Life and death is one of the most intricately explored themes in art - from the earliest emergence of cave paintings up to the most advanced examples of contemporary digital art. Nemo's is something different altogether though. His art actually has its very own life-cycle that unfolds in real-time.
The process utilised by Nemo's is one of the most unique in street art. His strange fleshy figures, usually painted naked, wrinkly and roughly, are constructed of old newspapers which are pasted onto the wall. Underneath the paper though are the things that we all have in common - our skeleton, organs and everything that binds them. The figures, when fully formed, have their own life - they are as open to interpretation and dissection as any other piece of art, but when they begin to show the signs of weathering, their flesh quickly erodes, giving his works a performative aspect.
They are in essence, a sped-up version of everyones life at the very end. The geriatric type bodies last for various amounts of time, depending on where they are - but when the rain comes down, it all begins to fall apart. It's here that the paper will begin to deteriorate, decaying and revealing what lies underneath. This is best observed in his Before/After series which focusses on this process. He even gives them a timestamp so that passersby can keep up to date with how their favourite painting is slowly dying.
Street art, especially now that it is more widely accepted, is still often sanctioned. Artists creating art in this manner know that the lifespan is almost being guaranteed as it is protected by the council or municipality. For art that isn't created officially - their lifespan is more volatile. It only takes one tag or one complaint to have it covered or removed. Nemo's artwork reacts on two levels. Firstly, it is a statement about life and death itself - a profound look of sped-up biology. It is also an insight into the ephemeral nature of street art. It comes and it goes. Uniquely, as his works are often ongoing and always transforming, they seem more likely to be left alone. People don't like being left with only half a story.
Beyond tackling the themes of life and death, he also looks at what happens in-between. Capitalism and modernity, that is, our modern day lifestyle choices, are pilloried in his works. His character, this recurring everyman, is soft and flabby - a slave to the modern wage. Nemo's paints him at one point placing his own head into a meat-slicing utensil, carving his own flesh into thin slices of money. The message: that's all you are to these multinational conglomerates, money money money.
In another, Nemo's makes us watch the television with one of his character's heads popping out. We are just blobs of flesh watching other blobs of flesh. Nothing more. It all seems so inane and pointless under his lens - especially with his character. Although the cast seems oddly surreal, they are in fact, very real. Everyone at one point will have existentially battled with thoughts of mortality and in these moments, looking in the mirror, we may realise that we are not what or who we would like to be. Nemo's has tapped into a very modern day crisis and imagines responsorial artworks that are conversely dark and empowering images. He's holding a mirror up to our ugly faces.
Then - take his name. It isn't Nemo, although it was. It's Nemo's. That might seem like he has done this to show possession, hence he has made the correlating grammatical denotation. But no. Nemo, the name, came from one of his favourite books, 'Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea', by Jules Verne. It means 'no one' in Latin. Therefore, by adding that 's' at the end, he is saying that these bodies are 'no one's'. The interesting thing is that by belonging to no one, they can conversely be seen as everyone's. His name gives it all away without making it obvious. We are these people in his art and we must change.
When he incorporated paper into his artwork (that began as drawings), they came alive. The lifecycle of the paper contributed to the lifecycle of his piece and imbued it with its own soul. It doesn't just look a certain way, but smells and feels - it's a multidimensional approach that, rarely for street art, has textural values as well as aesthetic.
Despite the strong messages, Nemo's isn't looking to be a social or political commentator - he's more interested in the emotions attached. If the two overlap, then so be it, but it's the emotional drag of the work that pulls him in. After all, his name, 'Nemo', from the captain featured in the novel, was a man who "fought battles against the war, the injustices in the world and the silences of the sea." Nemo's doesn't just want to rebalance the scales, but he wants to do so by making the sea roar. The sound, that feeling, that level of hope can only come from emotion, not simply rational works of art - however creative they may be.
It's a rare thing to see an artist like Nemo's - someone that managed to blend both technique and concept so effectively. The deeply melancholic artworks have a dark humour, something that is essential when dealing with the issues he does. By reminding us that we are the characters, at least in some ways, he wants us to look not only at why we feel this way - but who is making us feel this way.
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