Interview with Secse, italian graffiti veteran: ’’Knowledge is the key’’
Secse, a true italian graffiti legend, told us about his beginnings in the scene of the ‘90s and his expert point of view about style, knowledge and the state of this culture.
Hi Secse, can you tell us about your first steps in the world of Graffiti and Hip Hop? What are your first memories with sprays and what did you push more than anything else to deepen this culture? Tell us about your journey as a graffiti writer.
Hello, thank you very much for thinking of me and for this space. My first steps date back to 1994, when I saw a catalog with t-shirts (which I bought and I still keep as an heirloom) of puppets and tags related to the so called “European style” (in the ’90 this definition referred a bit to the pieces of Bando and/or what was not wild style). In the same period, I made some proof with markers on the wall and with the first sprays I found, not even in a paint shop, but in a stationary near my home (the 200ml Talken). Shortly I also bought my first Aelle, number 10, not in the newsstands but at Footlocker, can you believe it! Haha I think that it was through this magazine that I discovered that Graffiti also existed on trains!
In 1995 I made what I define the first “real” bombings (as they had an inside and an outline, and they became more complex of a simple “test”, even if they were still pretty dirt haha. I refer to this year as my beginning, even if I keep sketches from the previous year as well.
Indeed, an important and fundamental part of my training belong also to travel. It was September 1994 when I went to Milan and I got struck by the bulwarks in the Ortica area, hall of fame of the CKC-UAN-TKA and ZONA 13. The level was very high and at the age of 13 it was certainly a great stimulus and example, too. In Treviso, there was a very “strong” scene, and in addition to King Mace (aka Solow), among the other graffiti writers, Starch and Clout, were members of the Milanese CKC. Therefore, after seeing the pieces of the Treviso people at the “macello” (historic hall of fame of the 1990s in Treviso), the pieces of Sky4, Shot etc. in Milan, I understood even better how great was the Treviso scene to have people in such a powerful crew.
In 1995, I went to Rimini for the second edition of the “Indelebile” jam with my brother (at that time divided in three stages, one for each summer month and I went to two of them). In addition of a lot of very talented Italian writers, I met Flycat with Phase 2 (Rest In Peace… I still have one of his sketches made for me!). I also saw in opera the Danish Bates and I was able also to see a live by Sangue Misto! In 1996, I went to Ancona, to another historical jam called “Juice” that concentrated the best of the Italian scene and foreign “monsters”, having the pleasure and the great opportunity to see Mode2, Can2 and Dare (Rest In Peace) painting together an epic wall. These high-level examples gave me a clear and powerful image of what the graffiti writing movement was (and is), and put me in a state of mind of a certain kind, making me, despite my very young age, aware of the seriousness and the power of graffiti. Afterwards, this consciousness was enhanced by my interest, which led me to ask questions of each older graffiti writer I met (pretty much all of them ahha) also taking a lot of pics continually leading to research and documentation.
Then in 1996 I met Joys and the EAD, another very powerful Venetian crew, with whom I painted the following year my first trains.
Let’s say that wasn’t a bad start.
What’s the story behind the stage name Secse? Was it just a stylistic choice or did it have a meaning? Did your stage name evolve over the years or has it always been this one?
After the first few proof/’’adjustment’’, my tag was “Seeso”. Threfore, in the autumn of 1998 my current name born. After some test with names like “Saxes” “Sexes” “Sexer” and “Sexe”, finally became Secse. I changed the “CS” instead of the “X”, because I learned that there was already a Swiss graff writer using this tag. From that day Secse was my name. In the first two years I still made few changes (for example, I used the “K” instead of the “C” or I added a final letter writing “Secsel” or “Secser”) but only occasionally, even if I kept the name with the final “R” almost until the end of 2001.
I like some things about this name: one is that it’s not the “classic English tag noun from the 90s”, but it’s a name with its own right, it sounds peculiar, a little unusual but it works. Then I’m amused by a thing concerning the arrangement of its letters: having two “SEs” broken by a central “C”, the name can be looped by adding the latter to the end and then repeating the beginning of the name. Even if I didn’t used a lot the “SECSECSE” option, to be honest, I considered it interesting and original. I also like the fact that the name contains two “S” and two “E”, just like in “SEESO”, an old tag that has also remained my nickname, with which I’m still called by everyone after 20 years. Hahaha “dulcis in fundo”, a put a bit of malice related to the sound of the tag “Sex”, while in the old name “Seeso” the letters recalled “Sex” hahah. In one way or another the pronunciation of the same letters keep the space of some “ambiguity”.
