Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Eltono (English)
By Javier Abarca
Translated by Marina Molares and Rafael Schacter

Born in 1975, Eltono started producing graffiti in 1989. Using the name Otone – a simplification of the word automne, Autumn- and as part of the prestigious crew GAP, he specialized in bombing the train line that connects Paris with his native suburb, Cergy-Pontoise, executing simple and legible pieces. He studied plastic arts at Saint Denis, Paris, however moved to the Complutense University in Madrid in 1999 as part of a student exchange program of a year, a year which soon turned into a permanent residence.

When arriving at Madrid he turned Otone into Tono (which means tone in Spanish), an inversion of the syllable order which is a common practice amongst French youth. He also attempted to make the name sound more Spanish by adding the article “El” (”the”), inspired by the example of, amongst others, the Barcelonians La Mano and El Vino. After several intense months writing graffiti and given the circumstances of tagging saturation in Madrid, Eltono decided to experiment with the use of an icon as his identity.

These tactics – which the artist had already observed in his partner of studies Olivier Kosta-Théfaine, among others – focuses on taking advantage of an image’s visibility among the uniformity of texts. Eltono thus chose the image of a tuning fork as a graphic translation of his name. His first experiments are samples of iconic graffiti : he replaces the lettering with an image, but he solves it with the formal graffiti materials and solutions: fill-in, outline and a three-dimensional effect, all painted with spraycans.

He soon rejected this solution however and by February 2000 had carried out his first experiments with masking tape and acrylic paint, a technique that he has used since then in almost all his work. The use of such uncommon and stigma-free materials that are generally perceived as benign – along with a respectful attitude and preference for working on dilapilated structures, has allowed him to work freely most of the time.

New materials brought new formal solutions and the tuning fork was abstracted until it became a geometric figure of positive and negative uniform lines that changed shape and color whenever it appeared. Eltono’s art thus works as a campaign of iconic postgraffiti: it repeats a mutable icon, a graphic motive constant enough to be identified immediately but which mutates in order to integrate with the context and to keep both the artist and the public interested. In addition to his work in Madrid, which turned him into an omnipresent element in the old city for most of the decade, the artist soon began to export the campaign to other capitals of the world.

Eltono is known for his constructive criterion and his sensitivity to medium and location. He always improvises his forms and colors in situ to integrate within the existing balance. He also chooses neglected surfaces with the intention of reviving their dignity and to make use of the formal load of the aged textures. Such pieces are seldom very visible, which adds privacy to the fortuitous meeting with the work. By doing this he sacrifices numerous public encounters with his work but increases the capacity of penetration within each one of them.

Together with his main campaign he has sporadically produced small series of posters and stickers. The most outstanding ones are based on two humble forms of commercial communication (a constant interest of the artist), that abound in the scenery of Madrid: the locksmiths’ advertising stickers and the small photocopied bills with which people offer help for domestic jobs. The artist’s stickers and posters imitate them and mimetize to the point of invisibility. Another equally subtle work is Light graffiti, in which using a mirror he parasites the light of a lamppost to project his logo onto the opposite side of the street.

The street work of Eltono and of Nuria Mora – his habitual partner between 2000 and 2007 – attracted attention of the gallery Vacío 9, which has represented the artists since 2002. Eltono´s work soon stood out in the international scene and his prestige has not stopped growing, a fact which undoubtedly has beed helped by the quality of the photographs with which he documents his projects, as well as his early and efficient use of the Internet as support of his personal portfolio. Today he is a first line figure and has shows regulary worldwide. He understands his entry in the art system as an opportunity to connect it to the street and to create a relation that enriches both parts. In his works for galleries he sets as a priority to stretch some type of bridge between interior and exterior.

This bridge sometimes crystallizes in the shape of collectible artworks. An example of this are the pieces the artist calls “inversions“. The production of the inversion begins, as almost always in Eltono’s process, with the examination of the city. He produces his collectible works specifically for each show and with materials found in its context. During his examination of the city he searches for wood and other abandoned remains, that he takes to the studio in order to work on the rich textures which are the natural canvas of his work.

On a collage built with these objects Eltono then paints one of his forms, which is the exact negative shape of a another one produced without permission in a street of the city. The inverted consists of this piece, a photography of the original work and a certificate, which specifies the place and date of execution, and above all, it guarantees the authenticity and uniqueness of the work. The original piece forms a part of the set, as well, albeit in a symbolic way in the same way as with Invader’s “aliases”. These two are among the rare instances of amphibious artworks – pieces that live simultaneously in the street and in the collection – in the street art scene..

Eltono also produces pieces – as the recent Autotono – that depend on the public’s physical intervention to form the image of the artist’s icon. He links this level of intervention from the public with the way in which the pieces he regularly abandons in the street are transformed by many factors totally out of his control. The artist values this sometimes slow vanishing process for its formal values and for the fact that it liberates his work from the sacrality the Western tradition imposes to the work of art.

A recent project by Eltono incorporates one of these external forces as a main part of the work. The work is no longer postgraffiti but a piece of urban interventionism: it leaves out the identity of the artists and focuses on making use of an element of the scenery. Carried out in New York along with North American artist Momo, the project PLAF consisted of the manufacture of a series of kinetic sculptures built from driftwood found in the East River and then installed on the rests of pillars from old piers left on its shores. The sculptures use the river’s flow and tides in a more or less predictable choreography.

(Originally published on November 20th 2008 on

Thanks Lachlan!

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