Florentine Artist Fights Pollution by Painting with Smog

If you’re ever in Florence, Italy, and see a grown man on a ladder wiping the dust off statues and building, don’t worry, it’s just Alessandro Ricci gathering material for his famous smog paintings.

40-year-old Ricci is not your average artist, and I don’t say that just because he used smog as the main medium of his artworks. Unlike other painters seeking fast recognition of their talent, he doesn’t really care about “being this big artist”. Instead he is more concerned about bringing attention to how much smog there really is in his home town and how it’s destroying both its monuments and people. Although he did take a couple of art classes a few years back, he is mainly self-taught, doesn’t work in a studio, donates most of his work, and refuses to play by the rules of the Florentine Art Gallery, which he considers corrupt. Alessandro Ricci believes selling his smog paintings  would not only compromise his principles, but also contradict the very thing he’s trying to do – raise awareness about smog pollution in this great Italian city.

Photo by Michelle Tarnopolsky

Alessandro lives with his parents, on the outskirts of  Florence, but almost everyday he visits the most circulated streets of the city, and collects smog for his paintings. The natural-sciences graduate first made artistic contact with smog in the early 1990s, when he used it to write words on graffiti-covered walls painted by his friends. Later, while gathering pollution samples for the environmental chemistry department at the University of Florence, he got the idea of using it as a painting medium. He retrieves it from several meters above ground, from clean surfaces like marble, plastic and stone, using damp pieces of cotton. Then he applies the smog directly onto a canvas and creates street scenes and reproductions of the very buildings from which he got the dangerous material. Finally, he seals his paintings with a natural resin.

Photo © Alessandro Ricci

‘The streets of this city are so small; they were never meant to host all these cars and buses, ‘ Ricci says about Florence, adding that of all the European cities he’s been to, this one had the most smog. His actions helped win a small victory for the people of Florence, as in October 25, 2009 the Duomo area of the city was made pedestrian-only. But there is still a long way to go, the artist believes, and only cleaning the thick layer of grime that has accumulated throughout Florence would take several years. Still, he continues to paint his unique smog artworks and let the people know how polluted the environment they live in really is.

 Photo © Alessandro Ricci


For more smog paintings by Alessandro Ricci, check out his Flickr stream.