Do you belong to any crew? What’s the story behind them? Do you have any anecdote related t to the adventures experienced with the sprays and your partners?
My historical crew is ONE, founded in March 2001 by Dase and Nesk (who later changed tags). Despite several actions to celebrate the name of the group, including for example a Wholetrain in the end of 2002, almost everyone pushed more to the individual growth of their name, and perhaps, for this reason we are known less than others as a crew but we are known more “as individual graffiti writers”.
However, the police are aware of the existence of the crew; once one patrol came up to me while I was painting a wall in Treviso, asking me for my documents and after the agent checked my personal details via radio, I heard with my ears, through the open window: “This is Secse, member of the ONE crew “. I was incredulous. Obviously having been in trouble several years ago, it’s not a mystery who I am but I expected that the tag (and even the crew) could eventually be known by searching in another way, not that they emerge even from a normal check. Even if the name is not a mystery to the “blue boys”, I think there is instead, for certain reasons, a fair amount of confusion in listing all the crew members and even if I like the accuracy, I prefer that the confusion is maintained in certain areas that’s why I’m not going to tell the crew members. Haha let’s put it this way, I’m too old…. I forgot them!
Even if right now it’s not the team it was at the time (because time passes and certain things stop being what they were), I have great memories of the moments spent with the crew.
Among the cool things that bound us and consolidated our sense of team, I certainly remember with pleasure the first metro in Milan, in March 2002, where we were all together and it was the first time on the metro for everyone (Except for Dase who lived there and it was already in its third).
And again, in the same year, I remember our first wholetrain in Fs (this was the first wt for everyone) in April, and then another in December with the three giant letters “ONE” spread on 4 carriages. In particular, I remember some details of that evening with great regret as before leaving for the “mission” I proposed to the boys to take a picture together of the complete training. They told me that we would do it on our return and obviously it was not taken. Every now and again I think that was a shame because it would have been really cool to have a photo with us all together.
Anecdotes aside, it is also very funny that the name of the crew coincides with the best known and used suffix by all graffiti writers in the world … haha when I write “Secse One” is both my suffix and my crew.
However, if anyone were wondering, yes, ONE is also an acronym: “Orgasm Never Ending” is the meaning of these letters, clearly not in a proper English (but despite knowing it we liked how it sounded, and we embraced the “license poetic “hahaha). Then I thought about “Every New Emotion” (which also ended with “ONE” haha).
Just in the days I’m about to deliver this interview, the 444 crew was born, precisely on November 7th of 2020; in this period I’m going to be 40s and I’m experiencing a “second season” which often sees me in the hall with friends or at jams. This new group brings together 4 people from my area and my acquaintances who, despite not being very young in all these years, have continued to beat each other without stopping. Different styles but common commitment. We all have a nice background in trains, we respect each other and since we’ve been painting for years, the decision to come together in one name was born on my part. Being constant, painting every week, (whether it’s too hot or too cold ehhe ..) and catching us for years, joining forces and heads was in my opinion a smart thing (which perhaps we should have already done a few years ago) and also a new stimulus for everyone. The ambition is to leave something “level”, and be a reference for the new generations, just as the crews we grew up with, were for us. We will see how things go! The meaning? 4×4 .. recalls the power of the cars that have all 4 driving wheels, and in addition the fact that being four, instead of “all for one, one for all” we are precisely 4 for 4 ehhehe.
Here too we didn’t give a damn about the grammar rules and we used the “4” which in English in addition to the number is used to mean “for”, thus obtaining a number with three equal digits, easy to remember and of greater impact. If you want the anecdote about the name, I have it! Hehehe: the only Italian telephone area code that repeats three identical digits is 0444, I haven’t even told the others this but I remember it because as a kid I talked about it with a friend of mine who was originally from the area of this prefix.
