A member of Cane Morto is out in the surprisingly warm May sunshine, painting a bereaved impressionistic face on an abandoned wall in Hackney Wick on the outskirts of London. Cane Morto is a street art collective comprised of three Italian artists who started working together as a joke in a high school math class. Seven years later, they are still creating art together. They came up with the name Cane Morto because everyone else was choosing American names, and they thought the idea of a dead dog was a reflection of the kind of graffiti they did. Meaning that everyone thought they did “shit graffiti” as the member painting in Hackney Wick told me. [He prefers to remain anonymous, due to the slightly illicit nature of his work. Heretofore he will be referred to as just as Cane Morto for simplicity’s sake.] The name also came from a shared dream they had of a god with a dead dog around his neck.
Cane Morto cites Francis Bacon, Jean-Michel Basquiat, the Expressionist movement, Italian street artists Sbafe and Tilf, and especially Pablo Picasso as his influences.
The police have caught the group in the act twice. Once in landed them in the police station with a fine. And the other time they made a break for it, escaping into a nearby forest.
Cane Morto chose to come and paint in Hackney Wick because it is still a relatively unknown area, which makes it simpler to paint in. It has more abandoned buildings, and people are more used to watching street art and leaving it there as a part of the scenery. The residents like it and are very interested in the art form and it’s production no matter their age. “It’s very nice working in this environment where the people understand what you are doing,” he says, smiling as he recalls various passersby stopping and asking him about his work. Here, “people know the story of street art.” Meaning they understand its value and the history behind it. This is a nice change from people trying to run him off. Which happened when he tried to paint in Shoreditch, another place in London known for its street art. There, certain artists claim some areas and are very territorial about it.
It’s hard to make it in the art world just out of the Academy, he says, referring in this case to his alma mater the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in Milan. In general it’s difficult to make it in the art world in Italy unless you are related to, have had sex with, or know someone already in it who can give you a leg up. In contrast to this, street art is something that goes out of the gallery, working outside of the system of the art world; it is “art that comes back to the people for free.” And in this way, he feels that it is one of the most democratic art forms, it can be anywhere, by anyone, for anyone. It is done to make a statement or just for the love of art, but more often than not it is done at the initiative of the artist themselves because they felt a space needed to be transformed. “You can call it gentrification, you can call it an art project for the environment. There are things wrong in the world and it is our duty to write and draw it on the walls.”
The group makes money teaching street art workshops, doing work on commission, and selling paintings. They recently went to Norway to do a commissioned piece. Their patron paid for everything. Which is fortunate because, “Norway’s fucking expensive,” he said, pointing to the pint of beer in his hand and pricing it at £25 over there.
In the end Cane Morto wants “people understand that bad things happen in the world, we don’t have to hide them, we have to understand and remember it. If you only think there are good things, if you are always happy, you are living a fake life. Everyone is depressed, is sad, everyone sees the guy sleeping on the street without money. Life is full of bad stuff. You just have to go give a sandwich to the guy sleeping on the street. When you’re sad you have to understand why you’re sad, you have to live with this sadness. You have to understand, you have to learn from it. The world is full of bad things, let’s draw them. Let’s draw them and you will understand. If you see a dead dog drawing, you say there is a dead dog, but it is a good drawing.”
Check out Cane Morto’s website here.