Barcelona's Soul Report Interview: Enzo & Nio

Idols by Brooklyn NY Street Artists Enzo & Nio

 

First of all, please, tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into street art scene as partners.

ENZO: My dad was an amateur artist and being born and growing up into that I think I just assumed I was an artist and went in that direction. From there I went to art school and did and do the normal things the average artist does - struggle and work at other jobs to make a living.
My first experience with street art was a small sticker campaign I created around 2000-2001. I had been seeing a lot of Shepard Fairey's "Obey" stickers around and despite its irony I resented the command to obey. I took a photo of the face of a co-worker and created an anti-obey sticker with "Resist" as the command. I got that up in a few cities in the USA and in a few places in the Caribbean and Central America. Until recently we still used the design for Enzo & Nio but my friend asked us to stop using his face because we were getting too much attention.
That was about it for street art and me until Nio and I decided to collaborate and team up. Nio and I are old friends and we had lost touch for awhile. When We hooked up again, I noticed that he was into street art. He was doing some of his own, photographing it, writing about it and arranging for some to be legally done in some places. I wrote him one evening and proposed the idea of working together. We talked about it over dinner, he liked the idea and Enzo & Nio were born.

NIO: I first started taking notice of street art and graffiti in the early 1990's. Around 2000 or so I moved to an apartment that ran up against a set of railroad tracks and then became obsessed with photographing graffiti on freight trains. Enzo and I have known each other for almost 20 years at this point, but it was not until 2 years ago that the Enzo and I were able to connect in a time and a place where everything made sense to begin to take a message to the streets.Eat the Rich by Enzo & Nio

 

Cartoons, a bomb, a cockshark, catholic and religious symbolism, Magritte or the different quotes you use, they all compose your creative universe, what is the significance of these images into your work?

ENZO: Early on Nio and I decided that we did not want to be defined or limited by any singular image, theme or style. So, we just kind of go where we need to go, use what we need to use, and do what we have to do to say what we want to say. We're not expressing any single philosophy or thought. Some things have deep philosophical messages and some stuff is just for a laugh. We try to incorporate imagery that communicates our thoughts the best. The bomb came as small part of a large sticker and seemed to just slide into other work and became one of our ways of saying "this is Enzo & Nio". The cockshark came as a way to address absurdity in an arresting way. Catholic and religious symbolism is part of our upbringing and resonates with many people on the street. Doing a Mashup of a Magritte is just our way of paying homage with an E&N spin and putting something interesting on the street for people to think about instead of ugly and invasive advertising. The quotes are just thoughts we may have authored or read and we want to share them and have people think about them themselves. We go where we need to go, to say what we have to say.

NIO: Enzo & Nio seems to be whatever we are feeling at a moment in time. I like that our style can not be put in a box, that are imagery isn't all that predictable and that we can riff and comment on everything from pop culture, tv shows, music, simple cartoon images as well as more elaborate photographic pieces. A simple text based slogan can be as significant as an elaborate idol wheatpaste in the eyes of the viewer. Everyone takes away something different and that is all that matters.

 

'You're still gonna die!', 'Every one wants what they're not!', 'Eat the rich' or the series 'Pull in case of', with some others, with all these satiric quotes, what kind of reactions do you aim to provoke?

ENZO: With a lot of our work I don't think we're trying to provoke reactions as much as we are trying to provoke thought. Some of it we make very plain and obvious. WIth other work we make it harder because we want it to be revealed slowly and perhaps make it take a little effort. Hard won knowledge deepens the experience perhaps?
Sometimes it is just humor for a laugh, in other things we are asking people to consider deeper issues. One moment we use a Cockshark to say "Look how stupid this advertisement is", the next moment our character Bomba is asking people to consider that their own perspective is a Universe unto itself. We are just offering alternatives to the ridiculous profusion and assault of advertising. Instead of things that say "Buy me because you're fat", "Buy me because it will make you popular" or "Buy me to forget about how much your life sucks" Enzo & Nio say "What are your thoughts about this?"

NIO: Some of our slogans are more straightforward than others, but if the viewer stops and thinks for a moment and interprets the phrase into what it means to them, right there, right now in that moment then we are doing our job. I just hope to jolt people for a moment, to make them think, transport them away from that sidewalk, or cityscape for a second and get them into their own head. Whatever the reaction is does not matter to me, just that there is a reaction.

 

School Girl Idol by Enzo & NioYou both live in New York but, but I have seen a lot of your work around in Barcelona, specially in The Born, what are the similarities and differences between the street art scene in Barcelona and New York?

ENZO: I will refer to Nio here because he is far more informed and adept at answering this question.

NIO: The first thing that stands out in Barcelona especially in an area like The Born is the history. You feel as if you are walking alongside generations upon generations of people who have came before as you walk the alleyways at night. With all of the gentrification taking place in NYC you seem to either be putting up work beside construction sites or industrial zones and warehouses. So working in the tiny maze like alleyways of The Born and other areas of Barcelona was an experience different than our typical missions in NYC. It is always a satisfying experience to learn and appreciate parts of a city late at night using your wits, eyes and ears while adding your own new layers to the cityscape whether it be upon a plywood fence in brooklyn or a 100 year old wooden door in Barcelona.

Is Barcelona still a reference for street artists? Even after the 2006´s law which prohibited any way of street art on the public space?