How would you define your style? What do you think is the element that most distinguishes you from other graff writers and makes you unique in your own way? For example, one of your characteristics are the phrases and aphorisms that accompany your pieces. What’s behind this choice?
I would define my style as cheerful, clean, whimsical and elegant.
“Cheerful” because in any case they are not too rigid and “old” shapes, but they are often softer and a little livelier.
“Clean” is an adjective that I associate with the execution of the pieces. I try to be quite precise, with well join corners, the outlines of the same thickness, the overline that does not “minify” the outlines, in short, to compose those small details that make the difference, (which I have undoubtedly learned also thanks to observing Cento Paint).
“Whimsical” as I believe that a component of inspiration also emerges in what I do, if it’s not in the lettering (which is sometimes more “classic”), it’s in the coloring, and vice versa, if the colors are “flat”, the lettering reveals a bit of spontaneity, enthusiasm, which makes the pieces whimsical.
“Elegant”, because although they are shapes that come from bombing on a train, (therefore with a very readable base and fast realization). They have always had a certain care in the execution on my part; in addition to the “cleaning” I explained earlier, I take into account some aspects and tricks, in order to make everything “work”: for example, sometimes the outline of the background, use the colors in a certain way avoiding too much contrast or, on the contrary, emphasizing it. Without being presumptuous but thinking as an “external observer” I think that overall, my pieces are quite “elegant”.
And then of course, I hope to have the most important feature of all: Originality.
If instead I had to describe my letters without the aid of specific terms of reference as I just did, I would tell that my pieces are a combination of square and rounded shapes, and perhaps this distinguishes them, making them a little more “characteristic” and less discounted than other things. Usually you expect a completely rounded piece, without corners, or vice versa all squared, but in my case, you find both shapes, and this takes away a bit of static and obviousness. As explained above, the shapes are quite legible, so I don’t feel like calling them too wildstyle but at the same time not too simple, because in recent years they still have a certain “search for detail” which sometimes makes them a little more elaborate (with the due exceptions where I enjoy painting very simple letters).
In all cases I try to keep spontaneity. The pieces that are too “licked” do not capture me, because they “look like stickers” and do not give me that feeling of “handmade graffiti”, which I prefer to see (even if a piece is “clean”), so I don’t use too many “effects” special “or” cuts “.
As for the phrases, I confirm that they are something that often accompany my pieces, even if lately I use them a little less because they “visually disturb” the whole and / or the background (ditto for the dedications, as a child I used to wear a lot of them, now no): they transmit thoughts, reflections or points of view (sometimes even obvious and / or banal, not always “philosophical”), they allow me to express things that I have inside and at the same time show that behind the graffiti writers there are thinking being, not “robots”, or “vandals” or “artists”, (on the basis of what society has programmed in the mind of those who observe them so that they consider them one or the other).
Write the sentence once, write it twice, write it three times…. this thing has characterized me over the years. I have written several, from the deepest to the most demented, self-deprecating, polemical, romantic, disillusioned, proud, etc., and many remember me for this (it also demonstrates having received this question).
How did your style evolve over the years? Did you also approach other artistic techniques and supports, in addition to sprays, walls and trains? Are you also interested to the “legal” site or has your attitude always linked to the hard and pure writing?
As explained in the previous answer, in recent years, for the evolution of my style I have tried to include and / or taking care of certain details that I did not contemplate in previous years, sometimes also for reasons of time.
In addition to painting in the hall of fame, in recent years I also do canvases, I don’t want to set limits. After a long time I don’t have to prove anything and I do things for the personal pleasure of doing them, but I’m still a supporter of “pure” graffiti writing: trains and bombing are the root of all of this and are always something I love to observe when I travel, or when I observe the work of the new scene in my city or region. As for the “legal side”, it pisses me off to see that certain walls that the graff writers deserve, are instead assigned very often to “street artists”, who have perhaps a third of the training experience and who, however, enjoy greater opportunities from the institutions … (okay seeing how is the world ruling, how to marvel).
I believe that people should be led to think in a meritocratic way and know the difference between street art and graffiti writing. I am not a hater of street art, but it should be emphasized that it’s something different from Graffiti and that thanks to the latter it has obtained the space and “dimension” that is recognized today. In my opinion enjoying greater visibility and consideration is not lawful and or deserved, just as something “usable” by the mass through the figurative images or the messages it conveys.
