The foxes have entered Paris
“I think that this living dimension, the fact that a work can be damaged or torn apart, brings the artist back to a certain humility, which puts us in our place.”
Venus and pubs
How did you become an artist?
I studied art. I first prepared a CAP in Graphic Arts before entering the Beaux-Arts de Reims. There was nothing else I could do, and I already had a good command of drawing. The release of the Fine Arts was complicated because in the 90s drawing and painting were not encouraged. It cut my momentum as a practitioner, and I didn’t touch a pencil for 3 years. I had to fly on my own, so I did odd jobs until I wanted to do it again. First I started with four-handed paintings with David, my companion, being more at the concept and me at the practice. And gradually I started to redo personal images.
You start from the beginning with female figures from classical painting.
I have always been attracted to classical art, by its rigour in terms of drawing, anatomy and geometry. I formed myself in this way, always trying to push the observation a little further. This series on Classical Art appeared at a time when I had been working on the world of the Image for several months: I was mixing the elements of this universe rather intended for advertising, reflecting on the construction of an image, its organization, the sense of the eye. Before working on the Venus I was interested in what a still life could be today: a pack of Corn Flakes, logos, advertising orders. One day, looking at a household linen magazine, I realized that a Venus sitting in a hammam could integrate into the advertising. I was at the crossroads of a reflection lasting several months, and it was a dazzling experience. Thus, a game of association of ideas took shape.
By incorporating these classic paintings into advertisements, you put two periods side by side where the representation of the Woman is often reduced to a simple image.
It so happens that in Classical Art there are many female representations that are as many symbols, whether of beauty or purity. By placing them in advertisements, they help to ennoble them, ultimately allowing them to become works of art. To go and get these women is a way of putting the sacred in this universe which is devoid of them, and to give the advantage to Art. Nevertheless, I did not do this work out of nostalgia for a past Art. It was a game, a way of stirring up images from these two worlds, and together they proposed a third one, as well as another way of seeing them.
Indeed, you talk more about the telescoping of symbols, even considering that “advertising is the daughter of painting”. We are more in a dialogue than a confrontation.
There is a kind of levelling that testifies to what an image is at the end of the day, whatever the time: yesterday religious painting “sold” faith through the image, today they are products. The image has always been used to communicate, and I am only continuing the discussion, by proposing new content whose final place will be in the field of Art.
Your inspiration comes from Art Pompier. Do you choose known or unknown artists?
Both, at the beginning I worked on a broader temporal period, going from the 18th to the 20th century: I even took over Munch. I then focused on the 19th century, because I was looking for fairly classic female figures, which are more common among raphaelites or pre-Raphaelites. I worked a lot on Godward, an English painter whose realistic work and subjects – notably Ancient Greece – corresponded well to my research (just like Bouguereau for the French). The gap between their paintings and the trashy side of the advertising and its fluorescent yellow buttons amused me a lot.
from the billboard to the city walls
How did you start creating on the street?
I grew up in the suburbs and I always loved the world of graffiti, zoning a little in the wastelands, on the railways… but I didn’t see myself doing graffiti. I remember thinking to myself one day: I would like to create something in the street, and I got there in an unexpected way through these small formats, which then made me want to divert the 4×3 panels. But how do we do that? At the time I was drawing in the Posca on magazines.
How did you carry out this format transformation?
I had to find a way to do it quickly and efficiently. I tried to use the bomb, and after several attempts I found the right method. The particularity of this work is that it requires waiting for the supports, without which I could do nothing. As these were quite specific advertisements, I often did not have enough material to work on. It also happened regularly that the advertising was already covered when I arrived on the spot, so we had to move quickly. This method that I have developed allows me to paint a figure in 3 to 4 hours. On the other hand, in terms of painting, I was still in a limited area, with a composition. The link between the drawing and the ad was direct.
How did the frame reimposed by the billboards require this transformation?
It is simply a question of proportions, to maintain the same ratio between an armchair that is 20cm in small format, but that will be 1.5m on a billboard. To enlarge my images, I used the brown kraft tile setting, and the 3 rule, constantly checking the measurements to make sure the image could adapt. However, the proportions are also important outside the predefined frame as in my Exodus project, because sticking to reality allows animals to keep this trompe-l’oeil aspect.
How do you build your photo without having a predefined frame?
I proceeded in many different ways: for the collages of Venus it was more the place that inspired me, as for the work representing Oedipus and the Sphynx, which perfectly suited the chosen stone column. For the collages in the city, either the place reminded me of a painting, or I thought I could find a painting that would correspond to it. In the case of Exodus, this choice is much freer, and I reason by route.
How did your Exodus project develop this notion of a framework? So, does your urban art work need to be in the city?
When I work on the street, it becomes the painting, and the framework is more conceptual. We live in it, it is a mental framework that always offers a context. But it is important that he is in town, because for the Exodus series it would make no sense to make these collages in the countryside. Indeed, the theme of this project is the wild animals that are now found in the city. Living in the countryside, I am confronted every day with the degraded state of the soil, the depletion of the number of birds, or some other large animals. I saw a report that taught me that in some cities biodiversity is more important than in the countryside, because they enhance green spaces or create ecological corridors. And indeed we find in the Jardin des Plantes pigeons colombins, or thousands of foxes in London. The animals therefore leave the countryside, which is their original cradle, to take refuge in the city. Knowing this rural world, this inversion questions me a lot. I want to put these animals in the city to create an improbable encounter between the city dweller and the wild animal. How do I react, how do I feel when I’m in front of an animal that has no business being there? With this work, I mix things again that seem to have nothing in common.
