Piero Arico: Happy Couple

Piero Arico: Happy Couple

Aiming to remove the elitist stigma that sometimes surrounds contemporary art, Artfeelers are setting up pop-up exhibition spaces around East London.

One such space on Hackney Road is currently inhabited by Piero Arico, a 31-year-old Sicilian painter. The space will be his for a week.

In a small shop beside Premises Studios, Piero invites me into his live-work space.

The walls are covered in canvas which has been painted and scribbled on – inscribed with quotes and decorated with collages created from magazine images.

There is a kettle boiling in the corner, a pile of oranges, a half-empty packet of biscuits and plenty of painting utensils and materials.

Dressed in paint-splattered jeans, with thick-rimmed designer glasses and a mass of facial hair – Piero is your stereotypical romantic Italian painter.

He exudes sincerity and warmth and is determined that art should be accessible to everyone. “It’s not a rich kid’s game,” he says, “this gallery is for everyone.”

“The door is always open,” he says, “it’s a 24 hour exhibition”.

He then opens a creaky door to a metre square cupboard, “and this is where I sleep”.

Inspired by the colours of the Sicilian flag and the work of Jean Michel Basquiat, Piero began the installation with his own etchings and thoughts. He then welcomed in people off the street and encouraged them to create their own art on his walls.

“It’s good for me, as I get to meet lots of different characters,” Piero begins and then we are interrupted by an old east-ender who pops his head round the door and says “Can I ask a stupid question? What is all this?”

He is invited in and whilst I sip the wine Piero has kindly provided me, I listen to this unlikely duo debate religion, politics and everything between.

When asked if he’d like to paint on the walls, the visitor tells the artist: “I speak four languages – English, Cockney, Jewish and rubbish.” Piero laughs, “but I don’t wanna write on the walls”.

Inspired by mixed-cultures, Piero has paid homage to the different nationalities he has welcomed into his temporary home.

He points out a Turkish flag painted on the wall, a Bangladeshi girl created from a recycled sari, “and that” – he points to the red and white polka-dot material – “is for the English girls”.

He is willing to pull parts of the canvas off the walls and sell them; as he did in his last exhibition in Toronto.

He then considers the composition of the original art – his own skills combined with those of the public – and chooses an appropriate frame to stretch the material over.

His quaint exhibition space is set to tour – next stop back in his mother-country of Italy. But it is always different.

Before I leave, he lights a candle to illuminate a portrait he has painted onto the wall of ‘Sarah’ – a woman who walked in from the streets – and turns out the main lights. “I feel like Leonardo Da Vinci,” he says as I walk out and then shouts, “come back and visit again”.

Piero Arico
All day every day till Monday 25 January
205 Hackney Road, E2 8JL, beside the Premises Studios

The coronavirus outbreak sadly means the Hackney Citizen is unable to print a monthly newspaper for the first time in its 12-year history.

At a time when independent and trusted news is more important than ever, this was an incredibly difficult decision to have to make.

Without print advertising, our major source of income, a one-off donation from anyone who can afford it will help our small team keep the website and social media feeds running through this unprecedented crisis.

When Hackney and the wider world has fought off this virus and we return to some semblance of normality, the print edition will be back.

Find out how you can donate

Thanks in advance for your support, and stay safe.