According to your personal experience, what are the disruptive and revolutionary elements that have made the Graffiti and Hip Hop culture to spread all over the world, giving the mainstream to appropriate its language?
I believe that many of the “independent” movements, not reasoned at the table and disconnected from the logic of business or the “rules of society”, are cool, interesting, spontaneous and original.
Il mainstream? Ci mette un po’ di tempo ma non si fa scappare nulla di “cool”, perchè sa che con la giusta promozione poi potrà trarne profitto; ed ecco che col tempo anche i Graffiti sono diventati “di dominio pubblico”, come lo è diventata la musica Rap, (ed ora lo è il suo sottogenere Trap).
Ora come ora però non mi sento di parlare di cultura Hip Hop e Graffiti come una cosa connessa, le cose ormai sono molto slegate, che questo piaccia o meno è però un dato di fatto dei tempi odierni. Ci sono rapper che non hanno la più pallida idea di chi siano certi Writer (anche storici) e conoscenze vaghe in merito ai Graffiti, e viceversa moltissimi Writer non ascoltano (o non hanno mai ascoltato) nulla di appartenente alla scena Hip Hop. Una prova “tangibile” di questo sono le jam. Gli anni Novanta hanno regalato giorni pazzeschi con sfide di rapper in freestyle, breakers e Writers che dipingevano nello stesso evento, oggi questa è un’eventualità più unica che rara, o ci sono i concerti rap (spesso in locali, discoteche e-o palazzetti), o ci sono le jam di Graffiti; è difficile trovare eventi che facciano coesistere tutto, se non in rari casi (che per la maggior parte riguardano piccole realtà di paesetti di provincia).
In questo momento della mia vita non mi sento deluso o arrabbiato per questa cosa, al massimo sono dispiaciuto che un Writer di oggi non abbia mai avuto l’opportunità di provare certe atmosfere sulla propria pelle e sicuramente sono felice di essermi goduto dei momenti davvero Magici e che ancora mi porto nel Cuore, dove l’energia di molte persone appartenenti a diverse discipline veniva convogliata tutta in un luogo. Certe nottate, viaggi ed esperienze rimarranno per me indimenticabili, ma tutto ha un suo corso, un’evoluzione, e se le cose sono andate in una certa maniera non è stato deciso a tavolino, ma semplicemente il susseguirsi degli eventi ha portato alla separazione delle discipline.
Who were your greatest sources of artistic and non-artistic inspiration (not necessarily related to the world of writing)?
As a graffiti Writer, my sources of inspiration , it’s quite obvious, are mainly related to this culture, traveling a lot since I was a child I have had very powerful examples and they have served as inspiration and “guide”.
As a “person”, Graffiti taught me a lot and gave me a certain awareness and vision of things, but music has certainly influenced me a lot in my training, there have been texts that have transmitted me a lot and made me think deeply (besides to rap surely Fabrizio De Andrè is a name that I want to remember), and then all the tide of people I met. Relationships with others enrich us with stimuli and ideas to reflect, even in conflict we still learn something, or about our own limits, or those of others.
I also think that considering the “modified states of consciousness”, as a stimulus and an inner growth, is legitimate, because they provide a different interpretation of reality, they allow us to perceive other things (clearly if coordinated by a certain responsibility towards of themselves). Let’s say that Life itself is a continuous inspiration: different situations and people give us many inputs, but the “Star” I follow remains the “graffiti “one.
What have changed the most in this world compared to when did you start and what still drives you to be competitive, active and passionate about this culture today?
Before talking about what has changed, I think it’s appropriate to focus on the reasons and dynamics of the change. I think the first observation that comes to my mind is obvious: as in everything, the inexorable advance of time brings with it mutations, because by changing the contexts and references in which people grow up, the expressive results and languages will consequently also change. In short, every epoch presupposes certain changes and every movement (or almost) as it advances changes and becomes contaminated with what happens in the surrounding reality. This is why I didn’t want to build a wall between my generation and the new ones, which I support and which I’m happy to see the work of. Learning that there is activity and goodwill gives me pleasure, even if there are some things, however, that for the sake of objectivity, I cannot help but notice … An observation that I find sensible to make concerns the diffusion that the movement has had over the years. As a result of this dissemination now “everything is available to all of us “, and consequently the concept of research, and of “earning things” has faded.
