From writing to fixie, from subways to frames, the illustrated universe of the Italian creative

In 1989, at the age of 14, I got into skateboarding and the board was the main gateway to a series of new musical, aesthetic and stylistic influences. At the time I was flipping through the few specialized magazines that were distributed in Italy, in one of them I found a photo that changed everything: there was a Renault 4 frescoed with the word ‘funky’. I went home, looked for a spray can and went to reproduce the same writing on a cantonment house, arranged along the railway line. I had just discovered graffiti without knowing it. Soon thereafter they would become my main activity.”

Before illustrated frames and bikepacking. Before the solo exhibitions and fixie community. Before the art and cycling phenomenon of Cento Canesio, there is the provincial, yet extremely multifaceted origin of a creative mind bred from urban subcultures: the subcultures of Treviso, a small city in northeastern Italy, which at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s witnessed an unexpected proliferation of rebellious scenes, creative identities and streetwear brands.

I don’t know why, but Treviso has always been a hub for various subcultures. I grew up going to a legendary venue, where a strange mix of scenes would come together. Skin, punk, hardcore, hip-hop… They all coexisted and contaminated each other, it felt like a peaceful version of ‘This is England’. There was a fantastic energy that pervaded even my art school. These vibes branched out into projects like Broke Clothing, one of the first Italian streetwear brands, founded by three friends. Thanks to Stefano, one of the partners and a great friend of mine, I got into graphic design and became what I am now. I was helping out in their warehouses and with pony express savings I bought my first Mac, becoming a self-taught graphic designer. When their graphic designer, a well-known pioneer of Treviso writing, left his position, I seized the opportunity. At the same time I continued to be a writer, traveling the world in search of trains and jams. It gave me unparalleled freedom. Painting the New York subway was my biggest thrill, it was like a cyclist participating in one Giro d’Italia stage…. It was the revenge of the provincial guy. It was an investiture. It was the ‘conquering’ of the Mecca.”

Spadino, Speed, Sale, Lizer, Tiger, Cento and, finally, the magical formula Cento Canesio. Stefano Bressan long ago stopped having a first and last name. The evolution of his tags matches the evolution of his identity, but also with the change in his sporting passions and profession. From skateboarding to bike polo, from fashion to pure art, passing through the swirling trajectories of go-karts and the inexhaustible desire to leave his signature in every metropolis: the parable of this creative is alternative and fascinating, like the track of an alleycat, like the features of his famous illustrated dog.

For a long time I drove go-karts like my father, ending my career with a third place at the European Under-18 Championships. Senna was a myth back home, and my brother is still a professional driver in America. But engines were not my focus, I preferred doing graffiti, and the passion for driving over time waned. I fell in love with bikes recently, in 2007, when there was a fixie boom. So many of my friends who came from the graffiti and skate scenes suddenly started looking and reworking frames-I joined them. In the first ride I lived the same sensations I had felt through skateboarding. The smell, the energy, the chance to be wild and unrestrained in the streets…. The similarities were and continue to be obvious. Shortly thereafter I decided that I would no longer drive a car and would move solely by bicycle. The fixie also introduced me to all other cycling dimensions (gravel, bikepacking, traditional cycling) and to bike polo, a punk sport, practiced by the niche of the niche, self-managed and able to enhance the concept of community. Bike polo is pure passion, like writing, and it allowed me to found the BPC Tigers together with two friends. I have participated in so many tournaments with them, like the 2011 Seattle World Championchips. Our team is one of the longest running in the world and has grown into a community united by a goliardic spirit and a willingness to share the love of all forms of cycling. Capsule collections, events and parties still allow us to hold together and continue to expand our community.”

Art and bikes have as quickly as unconsciously begun to intertwine in Cento Canesio’s life, defining a new working and personal dimension. His famous animal-themed illustrations now fresco bicycle frames and objects, tracing a singular synergy between two wheels and writing, and defining an artistic and human maturity, populated by irony, visual power and, of course, inspired riding.

“In 2016, I decided to quit my job as a graphic designer in order to live with my artworks. My first collaboration with a cycling brand was with Open Cycle. I designed 10 limited edition bikes, and with one of those bikes I then participated in events like the Transcontinental Race, the North Cape 4000, and the Italy Divide. Drawing on bikes allows me to take up and reshape the ideals behind writing: graffiti travels along with trains and subways, and my drawings now travel along with bikes. Outside of work, the bike has become my outlet. Before, it was drawing that played this role, but it stopped doing so when artistic production evolved into my main work. Two wheels have become part of it, but they also represent much, much more in my life. And they will continue to do so.”

Photo Credits: Nadia Moro

Text by Gianmarco Pacione