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PHOTOS: London Traffic Sign Artbomber Uses Stickmen to Question Government

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Photo credit: Christina Kenny. FULL SLIDESHOW BELOW

"The stop sign is a symbol of government imposing its will on the people. But in a democracy, we must have discussions. This is my way of making people question the government."

The words of internationally-renowned graffiti artist Clet Abraham, who made a distinct impression when he visited London late last year (full slideshow below).

If you've visited the City, Southbank or Southwark in the last couple of months, the odds are you've passed by - or under - Clet's work. The Florence-based French artist has doctored a number of traffic signs in the capital by adding a serious of mischievous figures.

While they might not stand out among the plethora of street art on display in Shoreditch, the amended signs have caused more of a stir in Southwark, where Clet targeted sleepy residential streets during a week-long visit to London in November.

Yet the figures - executed in vinyl stickering - are so simple that many local residents and workers claim not to have seen them, even after two months.

Among those that have noticed the changes, however, the response has been almost universally positive. Among the happy locals I spoke to was Adam Swinden, a software developer who spotted a sign near his office in London Bridge. He said: "The signs put a smile on your face. And they're not unsafe, because you can still clearly see what they're for."

Southwark's arts community is similarly amused. I chatted to Bridget Edwards, the director of the Southwark Arts Forum, who said she thought the signs enriched the life of the community. She said: "They're a great way getting people to stop in their tracks and really think about what they're being told."

Southwark council, however, takes an altogether dimmer view of Clet's efforts. Councillor Barrie Hargrove, cabinet member for transport, environment and recycling, said: "Graffiti is both illegal and unattractive. What may seem like a bit of fun actually comes at a great cost to the council."

But Bridget Edwards said that the council should show leniency. She said: "Southwark council have always demonstrated a strong commitment to the arts, for which they are to be commended. They should have a sense of humour about it."

After a long and happy traffic sign safari, I managed to track Clet Abraham down to Rome - where, presumably, he was making some creative amendments to Italian traffic signs.

Over a crackling phone line, he described how he completed the works at dead of night, cycling from street to street and standing on his bicycle (which doubled as getaway vehicle) to reach the 2m-high signs.

The working holiday was not without drama, as I found out when I asked Clet he'd ever been in trouble with the authorities over his work. He told me that he'd been arrested as he worked on a sign in the city at 4am in early November 2013. But he wasn't in custody for long. He explained: "After I spoke to the police with my fantastic English, and explained to them the meaning of my work, they let me go."

How many times had Clet been arrested? "Oh, not so many. Maybe four, five times. They never want to keep me."

Thank you, Clet Abraham - for making us look up, making us smile, and making us think.

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