Rebel with a brand.

Rebel from 1980, artist with a cause (and a brand) from 20 years. Turn off the television, turn on Tv Boy.

I met Salvatore (at the time he was known as “Crasto”) in 2003, on September 29th, during the ninth edition of the Illegal Art Show. Since then, we shared many projects and key life moments together. We have celebrated our birthday (we were born on the same day …) around the world, we have made murals, produced communications campaigns and published catalogues. In the last sixteen years, Salvatore has grown up a lot, both as an artist and as a professional. Today he exhibits all over the world, he collaborates with brands and companies, he provokes and makes people talk about him. With his street art he is followed by hundreds of thousands of people. His art is a continuous experimentation of communication languages: he mixes street art, neo pop, satire, illustration and advertising. And thanks to this “creative mixture”, he managed to create a unique style and an
international brand: Tv Boy.

Interview

1) “Turn off the television and be the leading actor of your life”. Many years ago, with this message you gave life to your creative alter ego, “TV Boy”. You are an artist, but you are also an entrepreneur. What does it mean for you to be the protagonist of your life?

“Turn off the television and be the leading actor of your life” is a message born a bit out of passion and a bit out of a game, which then turned into something more serious. It has then become my professional activity. I think that today all barriers between genres and categories are not so marked as they were in the past. Today all great artists are also entrepreneurs. Just think of Murakami or Koons. Or, if we go back in history, we think about Andy Warhol o Keith Haring who gave life to his shop. It is important to be both. It’s important to have many diverse facets.

I have attended the Polytechnic of Design in Milan and this has greatly influenced my thoughts and vision of the working sphere, since I did learn immediately that the profession of the designer, as well as the one of the artist, is not entirely related to thinking about the production of the object. A designer must be able to see how this object will then be made and processed. And to do that, you must have a smattering of diverse areas. You must know something about marketing, economics and mathematics.

2) CNN founder Ted Turner stated the secret of success is “Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise”. You are pretty good at advertising. Since the very early days, you have always tried to give maximum visibility to your works. Today, on Instagram, you have a community of more than 100,000 people from all over the world, and every time you create a new street art work, you go out on televisions, magazines and newspapers. Today, how important is it to have a community and which advice would you give to those who are now launching their own businesses and trying to build up a community?

I deeply identify myself in Ted Turner’s sentence. We tend to see only the tip of the iceberg, we tend to look at people’s success without knowing what there is behind it. And often, what’s behind is a lot of work. I spent 15 years to transform my passion into a profession. There is nothing that is right away. On the contrary, succeeding too young or too fast is pretty risky, because then it may be that you cannot manage it and everything may even suddenly vanish. Beyond the luck of doing something that involves the public, you need to keep this activity alive, and hence, you need to have a project in the long-run.

The theme of visibility, on the other hand, has always interested me. But it is definitely not enough to put your own’s message on the street to be visible. You have to use interesting themes, sensitive manners which do stimulate a dialogue.

Regarding the community, there is a sentence by Janis Joplin that, if I remember it correctly, states that if you do something, trying to do it at its best, success will come. For me, it was essential to stop looking at what other artists were doing and start focusing more on me, on my style and my goal. Then, followers arrived. Instagram is a very much interesting platform for me, because it allows continuity to my works. The kiss between Salvini and Di Maio, for instance, on the street has a pretty short life, since it is often removed after just a few days; but online, it can continue to live on its own. For example, even the piece with the “Immigrant Santa Claus” was removed from the police after a few days, but on Instagram it has had a much longer life.

Yet, on the other hand, social networks might bring nearer very far away people but also move away those people closer to you. So, it is important not to get too caught up in the idea of have a following and be followed at all costs or having many likes. Because in the end, what really matters is the work you do not just the community you have.

I think that today all barriers between genres and categories are not so marked as they were in the past. Today, all great artists are entrepreneurs too.

— Tv Boy

3)One day, Salvador Dali (with whom you do share a lot) said that he had managed to break through the “Art wall” thanks to a military type of discipline. How pivotal is the methodology in your work? How do you manage to combine your creative side with the more rational one?