The meaning of the research and consequently of the discovery has been lost a lot, everything is at hand, just a “click”, or a message (do you know how many young people write to me and ask me for info or advice for example?), these are the means and they are used, it’s normal, it is not a fault, it is part of this time and this generation; but absorbing things in one way or another makes a difference in your training .. this must be said.
To get some information on the scene (not all clear), but also to have means such as good sprays or caps, today you don’t have to get too excited, this is also obvious since the thing is much more widespread, but this has taken away the sense of earning things, and also a little the conception of how deep and serious this movement is, despite the spontaneity that has characterized it from the beginning. Learning things with difficulty, discovering them gradually, in stages, leaves you with a sort of sense of responsibility towards writing and probably also leaves them imprinted longer in your personal memory.
Today the formula of “search and find” is more in force than that of “search and discover”.
Once upon a time you had to be in the right place with the right people, and gain their trust or be “credible” in order to get the answers to your questions; you had to retrieve fanzines that were mailed or hand-sold to jams, and travel, go to certain places to see or do certain things. It doesn’t make too much sense, however, to make comparisons, because as mentioned above everything evolves, and it’s normal for people to use the means of the era in which they live, but even if they go beyond the vulgar “yesterday-today” comparison, we must recognize how immediate availability of information and examples has changed the perception of certain things and the sense of awareness towards it; it therefore happens that after having seen some videos someone feels already “ready” for certain experiences, it seems that even without a training background (the famous “mess tin”) everything is immediately legitimate, obvious and-or should no longer be “earned”. Observing certain behaviors conveys this idea.
I often realize (and without being pretentious, but I have some experience to evaluate) that some people do not even know what they are doing, they do not have the faintest idea of the origins of ‘this thing, (and I do not say worldwide, but not even their nation or city), yet you see them chatting and exposing their ambitions as if they were veterans.
I appreciate people with enthusiasm, but I prefer those guys who ask a few questions, who doubts themselves and do not “rush ahead’’. I can tell there is a lot to learn before teaching to whom have the desire for research, who transmit the will to discover and above all understand. I think some people sometimes have a hard time understanding their status and take a lot of things for granted that they should be wondering more about. I would like to see more humility and that some people understand that even if they are having their experiences, they have not yet reached certain levels of “maturity” within the movement; even if they are living the most exciting days of their life, their contribution to the scene is still not very consolidated. It will take longer, instead having the feel “to be arrived” stumbling into pedantic and disrespectful attitudes, which at the end penalize both the “quality” of the scene and themselves.
Once upon a time, the graffiti writers were a lot in competition, (without lacking in selfishness and bullshit), but once this happened also thinking about the scene, there was always an eye towards the movement, a desire to maintain a certain “Level” (I’m not just talking about style but consciousness of what graffiti is, people knew how important this was, you know, there was the concept of “real” vs “sucker”).
Today it often seems that studying is a little less important and that people limit themselves to think only of their own circle of people and their own fun, that they don’t give a damn about the collective movement and to leave / to transmit something to the further to come, and I feel sorry for that. It’s important to take but it’s also important to give. Well, maybe this is a clear change.
In addition to this, I believe there is also a fairly widespread abuse of the terms “Toy” and “King”, that are used without a real objectivity but based on friendships, likes, dislikes and with biased evaluations, even that sometimes feel so unlikely that even a person outside the Graffiti could understand the lack of credibility.
This is a “bad habit” that has been going on for many years, but never like today I’ve heard such an inappropriate attribution of these terms, and at this stage I believe that many do not even know the true meaning well. It’s good to remember that you can’t be a “King” only with assiduous activity but with the experience of many years. It’s not only because you have the aptitude, but it also takes consciousness and do not forget … the Style! Then again, there is another category: those who call themselves “King” … no comment.