ENZO: : For me personally Barcelona is very important. When Nio told me he was making the trip I was very excited and EXTREMELY jealous! I can also say that apart from New York, no other city has excited me as much at having Enzo & Nio work go up in than Barcelona. This is no exaggeration and I am sincere. To see our work on the streets of Barcelona was a big thing for me. It still is. Our Idols especially just make sense on Barcelona's walls.
Is Barcelona still a reference for street art? Yes, of course. Our friend Olek was there this year. Miss Van and plenty of others.
As far as laws prohibiting artists from doing something? What do you get when you tell an artist not to do something? You get the very thing you didn't want!
Telling an artist something is wrong, illegal or immoral is begging an artist to explore those very things and test those things. Of all the artists I have met and known street artists are the most passionate and the most driven. Most do what they do just for the act of doing it alone. It is their voice and their reason for being. It is irresistible to them.
Barcelona or any other city can pass whatever laws they like and do whatever they can to enforce those laws, but what is that really going to do but beg an artist to test it. Restriction and oppression makes rebellion against it its own reward. This is the basis of the motivation of many street artists and graffiti writers.

NIO: A walk through The Born or The Raval leave no doubt that Barcelona is a hotspot for street art and graffiti. I was happy to see the volume of wheatpastes in Barcelona. Street art and graffiti seem to happily coexist in Barcelona without some of the beef that you might see between the two genres back in NYC.

In Barcelona we have seen some pieces of your series "Future Now" and "Idol" as well as your collaboration with Jilly Ballistic and Olek, what is the story behind these pieces?

ENZO: "Future Now" was our first major series. It consists of masked little girls with guns and Molotov bombs. It is hard to explain with words, but we are saying if you marginalize and cheat the youth of their lives and rights today, what do you suppose you will get tomorrow? We juxtapose that chronologically and offer you the innocence you are robbing today and the catastrophe you are inviting tomorrow. Future-Now! From the "Future Now" series emerged the "Idols" series. These are the girls and women in the alcoves like the statues of saints you find in church. This is a large and ongoing series for us. With the Idols I think we are exploring the marginalization and underestimation of the feminine. Each Idol has some Latin related to it that kind lends itself to a clearer explanation on the theme. Though one is a humorous reflection on our use of Latin in this series. When Olek approached us about collaborating, this series seemed like a natural fit. It was the same with the Jilly Ballistic collaboration.

NIO: Enzo has spoken fully about the Future Now series in his answer so I don't feel there is much that I can add to that topic. Jilly Ballistic was one of the first street artists that we met up with in Brooklyn and one of our first co collaborators. She has been doing great things in the NYC subways and I am happy that over the past year we have helped spread some of her images in both Barcelona as well as Iceland.

You're Still Gonna Die! by Enzo & NioWould you tell us how is like to work with other street artists?

ENZO: Each artist is different of course. Some are extremely easy to work with and others are more difficult. It's best that you go into the work with a clear vision of how you can work with the artist. You also have to be able to put your ego aside and become a diplomat. When Nio and I work with other artists there is another twist because we are partners and now the ideas and opinions of three people must be considered. I've found the more confident an artist is about themselves and what they do the less trouble there will be. We've never had a bad experience collaborating but we've had difficult experiences. There was one artist that we just ended up deciding not to work with because we felt they were kind of full of shit when push came to shove.

NIO: The fact that we are a duo I feel that helps us in our collaborations with others. Enzo and I are always bouncing ideas off of each other and then tweaking images and themes as we edge towards production. We have been known to have disagreements and sometimes scrap items or pieces altogether if we both aren't on board with it in the same way. But in general the collaborations have been rewarding sometimes taking the work in a totally unexpected direction, it's interesting to step out of our "normal" process and experiment.

Do you have any thoughts in regards with any future projects in Barcelona´s streets?

ENZO: Yes, we have a lot of thoughts regarding future projects in Barcelona. This time around circumstances meant that we had to take smaller versions of our work. Most of the things Nio placed in Barcelona were around 60% smaller than the actual pieces we have pasted up in cities in the USA. Our Future Now and Idols pieces are life-sized works. I want to see those big ones in Barcelona. A return to Barcelona would also necessitate us creating some work that would be unique to the city's culture and history. The thought of returning to Barcelona and creating work like that is pretty exciting to me. Being a street artist though is generally a pauper's game unless you have someone backing you or you sellout completely. So we can't say when we could make it back.

NIO: The streets of Barcelona at night were really invigorating, swooping up and down alleyways while dogging the occasional police car or the ubiquitous street cleaning vehicles. Working in a foreign country where you don't know the lay of the land or have your usual safety net in place is a rush. It also seemed to be a great city for rummaging thru trash left out on the streets at night. One evening I carried home a beautiful piece of marble, roughly 3 feet long by 18 inches across and was able to turn it into a one of kind piece that I left behind for our airbnb host. Nothing like a city that likes to give back. I could happily fill water bottles with wine at De Tot al Born and leave our mark on the city once again.

And to end with, how would you define Barcelona?

ENZO: Nio can respond better with his feet-on-the-ground-and-in-the-streets opinion, but I can tell you what Barcelona means to me: As an artist and student of art, Barcelona is about energy and vibe, it is about art and music and food. It is about color and texture. It is about history, suffering and the rekindling of hope and joy. It is the echo of footsteps down small alleys and the rumble and shuffle of the big places. Barcelona is a brass horn shattering the night sky and a gentle guitar welcoming the morning. These things I only feel from a distance, when I visit, I will have more to say.

NIO: Bustling yet laid back, passionate, welcoming, decadent yet thrift. Steeped in history but still looking forward even in the face of uncertainty and struggle. History hangs in the air and we were happy to add some layers of paper to your storied walls.

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