The anartist with free birds
“This line is a rhythm that I have in my hand, combined with the feeling provided by the chalk passing over the roughness of each surface that will potentially change its path. It is sometimes compared to calligraphy.”
The first thing you said to me was that you’re not an artist. What do you think the difference is between an artist and someone who isn’t?
I think it’s a bit like poetry, from the moment you say you’re doing it you’re not a poet. As soon as you say you “make art” I think you are not an artist. Maybe the only way to be an artist is for someone else to call you one, but you have to accept it. I prefer an anartist, the play on words pleases me, even if I find it ridiculous to stick these labels, knowing that it’s a process that serves above all to do good to oneself. I try to be me, to simply draw birds with chalk. CAB has been my blaze since I was a kid, but I never went to art school, never learned how to draw. I don’t know the history of Art and I don’t pretend to have the absolute truth. The vision I have of it is through the transmission of an idea, its sharing, not a deal, which for the moment is more prosaic than poetic. Many artists are commercial from my point of view. Answering the call for tenders, putting up advertising, making contacts at the opening to entice the buyer… it’s commercial in the field… In the end, you come back to the troubadours who court the lords for the price of a meal, a night… you don’t earn anything by selling your work. I’m not here to serve a lord, and I don’t manage to feed myself otherwise.
Sometimes I’m offered to exhibit in galleries. To this day I think that to take the step or not is a question of ego. Anyone can exhibit. Look what you find there… Or you can make your own exhibition. Do I need art to make me feel better? You certainly do. Do I need a gallery? Certainly not. To do what? Enrich it? To draw is to enrich yourself in the noble sense of the word. To cultivate one’s garden. Isn’t it easier to walk around with your hands in your pockets and occasionally take them out to touch the walls and free a bird?
Drawing is a necessity for you.
It’s a physiological and mental necessity. Expressing yourself fully is a vital need that is not easy to satisfy. Drawing birds is for me a way of being. It’s what we could perhaps call Art Therapy. Art makes it possible to live better, in the true sense of the word. To express oneself by freeing oneself from the codes of good thinking.
Why did you choose the bird?
When I couldn’t draw, one of my daughters asked me to draw a bird in an egg while she was playing with chalk on the floor. A line appeared, spontaneously, before I realized later that it came from far away. Then I set it in motion: from the egg, the bird began to fly, before taking on different shapes. Beyond the demand of my daughters, birds are present everywhere (even if many species are endangered). In the sky, on balconies, on squares, with what they represent of freedom, lightness and flight. The bird has a view from above. It overlooks our world. What does it do? What does it think? How does it live? A bird always calls out to me. When I became a little more interested, I learned about their different species, their particularities, and then I heard about the language of birds, a kind of secret language. A way of saying the ineffable, the unspeakable. These puns, the meaning of the letters, the way in which they can be diverted from their initial meaning: I discovered all these things that I wasn’t aware of. As soon as you realize it you can start playing with them, talking, writing or drawing birds. When I draw one I fly away a little, I gain height, I free myself.
Can this freedom only come through the vandal?
Is following the rule, complying with the law, free? I find it hard to understand how you can talk about street art when you talk about an authorized wall. I confess that I find it hard to define this label and I feel more and more distant from the image it conveys. I only consider vandal action, my anarchist side perhaps. An authorized wall is an advertisement, a decoration. Nothing else. If I am asked for a particular drawing I often refuse, because I am not an illustrator. I draw what I have to say. It happened to me with fashion brands who wanted a performance to liven up a party. It’s really dumb. Live painting… All I need now is a cage and peanuts to feel good… These are neither my values nor my practices.
In the Codex Urbanus essay Why is Art in the Street? this freedom even becomes a necessity.
Codex’s essay is interesting, he is right to say that one draws on the walls to get out of one’s confinement. His text gives keys to help understand. People will think that the wild advertising seen in the street is street art because it is graphic… A tag, a graffiti, a chalk trace, a collage or a thirty meter high wall are not comparable things. In this sense we agree.
But freedom is a value that is somewhat scorned… Just like equality and brotherhood… A museum, a bar, a beer: everything is stamped Street art, and everything is commercial. Is commerce freedom? Freedom is a concept that varies depending on the person. Do we all have the same definition? For a long time I chained myself to it. I say chained because most of our fellow humans will sacrifice their freedom to gain it… To gain time, to gain money. To earn according to the rules that our societies have set themselves. You subscribe to that, do you?
We witnessed just before we sat down a strange scene… A wall with a beautiful piece of vandal painting covered by a wild advertisement using the codes of Street art… When I witness this kind of moments I intervene, no matter how good the drawing is. Advertising glueers feel legitimate because it allows them to gain a few euros of freedom… I don’t know who is right, I act as I feel.
If the wall is a space of freedom for all, should the quality of the works matter?
Judging the quality of a drawing is by definition subjective. It is difficult to agree. If there is drawing, there is life. Beautiful or not, it’s up to you. On the banks of the Seine there are big black chalk walls for children big and small. I think that in every district and every town there should be walls like these, with the only rule that everything should be erased on a daily basis. These walls of expression would probably not cost much, but would bring a great deal of well-being to citizens and would benefit the municipalities. Finally, rules are made to be questioned.
Do you keep repeating the same pattern over and over again, or do you never do the same thing?
If I trace fifteen flamingos, none of them will be the same. Sometimes, I sometimes hold back an assemblage of two or three birds and give them a specific name. Do I recite an alphabet every day? No, I control some of what comes out of my hand, but not all of it. I’m not the first violin in a big orchestra. Today I must have about seventy birds in my vocabulary, which I combine in different ways. Whether I draw one or more of them, my drawing will have a different meaning. These “hieroglyphs” have a specific meaning for me, regardless of what people may see in them.
A CHALK TRACE MOVEMENT
Movement plays a decisive role in your drawing.
It is the movement that is interesting above all. I never raise my hand (except for the eye), my lines are composed of a single stroke. From then on, I can draw a multitude of birds, but all of them will be different, especially by their structure, whether it is in 4, L, F or S. It is also enough for the surface to be uneven for everything to change. This line is a rhythm that I have in my hand, combined with the feeling provided by the chalk passing over the roughness of each surface that will potentially change its path. This line is sometimes compared to calligraphy. I have never studied calligraphy, but here we find a certain search for the absolute gesture, knowing that we will never be able to reach it. When I draw a line, it gives me a feeling of well-being in the moment, but in less than five percent of the cases I consider it successful.
The spontaneity offered by chalk is a corollary to this idea.
Chalk is a simple tool, easily transportable and space-saving. It can be used anywhere and in any weather. It allows you to quickly study a multitude of lines and is ready for spontaneity.
The first pleasure is the line, the way it comes and the feeling created at the fingertips when the chalk bites the wall. It leaves a pretty trace of one centimetre wide depending on the way it is crushed, depending also on the material. Sometimes I have drawn for several hours, but I always feel like it when I get home. And even when it’s cold in winter, it’s still a pleasure to walk around to free birds.
Chalk was therefore an obvious medium because of the feeling it gives.
It’s the tool that my kids gave me, and it’s ultimately the simplest and most direct. I could use a bomb or a brush, but I wouldn’t have the same feeling. With a spray can, you don’t touch the surface, and that’s exactly what’s interesting, because it allows you to iron anything while keeping a sharp rendering (with practice). On the other hand, you have to learn with chalk to look at the walls, to put your fingertips through it to know if it can take or not. For me, this also means walking. It’s good for the legs and the head. It’s one of the few things that are free, and should be compulsory as it allows us to see differently what surrounds us, to explore our environment both outside and inside. It is perhaps a metaphor for life: we know that one day it will stop, but in the meantime let’s take a walk. Let’s be ourselves.
Is the ephemeral dimension a driving force in your approach?
My approach is just to be myself. To live. There’s no calculation. Life is ephemeral, you are ephemeral, I am ephemeral, we all are. I don’t use chalk because it’s ephemeral, an aerosol can is ephemeral. I’ve seen sprayed walls last less time than others where there was a line of chalk. With this material the marks will sometimes fade, depending on the wind, the rain, the exposure. Some of them will remain clear, on others there will be finger marks. Life…a continuous line and dots.
How can your work / your birds be considered abstract?
I don’t like the word work, nor the word work. It’s probably more about research. My friend Michel often tells me that I’m looking for the optimal line, the one that would allow, by being very simple, to show hidden things, both the empty and the full. There is a quasi-scientific conception of drawing that is anything but abstract. But I have the impression that the lines I draw are not realistic: they are not silhouettes of ostriches, roosters, hummingbirds or owls, yet people will see them, or discover something else.
THE STREET AS A FLIGHT SPACE
Why is the street important in your work?
The feeling when creating in the street is very different, whatever the medium. In the beginning I had a balcony with pieces of wood on which I drew with chalk. And I started in the street on a concrete sidewalk. The feeling has nothing to do with creating on paper. What interests me is that moment, when you draw your line, when the chalk is going to touch the surface. It is not possible to reproduce this movement with a felt pen or a marker. Chalk gives a feeling that is incomparable. Give it a try!
Do you expect an interaction between your drawing and the passer-by?
I draw for me, for my well-being, not to amuse the gallery. Every day I draw about 50 birds. They are sometimes mischievous, hidden in a cupboard, an airport, in plain sight on an advertisement or posed only because I liked the surface. This is my language, which from time to time opens up a link with others. There are drawings that seem obvious to me but in which people see something else. I myself was surprised that it could please, and that some people could cross Paris to get a bulky piece on which I had drawn a bird. Often, when they see me doing it, people stop to discuss, to give their opinion. What they sent back to me made me aware of certain things. For example, when they compared my drawings to poetry, I didn’t agree with them, so I became interested in the subject, wondering why it was important. What is Art? What is an artist? All these questions that I didn’t ask myself appeared through the chalk. But the important thing is not to be an artist or a poet, any more than it is to be a president or CEO. We always tend to make a gilded cage to imprison us. A family, a car, a house: anything can become a prison. The model of society we give our children is not always the right one. We learn to fit in, but not to rise, to be ourselves. We learn to copy, but not to create. And I think that poetry should be light, above all.
I’m always surprised to hear people tell me that my birds have done them good. I sow these drawings wherever I go, and my goal has never been to tell myself that one day someone would come face to face with one of them that would bring them well-being. If that’s the case, so much the better.
It’s a sharing.
There are days when I’m in my bubble, not knowing what’s going on behind me when I draw, and days when I share those moments with people. Chalk has allowed me to create certain bonds that have changed my life. To meet other flying beings. Sharing is important to me and fundamental in my vision of society. When I meet someone on the street who comments on my lines, I usually offer him a piece of chalk, but also a bird, a gesture. That person can then give it to whomever he or she wants, as many times as he or she wishes. It is a horn of plenty, and this bird will be able to live forever. I also encourage him to find his own motives, to invent his own lines. I discovered a short film based on a children’s book by Serge Bloch, La grande histoire d’un petit trait. A story of transmission. I encourage you to read it.
What’s your relationship to photography?
I take at best one percent of my drawings in photographs. Most of the time I move quickly to another wall. I see my line being made and I leave. If I’m walking around with some vandal friends I’ll settle down, see what they’re doing, take a step back. But more often than not I draw my line and I run away, without wondering if the positioning will enhance it, if a photograph would be successful. Of course, if I want to have an image to share I will try to take it as well as possible, but the drawing will not be motivated by that. The goal of the game is not to get a picture that generates like or followers. Just a preview of my tracks that I will archive on an Instagram account.
If you don’t take photographs, is it because the moment is more important to you?
Clearly, the moment, the movement, the feeling is more important than the photograph. It’s a physiological need: I’ve set up a four-metre painting in my nest, on the white side I work on it, on the black side I draw on it. One day, I found a bird in my house, strangely traced. It was one of my daughters who had picked up a piece of chalk to draw hers. This transmission is much more important than an image. Photography is in my opinion a major art form compared to “Street art”. It’s another game, another world, other sensations.
Why did you organize the Vernipassage rally?
Laziness. I’d done it once before with two loved ones, Loiseaulire and Soyons Fous. When I saw that the drawings were fading, I thought I should do it all over again before the town hall would go back to the big paint job. So I proposed to others, to become a kind of curator, a word that makes me laugh, and prove at the same time that anyone can organize a street exhibition. You just have to want to. I asked them to make drawings specifically for this place, around the flight and the bird. I added fake cartels, with the name of the work, the artist, and a barcode and a red dot, to make it look like it was sold. Some even tried to scan it, thinking they could buy it! When I tell you that everything is commerce…
How do you feel about street art today?
What hurts me is that there are poor quality drawings and approaches in the street, which will nevertheless be assimilated to works that from my point of view are clearly superior. Pasting photocopies of images gleaned from the Internet and slightly altered within a few centimetres of someone who has taken the trouble to make a work by hand makes no sense. Take the empty walls, there are many of them, they belong to everyone. These walls are constantly moving, hence the absurdity of the “street art guides” you can find in bookstores. In addition, some artists start doing poster campaigns to sell their drawings, get more visibility and buy followers on Instagram. This has no value artistically speaking: “Being known on Instagram is like being rich in Monopoly”. I’m not saying that the artist must be starving, but I think it’s ridiculous to have bad street advertising. It is possible to live decently and respect oneself and one’s audience without doing bad marketing that is already omnipresent in our daily lives. Miss.tic on a lighter… is that street art? Urban Art is not a drawing on a Christmas bauble… Taking off a drawing made in the street to take it home is like picking a poppy. It doesn’t make sense. The drawing will lose its vitality once framed in an apartment.
I think that many of those who type on the walls in the street have a real taste for Art, but I have the feeling that the majority have followed an artistic path and see it as a way to enter or return to the gallery with more success because Street art is trendy. Going to draw in such a street rather than another because it is in a guide is despicable. Making specific drawings with flashy colors to “catch” the eye of the passer-by is marketing, not Art. Is this a good thing? As soon as there is movement I think it’s positive, even if I don’t like everything. Does it change the history of Art? I don’t know, I’m uneducated on the subject. You don’t necessarily grow up wanting to label everything. When you compare my drawings with things that are the antithesis of what I feel, like advertising or a bad collage, it hurts me. It’s human. For me there is True/Bright and False/Evil, which can only be distinguished by the heart. It’s up to each one to find his or her own happiness. It’s a possibility.