Blek Le Rat has been stenciling the Parisian streets since the early 80’s. Gonzo Today honours an artistic pioneer and proud French activist as he celebrates his 30 year anniversaire.
A graduate of the esteemed École des Beaux Arts in Paris, Blek Le Rat’s inspiration for street art came during a trip to NYC in the late 70’s. On his return he brought the bounce and brio of the Big Apple to the arrondissements of the French capital. The Graffiti Poet was born, and Xavier Prou (Blek Le Rat) has shown that pyretic polemical commentary can blossom and burn from humble spray paint and heartfelt poetics.
Saira Viola: As a student of the Beaux Arts in Paris, did you ever envisage that you would become the founding father of guerrilla street art?
Blek Le Rat: No, I did not envisage this idea at that time, although a fortune teller told me when I was 20 years old that I will become famous all over the world as an architect. She said, “I see you working in the city and you have a message to say to the world” … it’s unbelievable but it’s true.
On the other hand, I remember having been really impressed with the graffiti that I saw in NYC during the summer of 1971. It was kept somewhere in my mind for 10 years before I started to make graffiti.
SV: The Dada movement and Surrealists of Paris gave birth to some of the most exciting art of the 20th century during a time of war and political unrest. Can you explain the Manifesto of Stenicilism and who influenced you in its creation?
BlR: I was influenced by the Surrealists, the Situationists, and, of course, like many young people of my generation, by the British and American culture of the 70’s 80’s. I read André Breton’s Manifesto of Surrealism, and I found that the Graffiti art movement would need someone to write a text about the movement. I did it, but I think my text would need to be rewritten now, because I wrote it in 2003/4 and the movement of street art evolved and changed a lot since that time.
SV: We are experiencing a tumultuous period in world history with mass poverty, violent extremism, and unprecedented human suffering on a global scale. Much of your work highlights the plight of those affected by these issues and the growing homeless population. In London, they recently installed steel thorns in subways and bus shelters to stop the homeless from sleeping there; moreover, the growth of centralist city planning has imposed a sterile uniformity on city landscapes. Why do you think it’s important to express these social concerns through agitational art?
BlR: Art is one of multiple medias that makes a statement to the people. Although, in my opinion, political and social statement in art is also something dangerous to explode. Many so-called artists use this way of working only in search of vanity. I am sorry to see artists making and selling on the art market prints or pieces of art just few days after a tragedy like what happened in Paris in November. There is a large audience for this kind of art, but there is something wrong with this behavior.
SV: As the originator of stenciled graffiti, you have been acknowledged by British street artist ‘Banksy’ as a pivotal influence on his works. When you recognise your ‘signature’ in his work do you find it flattering or offensive?
BlR: Banksy is the best illustrator of our time. He uses my style to express his own ideas, and I feel very flattered with it but we don’t play in the same courtyard—or to put it another way, we go to the same restaurant, but we don’t eat from the same menu.
SV: In the cushioned luxury of a high end gallery, do you miss the kinetic energy of spraying the streets with pow wow painted philosophies?
BlR: I love cushioned luxury of galleries. 🙂 And I love the energy coming from the street.
SV: And lastly: If you had to choose three people to have a tête-à-tête with, whom would you choose and why?
BlR: I don’t know, I don’t see many people, perhaps the French writer, Louis Ferdinand Céline, but he died long time ago; Picasso, Praxiteles, but they are all dead people.