“Writing on walls is an act of protest: even if it’s aesthetic, it’s necessarily political because it’s visible to everyone and imposed on everyone regardless of their taste.” Ever since he began painting on the city walls in 1979, Epsylon Point has never ceased to try to provoke a reaction from the viewer. His works, which contrast a colourful abstract background with a raw and often black stencil, often deal with two major themes that haunt contemporary society: social inequality and gender. In a frontal way, Epsylon questions our relationship to modesty, to what we accept to see or not to see and why. As he himself says: “No one protests against the great murals of today because they are often beautiful frescoes of animals. Everybody accepts them, except maybe when it’s ROA’s giant rats: but as I tell my friends, I don’t draw cats!”
DU GRAFFITI AU POCHOIR
How did you become an artist?
I went to the Beaux-Arts in Dijon on the advice of a friend of my mother’s, who was himself an inspector of Fine Arts. I had just spent five years in the army, where I was a very bad element: I had to do a year and a half in jail, so we left angry! It was a very good educational experience, I was doing audiovisual work there with a small computer that was used for encoding. One day, after graduation, for the purposes of a performance, I wanted to cover in black a canvas on which I was projecting a film. So I bought a spray-paint can. It was the first time I had used one, I had never tried it before. It was like in the comic books, the lamp that lights up, the flash!
What was special about the spray paint can for you? For Gérard Zlotykamien, for example, it allows you to permanently mark the wall in one stroke.
What I think is great about the spray can is that you don’t have to touch the surface. It’s like a dance: you can draw a long line and continue on the floor, it’s fabulous! In the old days, when you used to take a brush to write on a rotten wall, half of it would stick to it. But with a bomb you can still write and leave a mark. My first one I slammed it directly into the street writing crap: if you start one you only stop when it’s empty, for every tagger it’s the same! I started by drawing letters, like the E. which became my sign.
Why did you gradually slip from graffiti to stencil?
I needed to represent characters, but I didn’t draw very well myself. On the other hand, having done black & white photography, I knew how to decipher an image. Cutting out the blacks worked well so I started like that, while still painting a sprayed background underneath. I made some multilayers, especially for butt pictures, so that the definition was really correct. But as a general rule, a stencil for me is a monolayer: if you can’t make a picture with a mono-stencil, you don’t know how to make a stencil! When I was a beginner, we used the stencil in a hurry, without having time to superimpose several stencils. When artists like Mosko came a bit later, they took more time. Of course, there was also Jef Aerosol, Blek, Miss.Tic or Marie Rouffet, who had already been doing stencils for several years and who was very good. My first stencil was Conan the Barbarian, while I was still doing freehand graffiti. I was inspired by what I saw in newspapers and books, but also by fantastic universes like Dungeons & Dragons.
You attach great importance to the abstract and colourful background of your paintings, which is different from the stencil itself.
I like colour. That’s why from now on I only do abstraction, strokes, spots, a little bit of red, a dash of green or blue. The stencil is just a posed image, and it is the background that allows the whole thing to become a real painting. It also saves space on the wall. Indeed, a small stencil is almost invisible whereas with the background you gain three meters and the painting lives more easily.
This taste for abstraction comes from Malevitch and Kandinsky who are for me the two pioneers of the 20’s, before Pollock, the dripping, and the others… By dint of doing abstract painting, I have more or less understood how to calculate the shapes and position them. Once this is acquired you can paint spots, because abstraction is first in the head.
la rue, une occasion de travailler en groupe
What role has the street played in your work?
I’ve always been on the street, whether it’s skateboarding, as a member of a marching band, or at the Beaux-Arts. All of this has come together and the street has become a workshop. In addition, when I started in 1979 there were plenty of walls available, as there were only about ten graffiti artists to paint, with Bando, Mode2…. Young people don’t know me as a graffiti artist when they know me!
Could you go back to your installation in Italy in the 90s and how you trained stencil artists there?
I had a buddy who was a professor at an international design school. I would teach him how to do stencils and backgrounds, and then he would teach his students. Over the course of the year they all met in my studio. I explained to them how to read a picture, how to cut simply, even in multi-stencils. As a result, without it being a stencil school, all the people who started stenciling in Turin had been my pupils or pupils of my pupils.
What about the La Meute movement in which you took part once you returned to France?
