Nelio was born in France, but he’s a natural wanderer. The artist has spent the past decade or so travelling the globe, painting walls and making friends. His work is a mesh of traditional graffiti lettering and abstract geometry, bringing a fine art funk into his practice. We caught some time with Nelio while he was in Melbourne to chat about his work, his love of bombing, and some close encounters with the locals.
What’s your favourite spot to paint?
I really like to paint in old factories, places where nobody has been for years. Places where nature has taken back its rights from construction. In really quite spots you can play some music, drink some beer, you can relax, and then you have time to do a piece that you can be proud of. That’s what I prefer doing during the day. Though during the night I really like going out and doing stuff that’s more for the action than the result.
What is about bombing that appeals to you?
I like bombing because it’s kind of like a sport or an exercise, you could consider it like a dance. I really like the movement with the body to paint, it’s just the action. Also the fact that it’s forbidden, you’ve got more adrenalin. Even it’s not what I’m looking for it’s sometimes good to do that.
Have you had any close calls when out painting?
[Laughs] Yeah, I’ve got in a lot of trouble. Sometimes from the police – sometimes from people. In Australia it seems like the police are cooler than the people, contrary to Europe. I got punched by a woman in Australia, some bogan. It was like three years ago and I was painting a public wall and a girl came from the end of the street and was yelling at me like “What are you doing? You fucking bastard.” I just kept painting because I just needed a few seconds more, and she kept coming closer and closer and calling me a fucking cunt and all this stuff.
I told her I was just painting and she punched me in the face, [laughs] I was so surprised I didn’t know whether to hit her or just spray her in the face – but I couldn’t hit a girl. And then I see this massive guy behind her, her boyfriend or something, and he’s like topless in the street and I’m thinking to myself if this woman is going to punch me, then this guy is going to kill me. So I take my paint and run, I was with three other friends and they were a bit further down the street and I’m running so when they see me they start running. But my pants start to fall down and I’ve got two cans in my hands so I can’t pull them up and I fall down. I have this image of one of the spray cans just rolling in the street, and one of my friends just runs by and grabs it and keeps going – I remember it in slow motion.
What’s Australia like compared to Europe in terms of painting?
I think here there’s more community, because the scene is smaller, all the artists know each other here. It’s good in a way, but there’s not as much travel in Australia as there is in Europe – I mean it takes like two hours driving to get to a completely different city and a different scenes. Australia is quite isolated so there’s not as much new stuff happening as compared to Europe. But it’s really great to paint, the public here are more aware of graffiti. In Europe most people don’t think that we are artists, just vandals. In Australia there’s more acceptance, artists are getting commission walls not just doing stuff illegally in the street. On one hand it’s good, because they can take more time and the public is happy but on the other hand you lose some of the spontaneity and energy of the street stuff. In Europe there are cities like Berlin that are completely trashed with graffiti, and you can feel the energy of the young artists using the streets as a medium to express themselves. I don’t know, I like both scenes.
Do you want to keep that balance between your legal and your illegal work?
Yeah if I can do that all my life I will try and do both. I really need to have time to good stuff, so it’s good to have some legal walls. It’s even better if you can get some money to pay for the other painting you’ll do illegally. I mean if you get paid then you don’t need to do another job so you can focus one hundred percent on the art, but it’s really important to keep going. Just for yourself, do it for the art not for the money.
What’s keeping you motivated right now?
I need to be creative. I need to create stuff to feel happy, if I’m not I feel like I’m losing my time. Whatever the medium or the technique I feel like I need to draw or paint or make a sculpture or go do some graffiti. I really need to do that, that’s my motivation; it’s a need – a drug.
Do you want fame?
I don’t really run after that, but it’s always good when people appreciate your work. It’s good motivation to keep going when you receive good feedback. But you don’t want to be too famous so that you’re stuck in a certain style; you can’t do whatever you want after that. If the fame happened then it’s good, but if it doesn’t then who cares?
Do you think you’d ever cross completely in to the gallery scene?
No, I hope not. For me, I really like showing in the gallery because it’s another world, another medium, you have more time to work so you can do more fine art pieces, more installation. I really like doing that, but I really love working in the street. For example when I work on a show I spend a lot of time on tiny drawings or canvasses, and it’s good to get out and just paint some graffiti because you know at the end of the day that that will be finished. It’s more spontaneous, I really like this idea of going and giving all your energy and it’s just done.
What’s next for you?
I don’t know. I really love to explore different ways to be creative. Different mediums, different techniques. I hope I will keep going just doing creative stuff, keep travelling. I don’t want to do more than one show a year, that’s enough. I just want to do more paintings outside, drawing, making books, screen prints. Just keep some memories of this lifestyle.
Just do everything?
Not everything because there’s not enough time.