Another aspect recently noted is an excessive difference in height between the importance given to the action or the place / surface painted, and the importance given to what is the stylistic caliber of a graffiti. This is also due to the “hasty” training given by the immediate availability of inputs I mentioned earlier. I also note that there is a quite present structure in almost all countries (with the due exceptions, God forbid), being that the diffusion of images via internet and the possibility of traveling at lower prices has shortened the distances a bit dictating “trends” that have flattened what were the stylistic peculiarities of each nation and or city.
Compared to the past years, the concept of stylistic identity is missing. Years ago those who copied others were considered a “suker” and the fanzines did not publish it; now those who do not make the pieces with certain “elements / clichés” almost seem to be “out of games”. I’m ironical even if there is a hint of truth. Beside all this speech I’m not saying one era is worse or better than others (although I have my opinion on it). I’m just analyzing the differences, arguing clearly my analysis. In my opinion, it’s very important to break away from what is a personal thinking and immerse yourself in what is happening, stay in contact with the new players of the scene and stay updated trying to avoid stumbling into “it was better before” (it could also be a thought legal about certain things), but I believe that at the end of everything, the story “talks” and has always “talked” (even if often manipulated) … everyone knows who the real Kings are when time passes, facts speak more of the words themselves and of the “supporter” attitudes.
As for the second part of the question, I will tell you that in this phase of Life I’m moved by Passion more than by competition while years ago it was different. I wanted to assert myself, then a little I made myself known and I understood that as much as competition serves to stimulate, everyone is unique and therefore better focus on growing their uniqueness rather than looking at whether others do better or worse. There is always someone poorer than you, as will always come who breaks your ass. Remember that! .. And who does not understand or does not accept this it’s immediately recognizable, because he has a “green envy” skin. I hope I’ve been a stimulus for others, if so I could not help but feel proud of this. However, I prefer to stay calm and cultivate my things, obviously continuing to observe everything that happens, and keeping myself updated on the scene.
Are you also passionate about other fields and disciplines? What are your passions outside of graffiti?
In addition to this culture, I really like “documentary” photography (suitable for reportage), therefore not purely “artistic” (with light meters or certain devices). In any case, whether of one type or another, I believe that for a good photo, no matter how trivial it may be, you always need a “good eye” and good taste on the part of the shooter. Taking photos relaxes me, makes me feel good from an early age, as well as having left some precious documents.
I also like clothes, I often look at the windows, I observe the styles, the fabrics, the colors, the patterns, the graphics. I’ve worked for years in clothing and I think that oriented me a bit towards an observation with multiple points of view. Even shoes with heels have always fascinated me, for a while I photographed them. Last but not least the Cats (real world rulers hehe) and the “extravagant” glasses, of which I have a large collection.
Hahaha I also have a list of things that I don’t like at all, but I don’t write it because I fear it would be much longer than the one just made… And have you ever thought about it? “Are there more things you like or things you hate?” … here, I have another sentence to write next to a piece! Hahahaha.
Would you like to add something, or do you have any future projects that you would like to share with our audience?
Thanking you again for the opportunity, I want to suggest some things in the Graffiti field: always put the date next to the pieces (even in the sketches), so that in the future we will not have the “cancer” of dates moved back on purpose by insecure graffiti writers to “make fun”, and inaccurate dates that pollute history. Accuracy is essential for historical reconstruction! And the story conveyed objectively is important.
Respect others and instead of making a thousand fuss think about the global scene, you have the responsibility to make it live. Let it live to the fullest! Violence is useless in most of the cases. “Knowledge is the Key”.
Outside of graffiti, I would also like to transmit these suggestions / ideas: respect all human beings. The fact that there are different species worthy of respect is a madness programmed by society in the heads of most people. Meat is murder!
Don’t be afraid to think with your head! Life is one, it is absurd to limit oneself for fear of the negative opinion of others. Try to communicate and express who you are and raise your qualities, as everyone has their own. Remember that one day you die, sometimes you need to make (or not make) some decisions.
After the “philosophical speech”, “dulcis in fundo”, I tell you about what is currently the most important project for me: I’m working on my book, where I’ll tell my quarter century of graffiti. It will take a while, though … not many years but not even a few months … Stay tuned.
Greetings to Throw Up Magazine,
Francesco SE © SE, October-November 2020 aka 1984 ..