Poles to keep an eye on passers-by
“To paint life size is to add characters to the street.”
Birth of CyKlops
How did you become an urban artist?
I never stopped drawing. When I was a kid, I did some tinkering in the street, writing, stencils. I also decided to do a job that I loved, partly as a graphic designer, visual artist and painter. In the early 2000s, when Street-Art started to explode, I was working for a news agency and working on the culture pages, working a lot on the street to take pictures like the current bloggers.
I wanted to bring my paw by making myself unique, and by freeing myself from traditional supports such as paper, canvas or the wall. I then (re)appropriated the post. It is a process that I could have undertaken in a chubby way, by simply drawing an eye with a marker, but I have put in place techniques such as the stencil on a round shape, to be able to work quickly without necessarily having the authorization. The transition is thus made smoothly between my job as a graphic designer, who must always defend his work in front of his client, and the artist, who does what he wants and who we come to see for that.
For many urban artists, there is an approach that aims to show his painting to as many people as possible, to be as visible as possible. I wanted to bring fantasy and work in the small streets. Sometimes it gets a chill to work illegally at night, but it’s not my way of life, and I prefer to work more comfortably.
The first thing that marks the use of the post is the direct use of an element of the urban context as a support for creation.
I didn’t do that thinking I was going to do Street-Art first. Street-Art can be legal or illegal, paid or free, indoors or outdoors. The essential element is contextualization. Indeed, we are not working on an insignificant support, nor on a blank sheet of paper, but we are working in a three-dimensional space, which pre-exists, with an already defined meaning, to which we will only add something. We add by diverting or using street material to make sense of the work. Sometimes, the simple fact of putting the work in the street will allow it to acquire a resonance. When Banksy paints a Syrian refugee, in the guise of Steve Jobs, in Calais, or a life-size engraving of Les Misérables in front of the French Embassy in London when there are riots in the country, it makes sense.
What is a cyklop?
In your work, contextualization is done de facto because the creative medium is an urban element. The post is an invisible object that you make visible again.
We wanted to erase these bollards by painting them with this specific brown hue. Life size painting is about adding people to the street, and I often use the example of animals. If you paint a small tiger in the middle of the wall, your stencil may be beautiful, but it won’t be worth it to be here rather than elsewhere. But if you paint this same tiger low to the ground and life-size, the relationship that people will establish between your painting and the street will be much stronger and you actually add a tiger in freedom on the street. There was a guy who had made a pack of greyhounds on the Saint-Martin canal. He had used the fake fur coupon boots which, when assembled together, evoked a pack of dogs. It is also to reach this dimension and give meaning to what I wanted to do in the street that I chose to work on a pre-existing support.
The eye is thus the central element of your work, emphasizing its interactive dimension, which makes children the first to look at it.
At first it’s a little anecdotal. Picasso said that his work with a bicycle seat was the result of chance. You try and eventually find this thing that works. The eye is the first thing we communicate with people, which expresses our feelings. We see everything, but the look is reciprocal; I see you as you see me. It’s anthropomorphism, the pole is humanized by the presence of an eye. That’s all that’s interesting because there’s a material there.
As the post is irremovable, I also try to play as much as possible with the context elements: I had set up an exhibition for which a post torn off the ground was looking from the inside of the gallery towards the street at the post hanging in front. There is a glance between the two that makes you not know which one is really free at the end: the one who is attached outside or the one who is detached inside?
It is true that my work is for children, and I do many workshops with them. These bollards I transform them into toys, based on mythology, the history of Ulysses and the Cyclops: the dripping eye is a tired eye, with my darts game you even throw darts for this purpose. Giving an interactive dimension, trying to create things that can be experienced or used, allows people to reclaim these characters.
It has an educational dimension, especially when you take over the work of Montmartre painters.
In Montmartre I was trying to winks, to play on a semantic contextualization. I wanted to work on the painters of the neighbourhood, and when I did an iconographic research on these artists I realized that they all had the same look. So I chose to represent their portrait in their own way. This is my Sagrada Familia, a project that never stops. I now have an order to build the other half of the street. I work in the summer, when the weather is fine: we are far from the illegal Street-Art, sitting on crates with acrylic paint. I thus completely reclaim the street.
Your creative technique is indeed very far from graffiti….
There is a huge difference between graffiti and Street-Art. These are two periods, two cultures that tend to mix today. In France, it was Zloty who first started working with bombs, tracing his irradiated characters in the early 1960s. The paint bombs that appeared in the 1950s were intended to paint vehicles, and were designed for technological rather than artistic purposes. American graffiti artists used it in an identity claim, which was part of hip-hop culture. In France, at the same time, the stencil was already installed with people like Miss.Tic, Jef Aérosol or Blek le Rat, and an alternative and punk painting appeared with the Ripoulin Brothers, the VLP or the artists of the New Free Figuration. But already the limits of the medium were porous, and Mesnager or the VLPs did not work with bombs, while the stencilers, who used it, came more from a rock culture.
Cyklops in the heart of the city
By turning bollards into characters, you turn the street into a theatre.
The bollards allow a staging, as in Versailles, where the history of France is told in the very streets where it was written, through the figures of Madame de Pompadour, who was going to select the prostitutes for Louis XV, or Louise Michel, who was judged there. They are trying to tell a story for the people who walk around this place. Another example is a painting I had done in the 18th century: Marcel Duchamp had drawn a goatee on a reproduction of the Mona Lisa, just as we were beginning to talk about Leonardo da Vinci’s homosexuality, after Freud had mentioned it in an essay. Duchamp took it upon himself to write that she was “hot on her ass”, which could almost be considered homophobic today. But Duchamp disguised himself as Rose Selavy… For me, painting this painting on rue Piémontési, at the crossroads with rue André-Antoine where the transvestites worked, is also a nod to the neighbourhood.
What continuity is there between the post outside and inside the workshop? How to keep its meaning?
Painting the post in the workshop is a way to appropriate it, to tame a wild element. I thus enter the property system by selling an object. Working in the workshop also makes it possible to paint in a more accomplished way. In the case of the installation in Versailles, it is necessary to imagine that the said bollards were delivered to me, and that they were replanted after I painted them. For the others, they are bollards found in the street, hit by a truck, or fallen: I give them an A.O.C. to indicate the street and the place of the discovery.
What is your view on the ephemeral aspect of your work, while the post object is relatively durable within the urban space?
Of course it is flattering for the ego to find his work long after. But sometimes we are surprised to discover that all that remains is the signature on the ground or when we find a broken post placed 8 or 10 years ago. I remember a pedestrian crossing where the eye paint had lived, worn out by the marks of people who had laid their hands on it. I like to smell painting, but in museums as soon as you get closer to a canvas, the alarm sounds. So seeing one of his used creations because people touched it is great!
A cyklop in contamporan art
In what way has Street-Art changed Contemporary Art?
Street-Art reflects two things that did not exist before and that have exploded the traditional art scene: social networks and working on the street. Before, artists worked in the studio and met their audience on the evening of the opening or at open houses, but most often through a gallery. Today, it is possible to address an audience directly, and not only that, but also without being seraglio – the street-artists’ ¾ have not gone to art school.
Somehow, Street-Art works like a Referendum of Popular Initiative: everyone has the power to express themselves. The cards have been completely reworked if we compare the number of artists who could hope to break through 30 years ago without having done Fine Arts compared to now. Anyone can be an amateur or a watcher. Moreover, the work of analysis and documentation now also resides in the hands of citizens more than in those of journalists, just as the possibility of building a collection no longer belongs to a few.