Zed1, otherwise known as Marco Burresi, is an Italian artist/muralist known for his unique and distinctive autobiographical works. His puppets, elves and other imaginary characters can be seen populating his murals all over the world. Zed1 is also known for his interactive second skin work where his murals have a second layer of paper that the public are encouraged to remove to show the underlying piece below.
We at ASA were lucky enough to chat to Zed1 recently and share this wide ranging interview for this Italian master of arts.
Hi Zed1 how are you? Which part of the world do we find you today?
Well, not bad at all but could be better: let’s just that say my age doesn’t match with my attitude and desires. Right now, I’m in Certaldo (FI), my hometown. I’ll be leaving for Turin very soon, though, getting ready for my next wall.
When did you first start spraying on walls?
I made my first artwork in 1992 in Viareggio (LI). I’d give it a zero, if I were to evaluate it. Between the horrible and the obnoxious.
What was the original inspiration for grabbing a spray can for the first time?
I think it was the end of the ‘80s. I enrolled in a high school in Florence specifically addressed for graphic designers. In my classroom, there were a couple guys with a very street-like type of dress code that reminded me of the American rappers. They used to come to class with cool fanzines and pictures of American graffitis bought from the news stands, which were still popular back in the days. Since then, I fell in love with graffitism.
I discovered they used to wander the streets spraying walls so, after practising a bit with a bunch of sketches, I decided to try it myself.
Do you work with a sketch or just freestyle?
I work in three ways: the first one is by making sketches and then look for walls that could host them. The second way is by improvising; I get inspired with the traditions and the customs behind the places where I’m making my walls. The third and last method is when I get invited to art-related events that are bringing up a particular subject. In that case, I just develop the topic, still following my style.
In all cases, I try not to be condescending to those who want my sketches to be drastically distorted. I don’t wanna work for people who just want to impose themselves.
Is a piece ever finished in your eyes?
Never, and 90% of the time I don’t even like them. I tend to appreciate them much more after a few years. This basically happens because my sketches are black and white, so there’s always a ratio of improvisation to be added. Today, the new generation artists use the graphic pen directly on the wall pictures. They have the chance to elaborate a coloured and final sketch on their computers. I don’t buy it, I like the old-fashioned way, love to improvise. Otherwise it’d be boring as hell, like doing the same thing twice.
I worship improvised walls because they’re born as you make them and they grow as you continue. You never know when they’ll be finished, when’s it going to stop, if ever.
Do you prefer legal or illegal painting?
For many years, I have mostly painted illegally. All of this has changed in the last ten years, as I got ahead with my work. Lately, I got tired of the legal stuff, though, and started again putting up posters around Florence. Everytime I do it, I get my dose of adrenaline, which makes me feel as if I were back to where it all started. I get back to that, every now and then, because I still feel the need to do it.
Nowadays, many young street artists have never felt what it’s like to work illegally, they can’t understand the roots of this form of art, the true meaning of it. I believe that working illegally should be discovered sooner or later by any street artist.
Are you still using your second skin style on some of your murals? It’s a very interesting and unique style.
I have not given up on second skin. I just do it less on the streets and more for exhibitions or as a performance. The problem is the time-consuming process behind the technique; a wall with the second skin takes twice as much in terms of time and costs, it’s like you’re doing two walls.
Lately, I’ve only been working on medium to big surfaces, and the big walls are usually discarded for the reasons I mentioned above. Apart from that, I love it and I’m never gonna give it up.
Can you tell us a little bit about how this idea came about?
The idea came up at a time in which I was trying to express a particular concept, which is the double interpretation of an image. I was trying to represent something that could be interpreted in various ways, depending on your past and your roots, so I started to paint characters that could transform themselves into something new and completely different.
An epiphany came up to my mind after a sleepless and alcoholic kind of night: I thought of two overlapping drawings, in which the outer layer would get gradually removed thanks to the weather conditions and/or the interaction with the public. I could finally combine two images and express the concept of duality reached through change.
The first time I made a second skin, it was outdoor. I had checked its deterioration every step of the way, but after a while I realized that the down side of my artwork had changed way too quickly. For some reason, it wasn’t working properly. A couple of nights later, I found a few guys smoking spliffs and scratching the down side of my experiment. I was furious at first: they had screwed up my project! The temptation of throwing a bunch of rocks at them was very high, but faded away as soon as I realized I had created something great: an interactive piece of art.
Do you have a favourite place to paint?
I like house walls, possibly with fewer windows, and buildings with a good visibility. I have worked on abandoned places, too; it is great to get to know them, their dirty stained walls narrate the life they’ve lived, as if time had already painted their story and they just needed me to tell a new one.
Your latest piece for the Veregra Street Festival in Montegranaro is absolutely epic, can you give us an insight on how you came up with the idea for this particular piece?
The organization called me if I wanted to do a portion of that wall. After the inspection, I quickly asked if it was possible to paint it all. The building had an unique and interesting structure made of a sequence of rectangular bars that looked like piled boxes. It was very amusing to me because I could freely play with those boxes.
The murals have been meant to be distributed over four buildings, each one being a chapter of a big illustrated book. The artworks I was gonna make suddenly looked to me as printed lids from those tin cans full of sweets or cookies that I used to find at my grandparents’.
As for the content, I used an idea that came to me the first time I got invited to New York in 2013. This idea spoke of how a passion can materialize and become a pathway, and how that same pathway can ruin you, if you don’t know how to handle the situation. The walls is autobiographical as most of my works are.
Do you still find painting pieces such as this one challenging (it certainly looks like it would be to me!!) or is it just the norm to paint murals on such a grand scale now?
The bigger the walls, the tougher the challenge gets, but I’m not backing down, hell no! The problem is not the size of the walls, the problem is my back! My back makes me tired. Working solo has its downsides… Improvising also takes a great deal out of me in terms of effort but surely pays it all back, especially if you compare it to what it’s strictly imposed by the circumstance.
This wall in particular was full of shades and details, you can’t really tell from the pictures. That means it’s been exhausting. Plus, the weather hasn’t been on my side. Nevertheless, the satisfaction that comes from seeing the final work is incredible and makes it worth the whole struggle.
How do you feel about social media’s role in street art these days? Do you think it has a positive effect or do you think that it’s made, for example, plagiarism much easier?
I like to tell myself we live in a world full of people with a moral. I personally know artists who live under someone else’s spotlight, and I also know their struggle for success. Who copies, will be unmasked sooner or later, I think, .
As for the impact of social media, 80% of my commissions come from there, so I personally find them really important and useful for artists to get to places that were denied until now, because of the visibility they give you. Thanks to them, I can get more people to know me and travel, which is not bad.
What’s the ideal soundtrack to a day’s painting?
I like to start my days with wild rap, then I often move to the Italian songwriters’ section. There’s not a specific daily soundtrack, I always take what I need from music at any moment.
What’s next for Zed1?
The only certainty I can speak of is a wild night at the end of a wall. What can I say, I’m full of surprises.