Playing on the trompe-l’oeil allows you to confront a real animal with the passer-by.
Exactly, what amuses me is to push the experience to the end, to see what it looks like on the street. I anticipate it, I stick, I take a step back and photograph, to finally have this scene materialized. What interests me is to see this vision realized, mixing animals and street furniture. The moment sought is not so much in the realization, which is sometimes a little laborious, as in this finalized image.
What do you get out of putting your works on the street?
Like many Street-Art artists, I find great freedom there. It is really a special place, which cannot be compared to a gallery or a museum. It is a virgin ground, a living space where one creates alone or mixes with others. Adrenaline comes especially at the beginning with fear: sometimes, sticking with a telescopic ladder is part of the mission. But it is also the impression of doing something new for yourself. There is such a direct side: we don’t know how we will be welcomed, who we will meet. When you start creating on the street, you can’t do without it anymore: it’s not comparable to working in a workshop.
What are you trying to show the passer-by?
I make a proposal and my limit is in this momentum, this desire, and the act of making it happen. Once my collage is installed, I wonder how the walker will receive this image of course, but my mission ends there. As there may be several interpretations, I take care to communicate the necessary information so that there is not too much ambiguity when I post my photos.
Thoughts on urban art
What does this have to do with the ephemeral aspect of collage?
It suits me well because first of all I don’t want to have any problems. If one day I meet someone malicious, I can remove my collage instantly. Of course, it also happens that it is stolen and only remains for an hour or two, which is frustrating, or that a miracle makes it stay several months. Moreover, I find that this ephemeral aspect corresponds well to the street, it even happens that the rendering is more interesting with some marks of time. I find that this living dimension, the fact that a work can be damaged or torn apart, brings the artist back to a certain humility, which puts us in our place. I consider my work to be finished when I took my picture. I try to make artistic photographs, paying attention to composition, playing with angles and working a little on the images on the computer if necessary. I think of the image as a painting, so that what we see is of quality, and give it every opportunity among the unceasing flow of images seen on the Internet.
One of the pitfalls of urban art is to be enclosed in a visual signature. You wanted to get out of it by stopping your series on the Venus, but it allows you to question what is at work: is it the plastic form or the theme addressed?
People almost only know my classical artwork, but I had seen it all around. I asked myself if I was continuing or starting over on something else. I thought about it for months and when the Exodus project emerged I accepted the risk that people would have to rediscover me again. What finally appears is an attraction towards the mixture of different universes, and the discovery of what it produces. However, I sometimes continue in this classic series but it has to make sense.
Do you feel like you are part of an artistic movement as a street artist?
I see a lot of similarities among the street artists I work with, and I realize that we share a certain impression about contemporary art, or the creative space offered by the street. It has always been possible to create in the street, but today it is taking on a scale that is not insignificant, linked in part to the democratization of art. Thanks to the artists of the 20th century, everyone can become an artist.
This scale is undoubtedly also a small counterweight to contemporary art. Suddenly, the public discovers works they understand, without the need for a cartel of explanations. Access is immediate, without prior speech. This is good for both the spectator and the artist, who finds a space in the street where they can express themselves. I also perceive this enthusiasm at the level of schools and education: all the projects I have been doing in middle and high schools for the past 5 years have a link with Street-Art. From the point of view of arts education, it brings everyone together.
It is a return to a sensitive rather than a cerebral art form.
Street-Art is sometimes criticized for not being intellectual enough. It does not cohabit well with contemporary conceptual art and if one is accessible, the other is more distant, even elitist. These two worlds exist without meeting. But it is not so easy to create in the street, because the ease of access to the exhibition gives visibility that does not offer the right to make mistakes. Between artists we observe each other, and when someone makes an “easy” intervention, the sword falls.
Is there not a generational question beyond this ease of access? For artists of the 1980s, the street was an open sky museum, allowing an expression impossible in galleries, whereas nowadays it can be perceived by younger artists as a means of access to the said galleries.
There is always this desire for an open-air museum. It is not certain that the street has become the first step towards the gallery, because there is still a choice being made, the gallery owner must appreciate the work. And the question of the exhibition of the street in galleries remains. Many artists are trying to find solutions, but there is often a terrible loss, with works that only make sense on the street. How to maintain quality? I answer this problem by presenting something else in the gallery than in the street. There is always a link, but they are drawn versions, different works. I was delighted when the Amateur Cabinet invited me to exhibit my drawing work. For Exodus, I am working on a gallery version that will be drawn, with a more personal research work at the fund level.
In this respect you say “always return to the drawing after Nature”
I am talking about observational drawing, academic exercise; my collages are not drawings from nature. This may be due to the courses I give, but basically drawing from nature is the fundamental exercise that shows us where we stand in terms of observation. I encourage my students to draw in this way rather than from a photo, to be as close as possible to what they perceive. In parallel with these scenes that I pose in the street, the drawing accompanies me like a faithful companion that I discover again and again.