsea's Meatpacking District in New York City, the intimate portraits feel like an intrusion on De Feo's personal life. No matter the medium or subject matter, he hopes his work spreads joy as viewers interpret pieces for themselves. "I'm just trying to share with others, look at the world in a new way, and spread a little magic if I can."
 
With exhibitions, commissions, and even the occasional children's book on the table, De Feo shows no signs of stopping. "I’ll never stop learning. I want to seek new challenges, travel a lot, meet people, and have art in my life all the time. Sharing it with my daughter has been a dream come true; I love taking her to places and sharing the experiences with me." De Feo doesn't see the scene collapsing any time soon, either. He notes, "I thought a while ago that the scene hit a critical mass and that the bubble would burst, but there’s really no sign of it. As long as there’s the powers that be, whether it be the government or marketing people who litter public spaces with bullshit, there will be people like me who want to take the space back."

Check out more of De Feo's work at http://www.mdefeo.com.

4 comments:

  1. Finally got around to reading your stuff in silence today. It's astoundingly good. - MOD

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  2. Michael De Feo is a guy with enviable talent, I've seen his job and is evident that He love what he do, for the simple reason that is notorious in his designs.

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  3. If you ask me. I would call sport men modern super heroes.2h3r They aren't as big as your heroes but they can influence kids like comics did with us.

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