Rome, July 14 - Running through Wednesday, Rome haute couture week is showcasing New York-based street artist DAIN, for the first time in Italy with a solo exhibit titled Tribute to Rome.
Curated by Valentina Ciarallo, the show is set in the Santo Spirito in Sassia museum complex where Italian couture deacons including Raffaella Curiel are debuting fall 2014 collections alongside up-and-coming designers from the Who Is On Next talent-scouting competition organized by Vogue Italia with Rome's couture show organizers AltaRoma.
One of the most influential artists on the New York street art scene, Brooklyn-based DAIN is known for combining the language of graffiti with collaged portraits of Hollywood icons.
Crossing genres and often crafting pieces between the street and his studio, DAIN - who refuses to reveal his real name and identity - combines wheat-pasting, silk-screening, spray paint, collage and acrylic to merge the rebellious gestures of graffiti with the femininity of his Hollywood subjects.
The special project which has now led him to the Italian capital saw him craft ten new works representing film muses including Sophia Loren and Liz Taylor alongside fashion stars like Twiggy within the museum complex, which was built in 727 AD as a refuge for pilgrims and was turned into a hospital in the 12th century.
Ancient masterworks at the Santo Spirito in Sassia complex, which still houses one of Rome's main hospitals, include the Portale del Paradiso (Heaven's Door) attributed to Andrea Bregno (1416-1501).
"I already tagged a few streets in Rome," DAIN said on the sidelines of the show, referring to a graffiti artist's signature. "I like antiquities and would love to do something on an old Roman door".
The artist, who said his grandparents migrated to the US from Calabria, starts his creative process with black-and-white photos, which he layers with old advertisements, printed fragments, logos from old magazines and smaller images to create powerful urban portraits.
His trademark signature is a "circle and drip" around the eye of the women he portrays, ranging from Hollywood icons like Audrey Hepburn and Lauren Bacall to contemporary A-listers Angelina Jolie and Kate Moss.
His work captures the nostalgia for a timeless past through images that draw life and pizzazz from layers of fluorescent colour, with the unmistakable circle around the eye as his tag.
His portraits decorate doors, walls and signs across New York as well as in cities ranging from Chicago, Miami, Portland and Montreal to Paris and London.
Recent solo exhibits include Folioleaf, this year in New York, and Transformation at Miami's Avant Gallery last year.
DAIN described his Roman debut as a "mixture of images" combining the features of American actresses with "Italian eyes".
The women portrayed are "new iconographies to be discovered," he explained.
The street artist started doing graffiti at the tender age of seven.
"As an adolescent, I loved black-and-white movies," he noted.
DAIN said his interest for "old movies from the 1940s and 1950s, actresses from that era, like Bette Davis, their faces, old photos in black and white" stems from a passion for "simple beauty" where everything is left to the imagination.