Graffiti keeps him alive

Steve Locatelli is a famous Belgian graffiti artist. His biggest dream was to make a job out of his passion. He succeeded. Before that, however, he had to work things out with the police and a strict father.

© Steve Locatelli

Minttu Hahtola: Steve Locatelli, How did you get started as a graffiti artist?

Steve Locatelli: I grew up in Brussels and I became interested in graffiti in the early 90’s. I remember very vividly when I saw for the fist time the older boys painting graffiti and it was so cool, unauthorized and mysterious. For a small boy, graffiti painting was like a little game and it snatched me.

I decided to try it myself and I started with tags in 1992 and later made pieces, characters, canvases, etcetera.

I made my first piece in Brussels. I used to take the metro to the last station and I always tagged something in the subway. At the time, my parents were working on weekends and they did not have any idea about what I was doing. Graffiti was my real passion, and after I started, I could not stop. I belong to the second  generation of graffiti, because the first artists started it and the second generation of artists developed it more like art, I think. When I started, there were no legal areas to paint in Brussels. We always painted in old factories or under the bridge. In 1998, the city began to build the legal graffiti walls, and I started to develop my style.

MH: How did your parents react to your hobby?

SV: My father´s opinion of graffiti has always been very negative. He did not want me to study arts. My father is a very strong, Italian, family authority. He wanted me to do real work. But my mother has always been youthful. She understood graffiti in a positive way. When I drew stickers and I put these on the side of the bus or tram, my mother understood the point of that. She was a special mother. She has motivated and supported me with graffiti.

Only once I remember when she wasn´t so happy with my hobby. My mother had invited friends and relatives to celebrate my 14th  birthday. I had been tagging in the center and suddenly the cops caught me and they brought me home, which was full of relatives and friends. That was the only moment when my mother was angry because of my graffiti. I have been in real trouble because of graffiti and a couple of times even in jail. But, see, I never stopped because it was my passion.

MH: Doesn’t the illegality of graffiti art make it interesting to artists?

SV: The illegality was the thing when I was young. Young people need some excitement.  But after you turn 30 and you have a house and a car and a job, you don’t want to risk losing everything. In Belgium, graffiti is very criminalized and punishable.

Steve Locatelli´s shop Artifex.

I am 33 years old and sometimes  I think, “Shit, what am I doing? I am painting with 20-year-old kids.” But I like to paint with everybody. Age doesn´t matter. In the beginning, I was the little boy who was so interested in graffiti, but I was pushed away. I have painted alone a lot and that’s why I paint with everybody.

MH: How have you turned your hobby into a job?

SV: After high school, I studied in cooking school and some languages, but graffiti has always been my real interest. The last 10 years I have made a living  with graffiti through workshops and doing assignments.

My own shop has always been my dream. Four years ago, I took a risk and opened a graffiti shop called Artifex in the center of Antwerp. In the shop I sell my art and all graffiti-related material like cans, paints, markers. Antwerp is a good place for a shop owner because this is a shopping city. People from all over Belgium come here to shop, and Kammenstraat, where my shop is located, is the street for more alternative shops.

Besides that, I organize workshops. Surprisingly some seniors, 60-year-old people, have opened their minds to graffiti and have become inspired in my courses.

MH: You have performed in an Audi advertisement. Tell me about that project.

© Steve Locatelli

SV: It was a very interesting project, and thanks to Audi I got some visibility. They just wanted a graffiti artist to paint an Audi car in their advertising film and they chose me.

The company was very particular about what I would paint and they wanted to see a lot of sketches.  And even though the brand was huge, Audi, it was a very low budget project. I hope that some day graffiti is not only a low budget style.

MH: Your most visible project was the 13 meter-high mural in Antwerp. The mural was created with the help of a crane and a lot of spray-cans and shows a gorgeous woman. What happened to the mural?

SV: Actually the city of Antwerp took it off. I came to Antwerp a few years ago and since then I dreamed of painting the mural in that building. Finally, I got a chance to do it. The problem was many artists wanted to paint the same monumental old building. My mural was in this building for two months, then it was removed. There was too much resistance by other artists, so the City of Antwerp decided to take it away.

Steve Locatelli painted the 13 meter-high mural in Antwerp. © Steve Locatelli

I prefer that it’s gone. I was not satisfied with the work. The mural was not finished. I got only five days time to make it and the building was 13 meters and usually I am working seven days with my canvases. But I got a lot of publicity. Thousands of people saw me on television for this mural project. Older people realized that graffiti can be real art and not only vandalism.

MH: Do you have some advice for young graffiti artists?

SV: Follow your own mission and find your own style. Never say die and don’t listen to your parents. Because my father has always been very skeptical, but when I opened my shop he wept with happiness. It was the first time I saw my father cry. When he saw what I had created with my passion and that I had achieved my dream, he was very touched. He has always thought that graffiti art is only vandalism, but I opposed my father and followed my soul.

MH: What have been your biggest challenges as a graffiti artist?

SV: To show my work. I am very self-critical and that’s why I am so happy that I have my girlfriend as my manager. She is always honest with my work and I trust her opinion.

She has a skill in promoting me and she helps me handle the media.  I don’t feel comfortable talking about myself in the media and I never want to be photographed for a magazine. I would like to present only my art, not myself. Unfortunately, I need to try to be in the media if I want to make a living with my art.

MH: What are your future plans?

SV: New York. I won’t stay here. I am planning to sell my shop and I need to go to New York. Powerful and inspirational – New York is the place.


Steve Locatelli in an Audi advertisement.



About Minttu Hahtola

Minttu Hahtola is a 26-year-old journalism student from Finland, Helsinki. Minttu´s major is radio and television. Minttu reported from Antwerp, Belgium for the the ECEJ programme. The city is known for its fashion, diamonds and Flemish artists such as Rubens and van Dyck. Instead of traditional art, she decided to explore Antwerp’s graffiti scene. → About us