“It was something we came up with in high school after an accident we had that involved a pigeon, a piece of hashish and an emergency room,” says Unga of how his group, Broken Fingaz, got its name. Established in 2001 in Haifa, Israel, the art collective is comprised of members Unga, Tant and Deso. Working across a multitude of mediums including animation, installation, painting and graffiti – the latter being the first discipline they ventured into as teenagers – Broken Fingaz have become a world-renowned phenomenon. Collaborating on projects with high-profile artists such as U2 (for which they recently directed a music video), Pearl Jam, Primus, Blink 182 and Gaslamp Killer, the trio are certainly a sought after presence.
They’ve come a long way from their days of designing posters for local music venues in Haifa. Though their roots are in graffiti, they’ve taken their practice from the walls of their hometown to the walls of galleries around the world, all whilst staying true to their DIY approach. “We believe you have to have a strong foundation, and in a way, that comes before style. The composition has to be stable. We think a lot about colours and usually we want it to be fun,” says Unga, describing their methodology. “Much of the time, there is a sense of nostalgia because of the kind of imagery that inspires us, but we also try to make it relate to what’s going on now.”
With this in mind, the group’s latest show, Safe Troubles, is a culmination of three years of experimentation in oil painting, taking the western tradition as inspiration and giving it a modern relevance. Currently on display at Varsi Gallery in Rome, this new body of work is a result of the collective’s first-time foray into observational painting. Using Athens as their base for a few months, the Broken Fingaz team alternated between the studio and the local town as the contexts for their work.
Similarly to how they’ve taken their work from the streets to the galleries in a very Basquiat-fashion, Unga also likens the location of this recent project to the hometown of the iconic American artist. “The area around the studio is pretty hardcore – there’s a lot of poverty, prostitution and drug addiction. It’s depressing, but it also feels very alive there, like New York in the ’70s or something,” he explains. “Some days we took our canvases outside and painted what we saw, and other days we invited some of the people we met on the streets to sit and pose for us in the studio.”
A mix of portraiture and collaged still life pieces, the paintings depict both the faces of locals, and the personal possessions of the artists themselves. Baseball caps, glasses, mobile phones and art utensils accompany each other on the canvas, providing a meta perspective of the creative process through the painting of contextual items. Loose brushwork and a diverse colour palette make for an engaging series that beautifully showcases the trio’s freedom in terms of style and subject matter. Unga says this type of experimentation is “not always easy, especially when there are expectations”, but insists “if we wanted to keep it 100 with ourselves, we had to go with our instincts and get out of our comfort zone.”
In addition to the Safe Troubles exhibition, which is open at Varsi Gallery from 13 April – 18 May, Broken Fingaz will also be taking part in a show at London’s Saatchi Gallery in July.
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