Friday, January 2, 2009

Ericailcane's Existential Menagerie

Upon first encountering Ericailcane's work, you might think you'd stumbled across some obscure personal work by a somewhat perverse Victorian children's book illustrator. His unique vision combines elements reminiscent of anthropomorphic morality tales like Aesop's Fables and The Wind In the Willows with the dystopian political allegory of George Orwell's Animal Farm and the disturbing patchwork automatons of the Brothers Quay.

"Cuce" ("Sewing")

The manner in which these elements are brought together in Ericailcane's work creates a sense of alienation and anomie in the face of an absurd and meaningless world, while at the same time gently compelling the viewer to project these creatures' nonsensical yet poignant situations onto the human condition.

I first came across Ericailcane's work early last year in Tristan Manco's amazing Street Sketchbook – which grants access to the sketchbooks of 60 international street artists – and his sketches really stood out for their excellent draftsmanship, timelessness, intelligence and emotional range.

"Scarpe" ("Shoes")

In his drawings, Ericailcane exhibits a deft extrapolation that brings to mind Albrecht Dürer's imaginary Rhinoceros, not to mention macabre contortions that could be likened to Hieronymous Bosch's visions of Hell – yet his work is imbued with a satirical wit and childlike melancholy that make it quite accessible.


Ericailcane takes his visual inspiration from the children's book illustrations of his boyhood, and fairy tales in particular, as well as the treasure trove of scientific illustrations produced during the natural history craze of the 19th century. With these tools, he projects the hypocrisies of our society onto a host of storybook animals and human-beast hybrids in Edwardian garb.

"La Visita" ("The Visit")

Ericailcane (pronounced eric-ayl-khan-ay, more or less), a.k.a. Erica il Cane, hails from Bologna, Italy, where he studied at the Academy of Arts. For several years, he has been working in an Italian street art collective, and has painted some incredible murals all over Europe – many in collaboration with the legendary street artist and colossal-scale stop-motion animator Blu. Recently, he has also left his mark on the street in places as far-flung as Palestine and Nicaragua.

Santa's Ghetto Bethlehem 2007, Palestine

Ericailcane is the silent, mysterious type – to the point where Lazarides Gallery is so coy as to pretend they don't actually know if the artist they represent is male or female. (Fortunately, I think the video below of Ericailcane painting shirtless should set that question to rest.) As a result, there's not much in the way of interviews out there for me to mine.

However, Ericailcane's friend and frequent graffiti collaborator, Blu [pdf download from Swindle magazine], is not quite so retiring – so I'll let him tell you a little about the graffiti scene in Bologna, their hometown. "I work a lot with Ericailcane," Blu testified. "We have made a ton of pieces together, and we've known each other and drawn with each other for years now."

Camdentown, London with Blu

Blu describes Bologna as "a small city within a larger city. The small city is the ancient historical center, in part still encircled by the large one's protective walls. Outside of these walls begins the big city, the periphery – and that's where you go to paint. You can find a lot of spots there – old walls, abandoned factories, occupied buildings.

The heart of Bologna is the university. A lot of people come to study here, but few people remain after they finish school. So it is a fantastic place to meet interesting people from every part of Italy... but on the other hand, it is a small city where the rents are high, the job opportunities are not many, so therefore nearly everyone makes an escape after a few years, and the city at times is emptied and becomes less interesting."

Rovereto, Italy with Blu

Blu added that when he started painting on the streets of Bologna in the mid-1990s, "There was a great boom of the graffiti here. People fed off the graffiti magazines produced in Italy or that came from abroad, but there wasn't yet much on the internet, and this lack of information stimulated creativity and forced people to invent their own graffiti shapes and styles.

At that time, the difference was obvious from city to city – Milan, Bologna, Rimini, Pesaro, Ancona – every city had its crew and its styles. Italy seemed like the paradise of graffiti writing, and nearly all the trains that I saw passing by were painted."

Merano, Italy with Blu

Here's an amazing process video of Ericailcane at work on a beautiful large-scale piece at 2008's Fame Festival in Grottaglie, Italy. There's another recent video of him painting in Prato, Italy here.

Incidentally, the word "graffiti" was coined in Italy. Graffiti comes from the verb graffiare, which means to carve, engrave, or scratch. The word originated in 1851, when archaeologists who were unearthing the Roman city of Pompeii – which had been buried under volcanic ash nearly two thousand years earlier – needed a word to describe messages they had discovered scratched into the ancient walls of the city, preserved by the ash in which Pompeii had been entombed. So in many ways, Italian street artists like Ericailcane and Blu are working in a time-honored cultural tradition.

"Lepus timidus"

In addition to his impressive murals, Ericailcane also works in a variety of "indoor" media including sculptures, paintings, drawings, installations and animation. "I don't have a favorite medium," he said. "It changes all the time." Some of his stop-motion animation can be seen in several rather creepy short films and music videos – "The Rain," "Il Galeone," "Lux Vanitas," "My Own Parasite" and "The Tree." He has been showing in Italy for about five years, and has exhibited all over Europe since participating in 2006's Santa's Ghetto show in London.

"Gatto Albero" ("Cat Tree")

One of my favorite Ericailcane projects is his "Dipinti Luminescenti" installation, which appears to have consisted of filling an old house with work done in luminescent paint that was literally invisible unless the lights were turned off. I can't help imagining what it was like be standing there in that creepy old building when the lights went down and this child's silhouette appeared glowing on the bed.

In Street Sketchbook, Ericailcane said that he carries a sketchbook and an India ink pen around with him wherever he goes. "Drawing is a way of talking without opening my mouth," Ericailcane explained. "I try to draw what I see and what I'm feeling."

"Zusammen" ("Together")

"I don't know how my work will develop," he mused. "Perhaps I don't want to know, seeing as it's a search, an attempt to discover something perpetually. As soon as you know where you want to get to, the game's over."

Ericailcane's first Los Angeles solo show, "Man is the Bastard," will open January 10th at Carmichael Gallery. You can purchase etchings, screenprints, original drawings and Il Buio, an extremely limited-edition book, at Studiocromie. More drawings, etchings, engravings and screenprints are available from Lazarides Gallery.

"La Buca" ("The Hole")

"Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself... All men are enemies. All animals are comrades." – 'Old Major,' Animal Farm

"Topi" ("Mice")

  1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
  2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
  3. No animal shall wear clothes.
  4. No animal shall sleep in a bed.
  5. No animal shall drink alcohol.
  6. No animal shall kill any other animal.
  7. All animals are created equal.
– The Seven Commandments, Animal Farm

"Lepre" ("Hare")


Ephemeral Gardens said...


Unknown said...