I have always been very much interested in Dalì. He is an artist that I love and hate at the same time. He deployed politically, and from this, his art has suffered a lot, since it had lost the function of innovation that it had before, when he was a free artist. But he is an artist that must be studied and analysed. Some time ago I read his biography. I remember he wrote that, thanks to the sale of one of his painting, he had bought a fishing house and every morning he used to wake up with the first ray of sunshine and keep working non-stop until dinner time. He had an assistant who was making his paintings’ backgrounds. And he never stopped producing works. But I have to be honest, I do not have a very military discipline, I would like to have it, but I tend to have a confusing way of working. Let’s say that without the help of my colleagues, Angelo e Carmelinda I would definitely struggle to do everything I do. But I do agree, it is essential to create a methodology. There is no “Sunday artist” because if an artist makes paintings only on Sundays he would not be able to live from this activity. It’s exactly as any other job. You have to give yourself a schedule, a methodology, and also, bear clear in mind when to stop. Because, frelancers’ risk is to never stop working.

4)With the exception of Tosca who, as is well known, made a living from art, living from this activity is not for everyone. Turning your passion (in your case, art) into your profession (in your case, the artist), it is not always easy. But you did it. Starting from your experience, if you think back to your first years of activity, what advice would you give to those who want to transform their passion into their profession?

It’s a very long process and when you do not see the expected results it’s very easy to give up. At work, there will always be moments of highs and moments of lows, especially in a sector like this one, very much tied up to the current trends and fashions. Hence, it is not that easy to ride the wave. In my career, I have had many low moments, as in 2010/2011 where I wondered if it made sense to keep working, and many very good moments, as in 2007/2008, when I exhibited in many countries, and where I made a personal exhibition – which went sold out – in Copenhagen, as well as Beirut and Havana art project (where we went together). Yet, when you get success, it is easy to let it go to your head. In those moments it is key to keep your feet firmly planted on the ground, because results must always be seen and judged in the long-run.

Besides, what is crucial is to move. If you travel, you have the chance to see different people and different cities, to make new contacts and meet new people; hence, in a way, your business grows as well, because if you move, the world will move with you. A single action is not enough (like the Salvini-DiMaio’s kiss) and you ought not hoping of living forever from it. You have to keep working, creating new contents and new ideas. When you feel you are not original anymore, it is time to stop and think about something new. Because an artist, to be as such, must be able to amaze, to schock. The artists I admire the most, Banksy and Cattelan for instance, are extremely capable to amaze, and they never repeat what has been already said and done.

And then, it is pivotal to move. If you travel, you have the chance to see different people and different cities, make new contacts and meet new people: and this is what makes your business grows, because, if you move, the world will move with you.

— Tv Boy

A few quick questions

If you were not an artist, what other job would you like to do?

Musician or director.

If you could find a time machine (a working one…) and you could make one trip only, where would you like to live? In the past or in the future?

In France during the Impressionism because in those paintings there is a magical atmosphere that I would like to taste and to live in.

What drives you to work more? Making profit and be successful (making money) or whether your job gives meaning to your life and might positively impacts the world (making meaning)?

I’m interested in working for making something durable, something that will stay when I will be gone; something that will remain alongside my daughter. Something that can somehow change the world or be remembered.

Several years ago, in a catalogue, I spoke of you as an “illustrarocker”. If you could work on a singer or a rock group’s image (past or present), who would you like to work for?

I love music, and I love the art-music relationship. I do not have the name of a single singer; I would take care of diverse music bands’ images.

If you could draw a single image on a big billboard in Piazza Duomo in  Milan, so that thousands of people might be able to look at it every day, what image would you choose?

Something that strikes, something that schocks all viewer’s eyes. An image that causes a reaction in the public.

On your Instagram profile, you describe yourself as “Rebel with a cause” and, since I do know you, it seems to me a quite fair definition. What is (in a word) your cause?

Surely trying to approach a public completely new to the art world, but more importantly, my cause is to shake consciences, question the preconceptions and make people asking questions.