It’s rare to have a gang of stencil artists, unlike graffiti artists. Stencilling is an individual job, you’re usually at home making cuts. La Meute had a bit the same objective as the Italian group through the sharing of knowledge and group work. I learned from a lot of people, like Spliff Trigger Spliff or Little Madman. We don’t have to hide the manufacturing secrets, it pisses me off! The more people who make paint, the better we’ll do.
Gâchette and I have done a lot of work together. I did the pictures and he did the text. We were on the same track and it worked very well. We worked together in the studio, putting up each image and text according to our desires.
provoquer la réaction
You are one of the only ones to have discussed erotic subjects in France with Miss.Tic.
And my drawings are even hotter than hers! We often find paintings of chicks with big tits, with guns, but nobody paints people fucking. There are maybe only about ten artists in the world who deal with these themes, mainly because it’s expensive if you get caught doing that kind of thing. In a graffiti competition, if you represent a guy getting a blowjob from another guy, you can rest easy, everyone will fall on your back!
It looks like it’s inspired by Asian drawings.
It’s funny because it’s not their main production. We know it because it’s been in fashion, but the drawings are very different between China and Japan for example: while the Japanese often represent big cocks full of veins, with very sophisticated movements, the Chinese works are much softer, a kind of kama-sutra without exaggeration.
These erotic paintings inevitably provoke a strong reaction from the public and force them to position themselves frontally.
It’s true that there are moments when it gets stuck. I like the butt and no one represented it, if it had been the case I wouldn’t have done that. But if we exist, it’s good that our parents have at least once been there, isn’t it? Our hero is Thanatos: there are lots of skulls on the walls, but no ass. Sex is the last one forbidden. In the texts you can say whatever you want, at the microphone too. In the drawings, on the other hand, you can’t do that at all. This need to provoke a reaction is a personal obligation, my doctrine is “Fuck them all!”
Your work also includes real social demands through the series La connerie humaine: la figure de l’ouvrier (Human Bullshit: The Worker’s Face).
I was born in 1950, so I was a student in 1968. Back then we were much more politicized than we are today: nowadays young people, even if they’re interested and knowledgeable about it, don’t give a damn. Writing on walls is an act of protest: even if it’s aesthetic, it’s necessarily political because it’s visible to everyone and imposed on everyone, whatever their taste. The message is therefore political in the primary sense of the term polis, the city. By this gesture one gets closer to Soviet art and revolutionaries; during the Irish war the walls were painted for example. In front of today’s large murals nobody protests because they are often beautiful animal frescos. Everybody accepts them, except maybe when they are the giant rats of ROA: but as I tell my friends, I don’t draw cats!
la recherche de l'abstraction
Why did you switch from stencil to abstract painting?
I was tired of cutting stencils after forty years of work. If I was good enough today I would draw on the computer and get the laser cut. I think it’s very good even if the rendering, whether too precise or not enough, is not the same as the one obtained by hand. With abstraction I don’t need to do that anymore, I have fun doing colours. I have always done abstract paintings, but for a long time I left them aside. Now the more colours I have, the more fun I have. I don’t mind adding a stencil, as long as I don’t have to cut it out. It’s a part of the work I’m not interested in. Besides, as I get older my eyesight is getting worse and I don’t go out in the street as much. When I was thirty years old I was always outside, but at sixty-seven I go out when I’m invited, all the more so as spray-paint cans end up being expensive.
You wanted to fight against the overabundance of images on the street. But today, there is also an overabundance of street art!
We’re saturated with images, especially with advertising. They put half-naked women on the street to sell toothbrushes. My work was just street art, which is quickly forgotten, the time it takes city officials to come in and paint. Except for the people who took pictures and took them out, the rest disappears and it’s all part of the game. One winter when I had damaged my hand and couldn’t cut anymore, I had made several collages, but they didn’t last long! When I was at Balard, an old man who passed by saw me painting on the wall every time – a wall that no longer exists – and gave me ten balls so that I could go and have a coffee. At the time there weren’t too many people, whereas nowadays you have to go to the country!
Why do we want to change our name from Epsylon Point to Eureu?
If I sign Epsylon everyone’s gonna be waiting for stencils. As a Eureu nobody knows me so I can do abstraction freely. But during my career I’ve had at least five or six different tag names. For the time being, Eureu has replaced Epsylon. I’ve kept the E that’s always been my sign. Eureu might actually sue Epsylon.