NemO’s lives up to his zany name by painting some of the most unique, ambitious murals in the street art and graffiti world. In fact, his signature gritty style has earned him international notoriety.
But his work isn’t just an exercise in edginess. Some of NemO’s best-known pieces are celebrations of the human spirit, even in the face of difficulty.
Read on to dig deeper into his life and artistic process.
The Story of NemO’s
NemO’s currently lives in Milan, Italy. He began drawing and sketching at a very young age, even before he was able to write. During this time, his father took him to an exhibit by a local artist. The young NemO’s gained so much inspiration from the show that he decided he wanted to follow the same path.
After middle school, he enrolled in a Liceo Artistico, or artistic lyceum, in his hometown. He chose his pseudonym around this time. He first called himself “Nemo,” after the sea captain from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Eventually, NemO’s added the apostrophe and S to the end of his name.
In an article with Juxtapoz, the artist explains that “nemo” means “no one” in Latin. Adding the possessive case to this pseudonym changed the meaning to “no one’s.” This symbolic alteration became the perfect description of his public street art.
What is NemO’s Art Style?
NemO’s is a graffiti artist and street artist who primarily creates murals. He’s known for his surreal, darkly funny style. Most of his pieces depict a nude human figure with exaggerated characteristics and features, like sagging skin and bulging eyes. This figure appears in almost all of his work, giving his pieces a feeling of shared significance.
Although NemO’s initially moved from drawing to working with spray paint and acrylic paints, he later incorporated paper into his work. NemO’s frequently covers portions of painted murals with newspaper, producing a second surface layer that creates texture.
The paper eventually sloughs off to reveal the mural beneath. This technique allows his pieces to evolve and communicate the changing nature of public art.
What Inspires NemO’s Art?
In his early years, NemO’s was fascinated by comics and books on anatomy and biology. He also credits sci-fi and cyberpunk movies from the 1980s as influences.
Much of the artist’s work focuses on what it means to be a human or a “social animal” in the modern age. NemO’s describes this concept in his bio for the online gallery Varsi: “A defenseless creature at the mercy of nature and of itself without hierarchical structures, whose only purpose is to survive.”
From NemO’s perspective, today’s humans are trapped in a paradoxical situation. Despite being animals at our cores, we’re supposed to survive in an industrialized society and follow rules that don’t accommodate our basic needs.
What Are Some of NemO’s Art Pieces?
NemO’s work is as haunting as it is humorous. His incredibly detailed murals offer audiences a chance to laugh at life’s absurdity and meditate on social issues all at once.
Let’s look at some of NemO’s most thought-provoking pieces below.
Who Is Inside NemO’s
Who Is Inside NemO’s is a large mural in the center of Madrid, Spain. The mural appears on a concrete wall containing a square, inset opening. NemO’s took advantage of this feature and painted one of his signature nude men on the wall, using the inset portion to depict a smaller man peeking out from inside the larger one.
The man holds scissors and a square piece of his own face, which he’s pulled away from his head to reveal the small man. This image allows us to view the small man as a puppeteer, bringing to mind the idea from The Wizard of Oz that we should “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”
But the fact that the two men are identical raises an interesting question: are both men the authentic self, or are they both false representations of NemO’s artistic persona?
Countdown of Depopulation
NemO’s painted Countdown of Depopulation on the side of an apartment building in Stigliano, Italy. This mural features a large hand with a surreal twist: each finger is a person growing out of the hand. The fourth finger is climbing down from the hand, while the fifth finger is walking away.
NemO’s says on his website that the growing problem of depopulation in Stigliano inspired him to create this piece. For years Stigliano’s young people have left the city to search for work and new opportunities. As each finger tears itself from the hand and departs, NemO’s reminds us that those losses are more personal than simple population numbers.
Pesce Capoverde is a mural in Praia, the capital of the Cape Verde archipelago in western Africa. The painting depicts a large red and blue fish with large eyes and countless scales. A closer look at this piece reveals a human face painted on each scale.
NemO’s explains on his website that this piece is a tribute to the people of Cape Verde, who were colonized and enslaved by Portuguese explorers for hundreds of years. The fish is a celebration of the fortitude and independence of Cape Verde’s inhabitants. As NemO’s says, “The fish is the owner of the seas and can go where he pleases.”
Primavalle is named for the Italian city it inhabits. This mural adorns the side of a multi-story building and features a small vine bearing a bunch of grapes. But they aren’t grapes…they’re human heads!
NemO’s painted Primavalle as a love letter to the townspeople of this Roman suburb. In the early 20th century, gentrification and political unrest led to the displacement of many of Primavalle’s residents. The mural represents the fierce anti-authoritarian spirit of its people, who have long held progressive ideals.
Where Can I See NemO’s Art?
Although NemO’s work isn’t currently on display in galleries, it’s readily viewable online. The artist’s website, whoisnemos.com, is a great place to explore his public murals. There’s also a shop on his website for those who want to purchase original pieces. His Instagram account, @whoisnemos, is also updated frequently.
Since NemO’s murals primarily appear on city streets, you can also see his work publicly in various cities worldwide. NemO’s has completed large-scale public murals in places such as New York, Italy, Spain, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Brazil.
The Life of the Social Animal
NemO’s aesthetic may be one of dystopian darkness, but there’s a compassionate message behind many of his pieces. Despite the trials we face as “social animals,” our struggles often reveal our humanity. That humanity is always at the center of NemO’s strange, thoughtful, and sometimes silly work.
Do you have a favorite piece by NemO’s? Tell us in the comments!
Outside Folk Gallery
You can explore more folk, street, and outsider art in our personal collection at Outside Folk Art. We’re celebrating these creatives and giving voice to rising black, Native, immigrant, and working mother artisans.
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