When the repetition of the pattern brings the living out

“What amazes me is that Mother Nature has thought of everything: a fish from the bottom of the deep is still much stranger than one of my creations.”

first steps

How did you become an artist?

I started drawing at a young age with my father. Neither one of them knew how to draw, he would draw his head and I would draw my nose – or the other way around, inspired by Gaston Lagaffe, Tintin or Achille Talon. In a way it was a first approach to the clear line. During my college years, I moved to Tahiti, where I lived for 4 years. At that time, the island was undergoing a revival of tattooing, with a pure and hard line, representations of gods’ heads or animals, ultra sharp and shadowless lines. At the same time, my older brother listened to heavy metal, which involves another tattoo culture, but also album covers with incredible typographies and characters. These two influences got into my head and mixed up.

When I returned to France in 1992, I started taking the RER and discovered graffiti. Even before I practiced it, I already loved these colours and shapes.

The M.U.R.

from line to fresco

What work did you do to refine your line more and more?

I started painting things on the walls that were quite clean and neat, with beautiful contours, reminiscent of Polynesian tattoos. But in college I mastered a subject whose theme was “Faces and Wandering Lines”: by letting the pencil run, we make faces appear. I started from there, before I improved my bomb work. This tool, which allows you to draw lines quickly and make a 2-4-2 gradient, pleased me more than the brush. Then it was by repeating the lines over and over again that I began to refine them, give them volume, etc.

You also work mainly in black and white. Is it to give a more voluminous and deep impression?

Why black and white? It comes back to drawing and tattooing, but also to the reality of an economy of tools and means. I used to walk a lot in the wastelands, and very quickly realized that I was walking around with 20 coloured bombs in my bag to finally make three black and white pieces. All it takes is a colour with good contrast, such as black, blue or red, to make the whole thing fit in well with the place in which you are working. In general I don’t buy this base paint, which comes from the recovery or bulky ones. I have collected 30 litres of pink paint that took me almost a year to use, or a blue dye, with which I painted for 6 months.

With these few shades, my goal is to get back to the basics by getting closer to drawing. But if I have flourished in the use of black and white, it is also thanks to the influence of the people with whom I have been able to paint a little more than with others. I seriously started painting with Shaka, who gave me 2/3 tips on basic techniques (gradations, purging, etc….). We painted a lot together and we achieved good results, so good that we stopped. I also worked quite a bit with PIZ, who wanted to paint as he did with a ballpoint pen, with a lot of detail and effects. Looking at this way of working, training, I also realized that playing with the thickness of the lines worked well, or that using colour takes more time and forces me to think about more things.

Ti Sonpoax
The bomb is a tool that offers a strong marking on the wall.

As time goes by, I use the bomb less and less to work with a roller and a brush. But the bomb retains several advantages: it can be used anywhere, regardless of the quality of the support or the plaster on the wall. In addition, it offers great manoeuvrability and allows certain effects. Finally, it allows a much faster work. It is also the marker of graffiti culture. But it remains quite harmful, and I have already done a semi-malaise in a poorly ventilated place.

How do you manage to keep spontaneity in your line and create an “automatic drawing” when your works are very well constructed?

I have in my head a collection of billions of small elements that I use according to desires and periods. For a very long time I was only drawing faces, then my lines started to turn into bugs. I then tried to compose my faces in such a way that all the lines could be transformed into flowers or animals. By making the form more complex, I tried to organize the whole thing, to balance the imbalance. To put these elements in order, I started from a broad base to gradually put things inside. Thus, each form participates in the whole, while being independent. Over time, I tend to move more and more towards abstract forms.

the deformation of living organisms

Does this explain the deformation you put the living in your creations?

I blackened miles of paper to dig up all aspects of the living. As I do not draw an architectural design, the curve here does not refer to something dead, but rather to something that is constantly changing. Vegetation, globules, bones, everything has been traced more or less on a sheet of paper. The repetition of these motifs when I was younger made them part of my memory and gesture. By chance, I sometimes produce new shapes. I recently made Indonesian barongs again, whereas I had gone there four years ago, looking for them in my memory and my photos.

These reasons are also constantly evolving. We start from a pipe, to notice when we inflate it that it turns into a stomach. A hole in the said stomach and this allows plants to grow there, which become carnivores. It also often happens that these attempts fail and turn into something else. A failed dolphin becomes a swordfish, which will ultimately be a cross between the two animals. Chance and error therefore play a major role in my work.

