Born in 1975, Jo Di Bona is a graffiti artist and painter from Seine-Saint-Denis. He defines himself as a “pop graffiti artist” who displayed his first artistic attempts on the walls of this Parisian suburb before taking his place at the forefront of the Graffiti scene. At the intersection of Pop Art and Street Art, his work explores the theme of portraiture through a unique and vibrant style which combines graffiti, collage and papercutting on both walls and canvases.
At 13 years old Jo di Bona used aerosol paint for the first time. Until then he had been used to the felt-tips, markers and other crayons of his graphic designer father, but with the spray can he found a ‘quicker’ and more ‘explosive’ means of expression. He did his first works of graffiti on roads and wastelands on the outskirts of his home town, getting a taste for the adrenaline that comes with vandalism. At the start of the 1990s he began to paint in his suburban town alongside Nestor & Lek , and together they formed the Team VF. During his night-time escapades of scrawling his emblem “Anoze” on walls and trains, he experimented with a variety of materials. However he began to feel to ‘limited to lettering’ and sought advice from his teacher of fine arts, Claudie Lak, who opened the door for him to a whole new range of creative possibilities. Following his advice, Jo started to become interested in new techniques and mediums. He was inspired by a trip to Amsterdam where he was able to see the originality of the local graffiti scene, by artists such as Pone, Delta (Mess) and Gasp. His graffiti- artist friends also introduced him to many other artists such as Bando, Orel, Nasty and Mode 2 and on several visits to museums, his attention was caught by the works of Lichtenstein, Warhol, Jasper Johns and Rotella. He began to experiment with collage and the combining of different techniques to develop an entirely new genre which, in time, was to become “POP GRAFFITI”.
By combining techniques from Street Art (painting, stencil and spray paint) with paper collages and cuttings, he invented a very colourful yet urban style overflowing with artistic references and popular imagery. Formed through his interest in Pop Art and New Realism, his creative procedure can be broken down into two steps. Firstly the artist paints a traditional graffiti design with sweeping strokes of spray paint. He occasionally goes over this with a stencil, marker or paint roller. And secondly he covers the whole piece with layers of printer paper from photographs or old posters which he carefully tears back in certain places across the work. By ripping away a ‘sampling’ of this applied paper, he displays the various layers of his collage as well as the graffiti underneath. This creates a completely visually unique, wild, multi-coloured, chromatic patchwork with hypnotic and iconic faces scattered across it.
Without losing sight of his new found creative passion, Jo di Bona set art to one side for 12 years to pursue a career in music. As a singer-songwriter in the pop-rock group HOTEL he released four successful albums and travelled up and down the country doing back-to-back tours with the band between 2000 and 2012. He did not, however, lose his artistic instincts as a musician. Jo saw the composition of his songs ‘in terms of balance and colours’, his recording studio as a ‘workshop’ of creativity and his concerts as moments of sharing, where he could ‘give to the audience whilst also enjoying himself as well’. After the separation of the group in 2013, Jo di Bona decided to take up painting again and go back down the road of ‘Pop Graffiti’ ; aware that this genre had completely reinvented itself. Galleries opened their doors to him immediately, first in Rouen, then Monaco and not long later in Paris. He had exhibitions, mural paintings and live performances taking place one after the other across France and, by 2014 the artist had conquered Shanghai after performing in the Minsheng Art Museum as part of the Jue Festival. On his return to France his engagements increased exponentially and he finished the year on a high by winning the first prize for Graffiti from the EDF Foundation. He was quickly thrown to the forefront of the art world and, over the following two years, exhibited at the Passager Museum in Alfortville, at the René Goscinny Centre and even in Brussels at the Espace Vanderborght. He also put on live performances in the Museum of Immigration, in the streets of Cherbourg, at the Loures Arte Publica in Lisbon and even in the Robert Ballanger Hospital in Aulnay-sous-Bois, for the opening of the Parisian government’s initiative ‘Pièces Jaunes’. He painted several walls with a social message such as his wall art “Charlie” at Les Frigos and his ephemeral fresco in the Place de la République to show support for the Syrian refugees, in collaboration with the First International Emergency scheme.
After being featured in the number 1 cult magazine Paris Tonkar and included in ARTSPER’s “Top 10 artists to watch” in 2016, an article in the New York Times was dedicated to his ‘homage wall’ at the Petit Cambodge and Jo was part of a news report on Street Art on France 2. In January 2017, his work was exhibited in New York at the headquarters of the United Nations as part of their participation for the Street Art for Mankind project. Following this Jo was more productive than ever and produced and performed more than 15 mural paintings and live performances in scarcely 6 months (in galleries but also the Saint Maur Museum, the Scribe Hotel, the Cité des Sciences, the Urban Art Fair, the Gobelins School and even the House of Arts and Métiers at the City University.) All the while he continued his work on canvas which he regularly exhibits internationally at fairs and galleries and he has also been involved in several sales for charity. He has recently exhibited at the Orangerie de Sénat at the Luxemburg Gardens and his ‘Pop Graffiti’ will soon be presented in the Wallonie-Bruxelles Centre in Beaubourg by the Strokar association.
Jo has transformed his parents garage on the outskirts of Neuilly-Plaisance into a ‘creative den’ strewn with lids, cardboard and posters and it is in this workshop that he creates his masterpieces. He sees it as an anchoring to his roots and he believes, without a doubt, that it is this that allows him to grow his uniqueness, positivity and humility. Since his days of vandalism, the artist has never stopped refining his style and technique, in search of an iconic and hopefully ‘popular and accessible’ style. From festivals to galleries and walls to canvases, he decorates his surfaces with current graffiti, to be enjoyed by all ages and have an impact on all audiences. The work by the street artists Pure Evil, Dain and Charlie Anderson inspired him to explore portraiture through work based on colour, relief and movement. He also takes inspiration from popular imagery and is most drawn to the emblematic faces recognised by the general public. These include American film stars (Grace Kelly, Steve McQueen), important historical figures (Mandela, Angela Davis) and cultural icons such as Bowe, Gainsbourg, Mona Lisa and Yoda. He is inspired by ‘glowing beauties’, feminine figures and faces of anonymous children with shy and mistrustful gazes. His striking works are ceaselessly filled with colour and life, even when experimenting with images of wild animals. Through his technique of ripping – or uncovering – the artist gives depth and movement to his creations.
Often seeming outside the box, the spectators are struck by the intricate detail in his subjects. Their gazes catch and hold the audience’s attention. Jo also often purposefully selects his subjects from current events to show his support or his feeling towards them. He considers each painting carefully in terms of its integration into the surrounding urban environment, always remaining respectful to the space he is painting. For Jo, ‘it’s more about the wall, the place, and the context that should influence the painting and make it resonate with the audience’. As long as one of Jo di Bona’s paintings is destined to be on the walls of a city, the most important aspect for him is his ‘graffiti’s synergy with its urban surrounding’.
This artist is always looking for new ways to ‘share and trade’ is work and creativity and is currently evolving the creation process of his artwork so that the audience can actually be part of it. He is thinking of potentially allowing the public to ‘rip away [the layers of paper] themselves’ as part of his next work. Jo di Bona is constantly exploring his “creative freedom” and pushing the boundaries of his vision of ‘popular’ art that only his ‘POP GRAFFITI’ allows.