Meet Alo the Italian street painter whose abstract portraits have taken over the Saatchi and the streets

If it was a bit of a suprise back in 2014 when the Saatchi Gallery decided to award the softly spoken Italian artist Alo his first solo show, it certainly shouldn’t be now.  The street artist turned studio painter is in the midst of hosting his second solo exhibition at the same spot and it appears the Saatchi are catching up to something we long knew which is that Alo is a keeper.

At Inspiring City we’ve followed Alo’s career since he first burst onto the London scene the year before in 2013. Speaking little english and harbouring only  a desire to paint and do his thing his work started to get noticed and we ended featured much of it here before covering his first show at the Saatchi called ‘Hail to the Loser‘.

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Admiring the abstract portrait of Arthur Rimbaud, a key influence on the show

After that Alo’s work has still appeared on the street although not to the same extent as in those halycon days of 2013-14 where every corner of the East End seemed to boast one of Alo’s abstract portraits.  Now they still appear on a fairly regular basis its just that there’s a little more spacing between.

The thing with Alo is that his work is genuinely unique.  For a street artist to paint abstract portraiture is unusual and yet his work is immediately accessible to the general public.  His works capture the emotions of the people he has painted and they come upon us like we would brush past someone in the street.  They have managed to become part of the East End, they are unobtrusive yet full of stories at the same time.

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Alo’s latest show at the Saatchi is ‘Exit from Aden’ a title which, like much of his work, is influenced by literature, notably for this show by the works of French poet Arthur Rimbaud who wrote ‘Una Stagione All Inferno’ which is the Italian translation of ‘Une Season en Enfer’ or in English,  ‘A Season in Hell’.

Iinfluenced by Rimbaud’s life living in the Yemen as a merchant in town of Aden, it was a time during which he appears to have had a love/hate relationship with the city and ‘A Season in Hell’ is the only work ever to have been published by Rimbaud himself.  It’s clear that Alo is passionate about it and he hands me the Italian translation, which boasts a picture of the young poet on the front.  I get perhaps a little too excited as I immediately recognise the picture, an abstract version of Rimbaud’s image hangs in the gallery as part of the show and it’s perhaps testament to the artist that I am even able to make that connection given that the Saatchi version has purple hair.

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Portrait of Arthur Rimbaud

Warning me that he is perhaps over-simplifying the content, he summarises the core message he has taken out of the poem which is that “to discover the light you have first to go through your own hell, to find the dark side of yourself.   It’s like an interior journey to find who you really are, to find light”.  Going back to the concept that Alo’s work is really about emotions, it is for the viewer to imagine the personal journeys that each of his portraits are going through

“Paintings are mirrors” he tells me. “It depends who stands in front of the painting, that people can have a different relationship with the same painting….it’s like when you see a landscape it reflects something that you cannot talk about but it belongs to you, deeply, and that’s why you have a connection with a painting.  If you don’t have a connection with a painting then it means that it doesn’t reflect what you have in your deep soul.”

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“I am in love with the female figure” – Alo

Many of the pictures Alo paints are also of women “I am in love with the female figure” he tells me.  “I think in the history of art, the female figure is often the protagonist, I think it is quite natural in art to try and express something through women”.  In the show itself he tells me how he has made the images of women and men very different, “look at the portraits in the show” he says, “the men characters are more rough”.

Of course what we really know Alo for is his work on the street and even now any cursory wander around the area is going to reveal a jewel for the unsuspecting traveller to come upon.  But in no way is he as prolific as before, his spots are more chosen now, only acceptable if the environment is right and that it fits with what he has in his mind.

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Female figures in the show

For Alo, painting on the street is a pleasure, it’s a core part of who he is as an artist and it’s something that he very much does for himself.  “I know that if I do it for me in an honest, true way.  I am sure that someone will mirror into that because we are all the same.”

But he also has concerns about the future of street art in this part of London and we have a discussion about whether or not we are at tipping point, with the city encroaching and artists being pushed out into different areas.  It’s a common discussion and an ironic one as it is often the creative types who are credited with giving the area it’s unique vibe and yet it is they who suffer the most from the lack of spaces that result as a by product of the gentrification.

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Alo being photographed in the show

And for Alo there’s also this question about purity telling me that he doesn’t see the scene as being as pure as he would like it to be.  The explosion in interest in street art in this part of the world has led to lots of people coming and going, perhaps only using the area as a platform for wider exposure before moving on.  It’s something that he sees as effecting the quality of the art in the area and he compares it to a revolving window display where the wares come and go but which are ultimately here today and gone tomorrow serving the purpose solely just to be seen.

Next up for Alo is a number of shows in Paris and he tells me that he may well live there for a bit but whilst still keeping his connections with London.  It is I suspect more to do with getting the feel of the city, which given his interest in the wider arts such as literature, is food for the soul in the same way that London can be with it’s history and culture.  For Alo after all,  it is those external influences that are needed, those reasons to paint and be inspired and to turn those walls into mirrors for passers by to reflect what is in their deepest soul.

‘Exit from Aden’ the second solo show from Alo is showing at the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea from 16 March 2017 to 10 April 2017.  The show was visited on the 16th and the interview with Alo took place on 24 March 2017.

Alo ‘Exit from Aden’ Gallery

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Portrait of a woman

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Portrait of a woman

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A man with a voodoo doll

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Portrait of a man

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Photographers angling for the best shots

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The gallery director announcing the show

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At home in the studio

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Studio works

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Arthur Rimbaud

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Arthur Rimbaud

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Sketching in the Inspiring City black book

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The finished piece

For more Inspiring City posts featuring Alo, check out:

Alo Street art in London

Italian artist Alo prepares for ‘Hail to the Loser’ his first solo show