Acclaimed NYC-based artist Michael De Feo, known as ‘The Flower Guy’, has adorned the streets of more than 60 cities worldwide with his iconic, idyllic symbolism for nearly 25 years. Michael De Feo’s fashion takeovers come alive with his new solo show.
This new series created atop fashion editorials and advertisements stems from De Feo’s recent takeover of the ad spaces of New York City bus stop shelters, with many of the photographers, models and brands involved applauding his unlawful ‘collaborations’. Through his floral interventions De Feo transforms these images and the models within, blurring the line between unsanctioned & authorised works.
With his installation The Fashion Pages, Michael De Feo turns the icons of our time into ethereal creatures, inviting the viewer into the floral world he cultivates. And keep a look out. De Feo soon descends on Amsterdam, with plans of a bus stop fashion takeover near you!
This is a great opportunity to catch up with the artist in our interview below!
Julie: It’s lovely to see you in Europe for your upcoming show. Your show comes at a perfect time with spring, how much preparation did you put into this exhibition?
Michael De Feo: Thank you! I’m very excited to be coming back to Amsterdam, it’s one of my favorite cities. Having the opportunity to exhibit my new body of work for the first time at The Garage makes it extra special for me.
I’ve been preparing for this exhibition since the end of last year and have put quite a bit of hard work and heart into it.
J: It all started with what is now your iconic flower image with your first NY mural in the 90s. What prompted you to put your art up on the streets?
MD: I was interested in sharing my work with as large an audience as possible so I figured the streets of New York City was the best way to get that reach. I began in the early 1990’s by wheat-pasting my paintings on paper to wall surfaces in SoHo. That eventually led to the flower project, which I began in 1993 and hasn’t stopped since.
J: With this new show you invite the viewer to your floral world. Why did you choose a flower and what are you trying to achieve by placing blossoming interventions?
MD: The funny thing is I didn’t choose the flower, it chose me. One night in 1993 I was drawing with paint and a brush onto sheets of paper I tacked to my studio wall. From that wall of flowers and other images I painted, this one flower leapt out at me. It had a presence that spoke to me. It was different from the others in that it was graphic and whimsical, strong and light at the same time. I wasn’t looking to create anything I’d repeat or utilize for years and had no idea that almost twenty-five years later I’d still be working with it.
That same evening I used the flower to make a silk screen and in a short amount of time I had created a series of prints in a rainbow of colors. Since I had already been gluing my paintings to the streets it was clear to me that I should be doing the same with these flower prints.
The more I planted these flowers around Manhattan the more I began to realize that conceptually, I had stumbled upon sometime very meaningful and powerful. At first I just wanted to spread some cheer and smiles in a city full of concrete, steel and glass. I quickly understood that the ephemeral nature of the flower, as a street art object and in real botanical form, is what makes it so special. Flowers are of course, fragile and only here with us for a short amount of time. The flower is born, lives for a little while, slowly withers away and dies only to sprout again somewhere else – just like all living things. This circle of life is a large part of the project.
J: For ‘The Fashion Pages’ your technique and artistic approach are different from what we have seen in your work. What inspired you?
MD: A few different projects seemed to come together at around the same time for me. In the spring of 2015 I began removing the advertisements from the NYC bus-stop shelters and replaced them with my floral paintings on paper. I open the kiosks by using a key given to me by my friends at the Public Access Project, an initiative that encourages the public to take back spaces utilized by advertising. After installing these flower paintings in the bus-stop shelters for a while I realized I had a growing collection of the advertisements I had previously removed. What seemed like a good next step was to paint atop those advertisements and naturally, I returned these altered ads to the kiosks where I found them.
Also in the Spring of 2015, I was invited by Echo New York, a historic fashion house founded in 1923, to create my own line of accessories. I’ve always wanted to create works that could be touched and worn by someone, something you could literally wrap yourself in. That’s exactly what I’ve done with my series of scarves and wraps for Echo. The line recently launched at www.EchoDesign.com and will then available at retailers such as Bloomingdale’s, Lord & Taylor and others sometime in April. Working on this fashion project further fueled my interest in fashion and fashion advertising along with my project of painting on the fashion ads from the bus shelters.
J: Your most recent street projects are takeovers of fashion ads in NYC’s bus stop shelters. Could you tell me more about this series and is this something that you would like to pursue?
MD: One of the compelling aspects of working on the bus-stop shelter advertisements for me is that although I’m subverting the ads, they frequently end up reading like they were designed that way. I think in this regard they tend to “fly under the radar” and perhaps go unnoticed by passers-by and the ad people that place them there.
What’s even more interesting is that many of the fashion companies, models, photographers and art directors have been applauding my unauthorized “collaborations”.
It’s these works that led me to creating the two covers for the April issue of the Neiman Marcus catalog “THE BOOK”.
J: We mentioned earlier that your current studio practice reflects your interest in tombs world of fashion by painting on images you source from magazines. What is your intention with this?
MD: Working on magazine pages was a natural progression for me from the large advertisements of the bus shelters. I’ve developed an appetite for these images and there’s a limited supply of what I can find on the streets.
Additionally, my growing interest in the fashion industry has led me to purchasing and reading numerous magazine titles I previously never considered. Luckily for me, there’s a terrific magazine shop near my West Village studio that carries fashion magazines from all over the world. There are so many good ones loaded with unique and creative photography. I buy them regularly and rip them apart to paint on.
J: You have been on the scene for a long time now, how do you think it has changed over the years?
MD: So much has changed since the early 1990’s. Back then there wasn’t the huge scene we have today. The Internet helped fuel the popularity of art in the streets and paved the way for so much of what we have happening now. The art world has changed as well, with art fairs attracting more people than ever to traverse the globe. The larger everything gets the more I am attracted to doing quiet interventions away from others so that when someone encounters something of mine it’s more of a special experience.
J: What’s on next for you after the show and where are you headed after Amsterdam?
MD: The Garage will be representing my work at the Urban Art Fair in Paris (www.urbanartfair.fr) this April 22 – 24th and I’m excited to be there for that. I’m also planning on some events for my fashion line with Echo. I have more projects in the works but I have to keep them under wraps for the time being. To keep abreast of upcoming projects and exhibitions please sign up for my newsletter at my website and follow me on Instagram at @theflowerguy.