The Sign beyond the Signature

The sign beyond the signature

March 03, 2023 – April 1, 2023

In the dualistic research of Exit Enter, it is the sign that is the lowest common denominator that reunites the project of his famous ‘little man’ with the research on instinctive landscapes.

With “The sign beyond the signature“, Street Levels Gallery aims to reveal the instinctive, gestural and ritualistic nature of Exit Enter’s painting, the kind cultivated for more than a decade in his studio and never exhibited publicly. In this new exhibition project, Exit Enter’s famous ‘little man’ is never shown; a curatorial choice matured by the gallery together with the artist with the conviction that in the dichotomy between Exit and Enter, between going out and coming in, between exposing and concealing could reveal what the public space has never yet welcomed and what the citizens of the streets of Florence would not recognize.

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Traits, sketches and scratches reconstruct the artist’s gestural rhythm, as if each composition of signs corresponded to an autonomous rhythmic sequence. And it is precisely sound that has in part shaped these bodies of signs: techno music, with its repetitive pulse, represents a tool of totalizing immersion to go along with Exit Enter’s creative flow. Indeed, rave culture has marked the works Modern Times and Metropolis but also the series Open Yards, which, in their degenerate settings, refer to the crate walls of free parties. Sound systems thus become accomplices of the most robotic and mechanical architectural references, shaping his urban landscapes dense with buildings and superstructures. Even the memory of his hometown, Rosignano Solvay, participates in the construction of his scenarios: the imposing bicarbonate factory that the artist recorded with the eyes of his child strongly influences his gray and dystopian imagery.

Critical Essay

From the beginning of Exit Enter’s artistic research, the concept of the sign is an integral element that encompasses multiple meanings and aesthetic nuances. It has eventually formed to be a symbol of the dichotomous reality between studio art and street art while simultaneously being a liberating channel and a constrained narrative for the artist.

The incipit lies in the period when the artist was attending the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence where, directed by one of his professors, he began to experiment with gestures and/involuntary actions through the creation of abstract works and black-and-white etchings depicting interior landscapes, cities, and symbols. This artistic research mainly develops in the studio, where Exit Enter feels most free and where the artistic act becomes a form of self-therapy and catharsis, enabling a space for intimately personal research. At this stage of artistic development, it was also crucial to attend the rave party scenes, where Tekno music and the social context became reflected in the works as monsters, mechanical, and acoustic implants. The studio thus becomes a gateway to artistic inspiration without narrative constraints where there are only spontaneous gestures coming from inner turmoil and aimed at pure experimentation. It is the place where the artist searches for his inner balance, devoting himself to self-care through spontaneous gestures and the discovery of supports, materials, and media.

Simultaneously, in the studio, there was the creation of a stick-figure caricature, which stylistically arises from the simplification of more complex elements; on the level of content it not only assumes the role of a character through which to communicate with its audience, but also, for the artist, represents an entity to engage with himself. As reflected in Exit’s stories, it is the stick-figure who asks to be shared outside and drawn on the walls of the city. It is often juxtaposed with a heart on the heels of the book “The Art of Loving,” that presents love as a solution, or as a way out. So Exit comes out and his character, understood by him as a tag with which to identify himself, fills the streets of the city of Florence until it reaches international contexts. Initially, even the stick figure showed aspects related to his instinctual spirit, similarly to the other explosive productions of various creative practices found in the studio works. However in this research, with the experience gained from years of working within the urban context, the impulsiveness is reduced in favor of a reasoned narrative, and the rapidity of the gesture is not primarily derived from instinct, but from the study of a method valid for the street.

The idea pertains that painting and illustration remain locked inside the walls of the studio while tags solely within the streets. In reality, albeit implicitly, they are intrinsically  linked as the stick-figure tag also often appears in abstract paintings and illustrations. This mirrors how markers, textures, and scratches, as well as other media or symbols that the artist discovers in the urban context, are then often brought into the studio and reinterpreted according to a different style and meta-narrative. In Exit Enter’s dualistic research, it is the idea of the sign that is the common denominator. It acts as a means to enter or exit and to take different manifestations depending on how the artist feels, perceives, and reflects on his surroundings along with his emotional state.

Before long thanks to widespread public and collector appreciation, the stick-figure tag became an icon that, associated with the word Exit, identifies the artist. The artistic production that takes place in the street has began to be conditioned by sales and constrained to a usable narrative, while the studio remains a place where the artist feels free to express himself. This is an interesting process, and justly reflects what happens frequently in Urban Art to this day.

The stick-figure bears commercial connotations for Exit and has taken the form of a real brand. This reflects a larger trend that characterizes the current art world, one of the most famous examples being Jeff Koons. This often becomes a destructive phenomenon for young artists, who can find themselves trapped in the art market’s taste-centric trends. The art market appreciates the artist’s style, so he begins to make money and concentrate on producing works to meet collector’s demands and no longer devotes sufficient attention to continuing his own research. This leads to a paradoxical situation that in order to secure an economic income, Exit find himself neglecting the freedom of artistry and becomes dependent on commercially branded works. A direct consequence of this phenomenon is that a large part of today’s art does not evolve or grow and remains constrained in a vicious circle dictated by the market. This dynamic is in part what has happened to Exit Enter, which to this day almost totally relegates the stick-figure tag or ‘street bombing’ to secure a source of income. Following this line of thought, an exhibition that exclusively focuses on the iconic character would have been a safe haven for both Exit Enter and Street Levels Gallery, instead, both parties chose to exhibit material that has not yet been seen before. One of the most intriguing concepts expressed in “The Sign Beyond the Signature” is the exhibiting of the sign’s spontaneity that is a healthy carrier of artistic flair. For too long these ideas have remained hidden behind the icon representing the coercive weight of the art market. It is also significant that all works are signed as “K.” and not as Exit.

The gallery rooms open a way out for Exit Enter, by following the deeper meaning of the term Exhibit and not only showing art pieces with the goal of a sale but also for its own sake. The place that used to be the city becomes the invisible inner and personal world, similar to how the urban environment contains walls and surfaces to be drawn or painted on. The soul and the physical support become the medium, the sign of how to transpose and extract outward the negative and the positive in an atoning act. In every case that the sign is traced in the displayed works, it aesthetically presents itself as a leitmotif and connects to the street through the source gestures, although belonging to different styles. 

This exhibition is not an opportunity for the artist to show new works, but instead to highlight large amounts of research that remained hidden behind the scenes while still representing a fundamental aspect that without, the iconic stick-figure would likely not have been born. This investigation is also an opportunity for the gallery to explore and recount Urban Art’s complex phenomena beginning from this particular practice.

“The Sign Beyond the Signature” can be interpreted as an act of liberation from the confines of the market or other dichotomous dynamics, mirroring how the artist experiences the studio. The visitor is invited to embark on the same courageous journey and enter a cathartic dimension where one can also observe the part of themselves, through self-reflection in the works, that is kept locked inside invisible walls. This establishes a spontaneous equalibrium constructed by symbolic signs which enables a self-therapeautic dialogue for the visitor.

© Giulia Falcone

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