In 1999, the Italian city of Bologna’s historical district was inexplicably covered in murals and street art. It was mostly crude, using the standard spray paint of many street artists, and was limited in scope and size. Who did them remained a temporary mystery, but soon they were attributed to an artist known only as Blu. Soon, similar spray paint murals began showing up in Bologna’s suburbs, and people began to take notice, and came to recognize Blu’s work as it appeared on the sides of buildings most other street artists, or at least people with Blu’s level of talent, became more and recognizable.
But in 2001, Blu’s work became more intricate and even more show stopping. Swapping in his trusty spray cans for rollers on telescopic sticks, Blu’s work was instantly larger, more pronounced, and began displaying a definitive style that the world is now even more familiar with. Huge human figures, sometimes drawn with sarcasm or sincerity, all borrowing from classic arcade and comic book styles, were becoming his mainstay, and they were everywhere. The increased output had a lot to do with Blu’s approach: he was interested in artistic collaboration, getting other street artists together to do late night raids in spaces. It wasn’t long after that Blu began experimenting with digital shorts, all released for free on the internet.
But Blu couldn’t keep his feet still and soon took off around the world to paint and make videos. His work has since shown up in places as diverse as Western Europe, Mexico City, Guatemala City, and even the West Bank. Blu moves around the world, looking for opportunity to create, not the chance to be seen by the art world. And in this rejection of the standard street artist practice, Blu has tapped into something much more interesting.
Blu, like many recent street artist, has gone the Banksy route when it comes to his identity: who he is remains a mystery to the general public. Basically, the only concrete fact we know is that he’s Italian. Everything else, including the fact he may actually be a she, is up for debate. This hidden identity idea may be because Blu’s work is actually simply a question of staying hidden as most of his work has been illegal and classified as graffiti. But it could also be because his identity is inconsequential and part of a larger rejection of the regular art world.
Blu’s approach to street art is that it’s for everyone, not just for people who can or do pay for the privilege. And in a world where many talented artists go into the gallery scene to make some money, Blu has rejected such endeavours, instead selling only prints of work he does in the world. It’s for everyone and, if anyone wants a piece of Blu’s work for themselves, they have to pay for it and know that others have it too. The work moves against ownership and exclusivity, instead thinking of art as a collectively owned piece. And while we’re all sure Blu’s income has taken a hit, it seems Blu isn’t so much focused on the pay as the art.
What Blu’s approach and style shows is a genuine interest in art as a collective. Not only in approach and actual labour, but in who gets to enjoy it, witness it, and interact with it. Overall, the effect is incredible, and the world can also access Blu at any given time. If the internet is for everyone, Blu is proving that, no matter where your art is, it can reach millions of people and not have to deal with the politics or gold star from the arts community. And yet, they’re still scrambling for his work. Perhaps talent, at least in Blu’s case, is enough.