The butterfly that wouldn't leave the walls
“Creating emotion is the goal of all of our work, even if it is not the one we had planned.”
the stencil and the street
How did you start working on the street?
I always looked at what was happening on the walls, without thinking that I would ever be part of it. The birth of my nieces made me fall over, and one day I decided to start putting little ants in front of their school. I didn’t know then the story of Nemo, who drew at night the sequel to the stories he told his son at night to put him to sleep. His son discovered them in the morning when he went to school, just like me who took the same paths. Similarly, my nieces did not know who was behind these ants but came to me to show me the latest ones.
Why did you choose to work on the stencil?
I liked the black and white aspect of a simple stencil, which quickly makes it timeless. We will then be more interested in the content than in the form, whereas if there is colour we will be influenced by its presence. Black is white also makes it possible to get to the essential right away, by carrying a different imaginary than graffiti. With the stencil I immediately bring an image that allows to mix modern and ancient times to form a clean image.
Why did you choose to practice stencil on paper, when collage is not such a durable technique?
The first reason is technical: my stencils have 5 layers (4 grey and 1 black), and to make them directly on the wall I would have to be able to dry the layers one after the other, which would require a lot of space and time. Working on very thin paper, which fits into the wall, adapting to all infructuosities, makes my work almost as durable, and some pieces have not moved for 5 or 6 years. I use paper tablecloths for this purpose, following a advice given to me by Jef Aerosol. Over time, the paper will take on a texture that I like, tearing itself off in small pieces, before disappearing with panache, gradually transforming the work.
More practically, it gives me the possibility to come in a backpack without carrying all my equipment, which would be too complicated. In some areas I couldn’t work because it would take me an hour to superimpose the different layers, not to mention the wind that could make the stencils fly away, and the lack of space to dry the matrices.
How does your acting work nourish the importance of the body in your creations? Are these self-portraits?
They are not self-portraits, and the male angel is only a model for me. It’s the same as for an actor: I use models, I lend my body for them. It’s sometimes a little difficult to make people understand in the world of painting, and people tend to want to find me behind the character. But it’s not me: like Philippe Hérard or Levalet, it’s especially easier to express what you have in mind by taking yourself as a model because you know directly what you’re looking for. The body is a central element in transmitting an emotion, and it is often easier to express it with your own body than with someone else’s.
Your work is revealed through small pieces. In what way is the format an integral part of the story being told?
I agree with Codex Urbanus when he says that it is no longer street art to touch muralism. If it’s too big it says something else, but street art must remain on a human scale. However, I do not agree with him on the mandatory illegality. I never ask myself that question, does the outer walls of our cities belong to the one who owns the house, or to those who pass in front of it every day? The reclaiming of space is not necessarily illegal, but the affirmation of a place to live. The encounter between a wall, my stencil, and what I tell through it.
the relativity of time
What is the place of time in your work?
Reflecting on my work – especially through discussion with others – I realized that most of my works were rooted in time, combining both an ephemeral aspect with timeless figures such as the Angel. I also play on the opposition between the past and modernity: when I was in Florence at the foot of the Duomo, I listened to Mozart’s requiem in the rain, my hood on my head. I then had the idea of painting my angels with hoodies, because we no longer have any reason to represent them in a toga today. They’d be dressed like us. At the moment, I often represent them with butterflies, which by their fragility allow me to play on this duality, ephemeral wings against eternal wings.
This reflection, while reinforced by the ephemeral nature of the street, is not necessarily present in the work of all urban artists.
I have noticed this over time. It is true that there is a link between the gargoyles, the angels, and my covers of David and mythological characters. We create without always having a global reflection, but if we dig deeper we realize that everything always revolves around a few themes. The Fragile are not that far from the rest. What is actually missing in Urban Art is a real reflection on the meaning of what we do.
In the workshop you use oxidation to show this passage of time.
By working on a steel butterfly, by oxidizing it, I manipulate the symbolic ephemeral aspect to wear it out and distort it. People do not necessarily guess that through these butterflies I realize vanities, because our time no longer has the codes to understand the objects we used before, and to question ourselves on the background. I am much more interested in the content than the form: I work more and more with paper, as with the Fragiles series, to play on the superposition of layers.
I wanted these truncated portraits to be as unidentified as possible, so that people would think it was about us. Whether they represent a man or a woman is of little importance, as long as they connect to the dilapidated appearance of the wall. Character, paper and wall are thus intertwined.
transmit emotions and live with people
Your Marioles have fun and stick out their tongues, creating a game with the viewer. What emotions are you trying to arouse through these mocking figures?
Creating emotion is the goal of all of our work, even if it is not the one we had planned. I don’t consider that what I meant is more important than what the person feels in front of one of my characters. This vision comes from my childhood in the Belleville neighbourhood, from what was happening on these streets, from the creations of Nemo and the other pioneers who worked here. Their images were integrated into the walls, they talked to us, we saw them regularly. The houses were then beginning to be demolished, with a new time replacing the old one. When I started, I wanted to do what they did. Include my characters in the urban fabric. I’m not interested in people finding it “beautiful”, I prefer that they tell me that it appealed to them or moved them.
Your work is very much related to the Belleville area.
I grew up here until I was 28, this is my village. I often make my first stencils here, and as soon as they find their wall I don’t do them again. I like the idea of them talking to people. With the Internet, we talk to an audience from all over the world, but many have never seen our work in person. As soon as the curious discover you more on Instagram, or yesterday on Flickr, than in the street, you are almost in a Net Art process: each new medium that allows you to discover a work generates its share of people who no longer take to the street to see it. The difference with the people in the neighbourhood is precisely here: there are some who don’t know my face even though they’ve been living with my characters for years. And this requires the reuse of the same walls, often with the same figures.
Street-Art generates a rush of artists in certain high-traffic areas, such as Shoreditch in London. We have the impression that then it is a visibility that is above all sought after, much more than a presence.
We quickly see those who settle down only to obtain visibility: often their work does not stay long, and will be ripped off, or tagged. People have an eye, and they know when you come here to be part of the urban art history of the neighbourhood.
On the other hand, there is a whole category of “easy” works, composed of small hearts or kittens. Is Love the most interesting thing that happens in Art, or is it not better for Romeo and Juliet? What does the artist tell us with a little cat? What interests me is to know that the artist has things to tell us, that he has cracks. That’s why we get along so well with Philippe Hérard: although our universes are different, we tell quite similar things, and we want there to be some background, not just decoration.
How do you choose the place where you place your works in the street?
I know all the walls of the neighborhood, and I knew where to put my last stencils. One on a wall where my previous room had been ripped off and the wall repainted, the other on a wall that I hoped was available. Indeed, I like to come back to the same walls, it’s a way of continuing the story. I have a lot of stencils on rue des Cascades, some of which are still there after 8 years, with ivy growing on top. It is not so much a desire to occupy a territory as it is to work with and for local people. People who come to take the picture because the street name is on the Internet will not follow the same path as me. We must respect the people who live in this place and telling a story on the same wall is one of them. They have no reason to take my work in pictures, they pass by every day.