Evyrein: Street Art Amid Venice’s Medieval Masterpieces

Written by J. Scott Orr

VENICE, Italy – It’s a lovely sunny, spring afternoon in San Giacomo dell’Orio, a wonderfully ordinary, if out of the way, public square in Venice’s Santa Croce quarter. Clutches of men and women are engaged in friendly chatter, lovers are nuzzling on red benches, kids are running across the centuries-old cobblestones, and waiters are jockeying glasses of red wine and steaming espresso in the plaza’s lone café. The latest iteration of the venerable Venice Biennale, the art world’s most urgent global event, has opened about two miles away, but no one seems to care.

This particular square is anchored by its namesake church, Chiesa Parrocchiale di San Giacomo dall’Orio, which was founded in the 9th century, old even by Venetian standards. Inside the church is the monumental 1581 oil painting of St. Lawrence, between St. Julian and St. Prosper by Paolo Veronese, one of Venice’s big three Renaissance masters, with Titian and Tintoretto.

Which brings us to the work of Evyrein, one of the few street artists to carve out a niche for himself in this Medieval city where fine art, particularly of the Renaissance and Baroque periods, is the enduring currency. There are some Venetians who consider anything created after the late 17th century to be contemporary, so graffiti and street art are pretty much dismissed with indifference if not outright disdain.

In the center of Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio is a conspicuous red pole, and on that pole is, or was, a four-inch round sticker that from a distance appears as the familiar scrub-brush hair-do photograph of 20th-century American neo-expressionist master Jean-Michel Basquiat. But a closer look reveals that Basquiat’s face has been replaced with the lurid, lamps-lit visage of 60’s cult fiend Charles Manson. This is one of Evyrein’s logos, and in it he has captured the razor’s-edge intersection of genius and madness, a nexus that has vexed artists and art lovers from Michelangelo, to Van Gogh, to Rothko.

“There are some Venetians who consider anything created after the late 17th century to be contemporary, so graffiti and street art are pretty much dismissed with indifference if not outright disdain.”

Evyrein, it seems, is pretty comfortable when it comes to bridging seemingly opposing themes. He’s a contemporary artist, a street artist  in a city so set in its ways that you can navigate its labyrinthine streets and waterways with a 500-year-old map. He likes to mix two-dimensional images with three-dimensional accouterment: a wall rendering of a thief lugging a bag of money leaves some real cash on the sidewalk; a portrait of a pretty girl with a bouquet of flowers leaves behind a scattering of real petals. 

Likewise, many of his works are accompanied by spray-painted graffiti-style captions. A life-sized portrait of Italian model and influencer Chiara Ferragni and her rapper soon-to-be-ex husband Fedez appears below graffiti suggesting “Attenzione Pickpocket.” Once in a while, Evyrein gives the Renaissance a nod with, for example, a portrait of da Vinci; but, wait, through the artist’s revisionist lens the great master  sports black tattoos on his hand and gives the finger.

Originally from Schio, a small town in northern Italy, Evyrein followed the same route as many street artists around the world: In his youth he observed the work of his street art elders, immersed himself in the culture, then developed his style and technique before spending years making a name for himself with installations in the streets of Venice and elsewhere.

“My path in street art has been characterized by a continuous search for new techniques, new materials, and new challenges. I started with graffiti and stencils, but over the years I have experimented with a variety of mediums…. Each new work is an opportunity for me to explore new artistic territories and to make my voice heard in an increasingly powerful and incisive way,” he said in an interview with UP.

His best work relies largely on graffiti and stencils, with clear bloodlines to predecessors including street stencil taproot Banksy, as well as Shepard Fairey and Blek Le Rat. When he succeeds, his hoped-for result “is like a punch in the stomach that wakes you up from the apathy of daily routine. I use vibrant colors, bold shapes and sharp text to make the walls scream with my message.”

“Each new work is an opportunity for me to explore new artistic territories and to make my voice heard in an increasingly powerful and incisive way.”

Like many street artists of his generation, Evyrein is making an impact in galleries, leading to sales of his original work along with merch like prints, stickers and t-shirts. Despite this success, he said he has no plans to abandon the street as his primary canvas.

“Even today, I still spend a lot of time painting on city walls, leaving my mark on every corner, making sure that my voice is heard in the urban chaos. For me, street art is where it all began and will always remain my creative haven,” he said.

Despite the public focus on historic structures and  monuments and the devotion to fine art in Venice, Evyrein believes there is still room for contemporary art on the streets.

Although street art in Venice might not be as visible as in other cities, there is still an underground scene of artists working in urban art, especially in graffiti. Then of course many artists come from outside the city and from all over Italy, let’s say that Venice is a nice showcase and a nice passage of people from all over the world,” he said.

“Despite the public focus on historic structures and  monuments and the devotion to fine art in Venice, Evyrein believes there is still room for contemporary art on the streets.”

Does all his talk about disrupting the status quo mean Evyrein rejects his country’s rich artistic heritage? Not at all. He says he’s most inspired by disruptive artists, and the Renaissance masters were nothing if not rebels. They famously rejected the lifeless Gothic art of the Middle Ages in favor of living, realistic three-dimensional works; they tossed symmetry to the side, they began addressing secular subjects to a chorus of condemnation from the church, they prompted gasps by bringing male nudes to the fore, and they pioneered bold new styling, techniques and materials. Michelangelo, da Vinci, Caravaggio, Bernini, along with Venetians Titian and Tintoretto, were among the many punk rockers of their day. They’d no doubt be graffiti artists today.

My influences come from a wide range of sources: from classical art to contemporary social movements, from underground music to protest literature. I am inspired by artists who challenge the status quo, who question social conventions, and who use art as a means of change and political expression,” he said.

Like his long-ago countrymen of the Renaissance, Evyrein hopes his work will contribute to a continuation of the tradition of rebellion and innovation.

“Michelangelo, da Vinci, Caravaggio, Bernini, along with Venetians Titian and Tintoretto, were among the many punk rockers of their day. They’d no doubt be graffiti artists today.”

“I want it to stir the waters, make people think, shake their consciences. I want people to stop, if only for a moment, and wonder what is happening in the world around them. I want my art to be a spark that lights the fire of change,” he said.

The “Jean-Michel Manson” logo is a good example of this. Evyrein said he hoped the combination of Basquiat’s urban art genius and Manson’s madness would be both a provocation and a challenge to the art establishment. He called it “sort of a declaration of war on the art establishment, a way of rebelling against rules and conventions.”

“I want it to stir the waters, make people think, shake their consciences. I want people to stop, if only for a moment, and wonder what is happening in the world around them.”

“It was great to see people’s reaction when they found it scattered here and there: some were outraged, some were intrigued, and some loved it instantly. But regardless of their reaction, I knew I had nailed it,” he said.

J. Scott Orr is a career writer, editor and a recovering political journalist. He writes about art for UP Magazine, Whitehot Magazine, Ocula, The Lo-Down, Sculpture, Art511 and other outlets. He is publisher of the East Village art magazine B Scene Zine. You can find him on Instagram here.