Words by Jess Zimmerman:
Michael de Feo feels just as much at home getting in trouble with the cops in Amsterdam as he does dishing out the art world jargon. This multifaceted artist —part street, part gallery—manages to walk a fine line between the hoity toity art world and the comparatively unaffected urban scene.
De Feo comes to Paris with a mission he’s repeated literally countless times before: he’s here to paint flowers. This should come as little surprise for an artist working under the moniker “Flower Guy”, and he’s been at it for a mind boggling twenty-two years.
Does this warrant our respect or should we question his mental health? The real question is whether the sight of his now iconic imagery makes him want to hurl his daisies? Fat chance. This New Yorker is staying true to the perennial that brought him fame.
With slight modifications that clearly bring this flower-zealot some reprieve in an endless cycle of archetypal reproduction, De Feo creates his blooms with a seemingly obsessive compulsive adherence to detail, precision, and repetition. It’s definitely neurotic, but undeniably prolific and eye catching at the same time.
He may have gained his cred and paid his dues as a characteristically poor art-student scavenging blueprint paper from dumpsters on 17th and Broadway, but this artist has found a comfortable new niche — one that’s peculiarly divided between the gallery and the street, and which brought to light more than one paradox in a whirlwind trip spent putting up work in Paris.
De Feo’s art practice ranges from the illegal to the commercial, making him both a bad boy and a gallerist’s wet dream. It’s no new trend that the fine art world likes to keep a pulse on what’s ‘hot and trendy’, and New York city can indeed boast the first move on bringing graffiti and street art into the gallery world back in the 70’s. But has De Feo lost sight of the rebellious nature and guerrilla mystique that so formed the heart and character of the original movement?
He’s definitely straddling a fine line, flip flopping between two distinct personas. In his own words, he retains an innate penchant for “rattling the status quo, doing something that perhaps shouldn’t be done or isn’t expected, or that somehow is violating something”, but his squeaky clean white converse may reveal otherwise.
It’s one thing to talk the talk, but another to walk the walk, and while De Feo gets up like all the beloved outlaws, writers, and artists out there, his change of clothes, finicky preferences in terms of paint, and distinct ease in the public spotlight, may or may not put him in quite a different camp.
‘Bloemen (A bedtime story)’, 2014, 53.5 x 40 inches – acrylic, urethane, spray paint and maps on canvas. New indoors work by Michael De Feo exhibited as part of his recent show at Rush Arts Gallery, New York, ‘Pocket Full of Posies’‘.
Michael De Feo poses in front of work from his most recent show, ‘Pocket Full of Posies’ at Rush Arts Gallery.
All judgement aside (find me an artist without his quirks, or for that matter, that maintains a firm black and white stance on commercialisation) De Feo embodies a divide much talked about in the street art world these days. Does graffiti become commodity in the gallery? And does this rob it of something? How does a predominantly illegal movement change when it gains social acceptance and is deemed culturally enriching?
Its a mucky grey area with no clear answers, and many distinct opinions. But at the end of the day, De Feo, as both celebrated gallery king, and floral replicator extraordinaire, hasn’t totally lost the plot in terms of his fundamental motivation:
“The intrinsic value isn’t about what happens when you encounter the piece, but what happens afterwards. It opens your eyes, makes you notice your surroundings. When you’re on the usual commute maybe you won’t be so tunnel visioned anymore. Maybe you aren’t looking at street art, you’re looking at anything else in your immediate environment, but regardless things become a lot more engaging”.
Stuck on flowers: Michael De Feo holds up an iconic flower sticker. Photo by Joe Russo.
Listen to Underground Paris interview Michael De Feo on Radio Marais, here.
MDF’s website, here.
MDF’s Instagram, here.