25 Magazine interviews Paris street art pioneer, Blek Le Rat.
WORDS BY AMANDA KOGER
Blek Le Rek is one of the most unrecognized names to anyone outside of the art world. This 20th century visionary who got his desire from studying New York City graffiti artists has now transformed the simple love of tagging Paris streets into a full-blown movement. Prophesied as the “godfather of stencil art,” Le Rat has altered the image of graffiti in Europe into an art form. Studying painting and architecture in Paris during the 1980s Le Rat soon realized that he wanted to bring a bigger message of social and political issues to his audience, which makes this Frenchman in a league of his own. With over two decades of putting in work with his stencil in hand, the man behind a movement still has no intentions of slowing down.
Le Rek isn’t just some fly by night graffiti artist; one who comes then disappears before the paint dries. No, Blek has been drawing for years. Some could say for the love of the art but if they ask the artist he would simply say because of the freedom. Blek has given inspiration to many from Shepard Fairley to Oseas Duarte and Bansky. So with no ending insight Le Rek will continue to put the pencil to the wall.
Blek Le Rat: It comes from a comic book for kids named “Blek Le Roc” that we used to swap with other kids in the 60′s. I changed “Le roc” with “Le rat” because I used to love to paint rats when I started to make graffiti art in 1981. There is also in the word ” rat” its anagram “art”; I loved the coincidence between the two words.
BLR: The process depends the image that I make. Sometimes it takes a long time when I am researching through all my documentations and books; sometimes it takes only few minutes. I can also imagine in my mind a new image for any reasons and I sketch the image with a pencil on a paper. I can also work with a photo that I have taken with a camera or found on the Internet. I usually rework the image with my computer and then I draw it on a large piece of paper or cardboard and then I cut it to make the stencil.
BLR: The British artist, Pure Evil called me first few years ago the “godfather of stencil art.” I did not take this title by my own [sic] and I can say that I draw what I feel.
BLR: I love the states since my youth (my first trip to NYC was in 1971) and since I have worked in the states as NYC, Miami, San Francisco, LA, I have also done some works in the desert of Arizona and New Mexico [sic]. It is one of my dreams to live in the States but unfortunately I am too old now to move over there.
BLR: I have chosen stencil because I did not want to copy the American artists who were making beautiful pieces. I thought that the architecture and the environment in my city in Paris was totally different than in NYC. I thought that an image done with stencil would have been better integrated in French architecture and space than an American piece but it is only my humble opinion and I think that some American pieces done in Paris are really great and beautiful. But it is not my cup of tea considering my own work.
BLR: Yes I do, it is more respected now by the new generation of people who grew up with street art as an expression of art. Although, I would say not enough well respected to become a legal art. It is still everywhere in the world an illegal act and I can have a lot of troubles if I am caught in making my art. There is still a huge contradiction between a certain respect coming from the art market and the fact that this art is completely illegal in the eyes of the people in power in every country in the world.
BLR: “Street art is a beautiful art.”
BLR: It depends on the piece. Sometimes it is a political or a social message, sometimes it is a tribute to someone or another time it is just a joke.
BLR: Absolutely, YES I feel free to work, as I want. This is the great strength of graffiti art and may be that’s one of the reasons this expression is still illegal because it is not controlled and it is impossible to control the message of people working as a street artist. We can do what we want in the streets the best and the worst can be said in the streets. This may be why so many people are scared of graffiti art. They do not admit that someone else can be free to say to the others things that they do not want to hear…
BLR: I think it was important because street art should also be a vector of communication between an important event in the life of a country or a society and the people. Florence Aubenas was a French journalist kidnapped in Iraq. She was working for an important newspaper in France and expected her own newspaper nobody cared of her at the beginning of her kidnapping [sic]. When I decided to do something to inform the people I started to paste many posters around the important French media area. Thinking that the other journalists would write something about her kidnapping and that was exactly what happened. Few weeks after my first post, all the magazines newspaper, radios and television took the relay. This experience taught me that street art could be a very important relay to inform people of a message [sic].
BLR: Graffiti art started in 1969 in Philadelphia and 40 years later this art is still in its full development.