For four years, Italian-based street artist Anecleto “Clet” Abraham has been subtly altering hundreds of street signs with his minimalist sticker interventions all across Europe. In late October, Clet brought his campaign overseas for the first time ever, heading to New York City. ANIMAL tagged along for a morning as he plastered his work on signs in Manhattan.

Though the NYPD may disagree, Clet doesn’t consider himself an outlaw. “I am not a criminal,” said the 48-year-old Frenchman to ANIMAL. “It’s opinion. I don’t destroy nothing.”

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There’s no denying that Abraham’s site-specific decals subvert signs in a way that’s rebellious and disarming. Take one of his many silhouetted figures, placed on a Do Not Enter sign: it looks like the character is climbing out of the sign, thereby defying it. For another Do Not Enter sign, he sticks a Pac-man on it with broken bits, as if the arcade hero is chomping on the sign. And yet on another, he plasters a decal of the Statue of Liberty (one could infer commentary on immigration).

Clet has disrupted Europe — especially Italy — with his stickers and installations, and has attracted quite a following while doing so. “People have stolen the street signs,” he says.

Back in 2011, Clet erected a statue called the “Common Man” on the Ponte alle Grazie bridge in Florence. The idea was to “enhance the common man” as a way “to counterbalance all those statues of important personalities that populate the city,” he explains, adding, “it is the common man who has to make every day a step into the unknown to move forward.”

The statue lasted seven days before authorities took it down, so he reinstalled it.

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Street signs, he tells ANIMAL, are symbols of oppression and represent a one-way conversation from the state to its citizenry. He hopes to not only disrupt that dialogue, but also give it new meaning, either politically or visually or both. “My biggest challenge is I want to change the world, to be more free,” he says.

Clet hand-draws his designs, then has them digitized and made into vinyl stickers, which he calls adhesives. He carries around dozens at a time and brought them with him to New York. The signs in New York, he notes, are less varied and more minimalist than those in Europe. “A difference is that in New York, there’s fonts on the signs,” he adds.

Using a Citi Bike as his primary mode of transport, Clet peels off modifications on the Lower East Side in Manhattan and right off the Williamsburg Bridge, each time being sure to re-dock the bike in under 30 minutes — the max time allotted for each ride. Sometimes he’ll prop the bike up against the pole and the bike share as a footstool share. He says he’s reworked at least 50 signs during his short stay.
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Although he is a classically trained artist who has exhibited gallery shows throughout Italy, Clet has no designs on turning a profit on this street art series.

“I won’t make [an] exhibition for the signs,” he says. “The best exhibition is in the street.”

(Video/Photos: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork)