Chalk ostriches running up the walls

I think we should not go out into the streets to put ourselves forward, but to share, to meet people, to carry a message.”


What made you decide to have a regular art practice?

I’ve always been in this business, and I’ve always drawn. Wanting to represent what I saw, I first did graffiti in Nancy, but it was when I arrived in Paris four years ago that I really felt the need to do something. Two weeks later came the Bataclan attacks, and the heavy atmosphere that followed pushed me to share my universe, to try to bring a little lightness to people, giving them back their smile while going to meet them, because I always draw in the middle of the day. It was a way to bring my little touch to pass this milestone. One thing led to another, I discovered the work of chalk artists and an addiction developed. It was also a way for me to discover the city, to wander the alleys to find a spot, to get lost and finally find myself.

Did this transition happen naturally?

Yes, because the medium I use is very light and speaks to everyone. By using chalk you are less in the register of degradation than in that of soiling. So the reaction of people has always been pretty good, so I never really had to hide and I was able to work naturally enough to embellish the place I wanted to make my own. I had a bit of adrenaline at first, but now less.


Why did you choose to work with chalk?

First of all, there is a practical side: it is easy to get some, to transport it, it fits in a small box. It is possible to erase it and is not so ephemeral, being able to resist long enough. I wanted to apprehend something that hadn’t been much explored on the walls, unlike other media like collage or graffiti. So the transition was a natural one, from the kitchen slate paintings to the street. It was also an opportunity to take a new approach, because the chalk pushed me to go to people and places I didn’t know.

Chalk also has a spontaneous dimension.

Exactly, there is no need for any special preparation: it is possible to find an inspiring place and to represent something there, without necessarily having had a workshop beforehand. Most of the time I work in this way spontaneously, getting lost in a place and adapting to what I encounter there. Sometimes I can also spot some without knowing what to do: in this case I take a photograph to be able to think about it.

The chalk makes it possible to play with the colour of the support. How do you create these contrasts, especially when you add colourful incursions to your drawings?

The research work on the place is essential, because chalk requires a dark background, not too rough. If these rules are not respected, your drawing will not be presented in the best possible way. Apart from this constraint, the street offers a multitude of spaces in which to incorporate yourself. Concerning the use of color, it will allow me to highlight certain elements, certain objects, while giving more depth to my drawing, making it more warm. Depending on the situation, I keep the possibility to add some, just like charcoal.

Will you always use chalk?

I think it’s important for me to continue to use chalk because it’s what allows me to differentiate myself, while continuing to evolve my technique to stay on top of what’s being done. The wild display could also be a way to change medium and use paint. I am also experimenting with new techniques through frescoes for which I use acrylic and oil pastel, just like in my studio work. When the work has vocation to remain I adapt my tools to make it more perennial.


Your work first revolved around two major figures: a face and an ostrich.

These are faces that I have been drawing since I was a child, and which are inspired by Khmer art. My father loved them and I used to draw them mechanically. They have strong, soothing features, in addition to being graphic. Nevertheless, they lacked the ability to play with the decor, which I did better with ostriches. I seized this animal because I loved its good face, so I could stage it in funny situations that evoke current events. In addition to its ability to “ostrich”, it’s also the biggest bird in the world, which gives it human positions. Since she talks to both children and adults, it is easier to give her a double reading.

Between those first ostriches and today, your line has greatly evolved. What avenues of research are you interested in?

From a technical point of view, I’m trying to go back to the basics, because as I have no artistic training, I think it’s good to work on anatomy and shadows. I’m the first to get tired of what I do and I don’t want to tire those who follow me. Moreover, I try to be sensitive to current events, to carry a message which, although light, is a little more committed. This is particularly the case with skeletons, which evoke the disappearance of species and allow me to work on contrasts to draw faster. We are so visible as street artists that it is up to us to take hold of the messages that are dear to us in order to communicate. Today I am on my third “series” of chalk drawings, and I keep each of these universes like a piece of luggage, being able to leave it aside for a while before taking it back and reworking it, the important thing being to get to the bottom of things each time.


What is special about the street as a creative space?

The street is free, it’s a place for spontaneous encounters, but it also constitutes a greater risk taking because one is confronted with it through people’s eyes, where the exhibition brings together an often convinced public. While it is important to be easily identifiable, because a new artist arrives every day, in-depth work is necessary to encourage more interaction. In any case, I think that the street does the work itself, discouraging those who don’t really care.

How do you relate to the ephemeral dimension of Urban Art? As you pointed out, chalk tends to fade quite slowly.

That doesn’t bother me because the very essence of Urban Art is, in my opinion, its ephemeral nature. In fact it almost suits me to be able to control the life span of a creation, and to tell myself that it will be immortalized by photography, even its presence in the street will be quite brief. Moreover, chalk is not so ephemeral: depending on the place and the chosen exposure, a piece can stay several months, or even become ingrained and scratched by contact with textures such as porous stone or metal. I have some drawings that have been in existence for more than a year, slightly altered but still there. The work continues to live, and if it doesn’t age well, people can still move around to see it after it has been published on the networks.

What’s your relationship to photography?

I make an archive of everything I do. It is not an artistic work, because I am not a photographer, but I use it to communicate and highlight my creations through photography, which will be shared on social networks. In this way, the photo will travel more than the work itself. This approach is complementary and almost indispensable. However, while one may be tempted to consider that the finished work is the one published online, one must not forget the first step, otherwise the image ends up taking precedence over the place itself.

Do you feel like you’ve joined a pre-existing artistic movement?

I pay attention to what was done before, not only in Street Art but in all Urban Art. If we’re here today, it’s because graffiti artists and vandals opened doors, showing what was possible. I’m trying to bring something new, while respecting the codes and the work of these people. So I think I’m part of a whole movement, even though I joined late. It’s never been easier to draw in the street, both because of the number of techniques and because of the way passers-by and public authorities no longer see these drawings as tags.

However, I think that one should not go out into the street to put oneself forward, but to share, meet people, carry a message and give another dimension to one’s work without using it as a primary means of communication. We see more and more brands doing vandalized advertising, which I think is an aberration.

You can find more informations about Matt_tieu on Facebook, Instagram and his website.

Pictures: Matt_tieu

Interview recorded in july 2019.

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