By this accumulation you create several levels of reading, and the viewer first perceives an overall vision before isolating the different elements.

At first all the elements were at the same level. But I gradually wanted one of them to come out a little bit. I like to detail several elements in order to be able to offer different readings of the work. Moreover, I sometimes put cells at the level of much larger elements, denying the scales to form a single whole. However, I always place a few points of reference that allow the spectator to find his way around.

Then everything can happen to these living forms. They get twisted, cut in half, intertwined in barbed wire… What amazes me is that Mother Nature has thought of everything: a fish from the bottom of the deep is still much stranger than one of my creations. Next to that my forms are figurative, although gently hallucinated and revisited.

Indeed, you always seem to leave the eye as a central element. Is it a structural or symbolic pattern?

Rather than eyes, I would talk about eyes. I start from the face and most animals often have two. Starting with the eyes helps to balance the whole. If I start a wall when I only have a black bomb, I’ll start there. If I have a roller I will start with an undercoat and then I will look for what will happen inside. But often I paint all around before finishing with the eyes and the signature.

But the eyes also have a symbolic dimension: they are round, which naturally brings them closer to my forms. They remind us of the cells, or the heart of the flowers. In addition, they are humid and form the only openings with the outside, such as the mouth, interacting with everything around us. I appreciate this open and wet aspect of our carcass, as if we were constantly raw, while everything else is dry.

wasteland painting

Why did you start painting outdoors?

I started painting on the walls so I could do in much bigger what I drew on my sheets of paper. The bomb also makes it possible to be faster, and to send in one afternoon a piece of 3 meters by 2 or more. As for the place, I have painted and I will repaint in abandoned places, for the pleasure of discovery, painting and atmosphere, but it is not always easy to find them and I have often evolved in graffiti areas that have their own laws. Until recently, I had one of the best graffiti spots in Ile de France 500 meters from home. A superb warehouse that had been in operation for 20 years, of a high standard, with some beautiful frescoes, which pushed the painters not to do just anything. This kind of place is conducive to sharing, through the meeting of other graffiti artists, and an audience of passers-by and photographers.

How important is this urban context in your work, when it has two specificities that seem incompatible with the street: it is not necessarily seen and requires a lot of time?

I paint very little on the street itself. I am not a Parisian, but a suburbanite, and to cardboard my city has little interest, especially since I am known there as the white wolf by the municipality, which would send the next day a letter or more to me. I have never really been a tagger, and when I lived in Paris, I rarely painted a truck or a blind after an evening.

The reality is that I like to take my time, without stress. I don’t paint for adrenaline, but to have a good time and have a look that suits me. Nevertheless, adrenaline can be a good way to get to the point because the speed of execution avoids frills. My favourite places are therefore often isolated, abandoned or tolerated. Indeed, a beautiful painting requires between two and three hours of work, and it is difficult to find this time in the street without having any problems at one time or another. When you are in a group, it is also more difficult to keep up, and beautiful afternoons with friends do not always give the best paintings even if you have a good laugh.

Are you photographing your works for archival purposes?

Most of the time, yes. The photo is an archive of the part, but not only. In wasteland, I can spend an hour looking for the right place between the cracks in the wall and the light, with the desire to create a beautiful image. The echo with the support is a big part of my work. I painted damaged lungs in the hooks room of an iron mine, and everything fit perfectly into this frame: a pipe, a broken glass, a filthy wall.

It’s certainly nice to have a trace, but even if there’s a bunch of paint I didn’t (take) the picture of for different reasons, it’s still his memories.

What is your relationship to the necessarily ephemeral aspect of your work?

In a very busy spot, I saw one of my paintings jump barely half an hour after finishing it, passed by two minots… it’s not pleasant but it’s also how you learn to step back. On the street, if you have taken the risk of doing something unauthorized, it is very unpleasant and frowned upon to be covered, whether by a painter, a gluer or otherwise. Pasteers like the tag background and often land on it, making as many enemies as there are people who have drawn or tagged under it. Once you have finished your room on a wall it no longer belongs to you completely, you leave it to the place and to the eyes of the people if there are any.

You can find Nosbé on Instagram, Facebook and on his website.

Pictures: Nosbé

Interview recorded in november 2018.

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