An Encyclopedia of Underwater Species

I must have in my subconscious a love for these shades of grey, and that’s why my drawings often have slightly faded colours, in pastel and desaturated tones.”


How did you become an artist?

I have always drawn and from the age of sixteen I was doing graffiti, lettering and characters. I had another pseudonym – Nawek – and I was part of a collective in Le Havre, with whom we painted on vacant lots, blockhouses or highway pillars. I then studied oceanography at Paris 6, stopping Graffiti. As I started working as a marine biologist on squid, I had time for myself again and was able to start drawing again, mixing the spirit of naturalist drawing with the graphic side of my first lettering. I then started to use posters, as this practice is faster and better tolerated.

teuthis street art
Grondin perlon (Chelidonichthys lucerna)
So do you consider your first steps in the street through graffiti or collage?

There were really two different phases. The first one in Wild Graffiti and then the one, from 2013, where I started posting and took the pseudonym Teuthis. I then moved on to naturalist drawing, displayed in large format. I immediately adopted this aquatic universe which is the one that touches me the most, being from Le Havre. From the age of four I was drawing fish. I used to fish a lot with friends and I used to go to the Museum all the time.

Did you instantly paste your drawings on the street?

My mates from the L2A collective in Le Havre motivated me to move on to collage because it had become difficult for me to do my very detailed drawings quickly with a bomb in the streets. As I had access to a big printing machine, I made a test by gluing a fourteen meters by four squid in collaboration with Père Dedu who perfectly mastered this technique. We placed it on a hangar in the city and the next day the result was obvious, everyone was talking about it.

Nautilus pompilius (2015)
teuthis street art
As a young artist, do you have the impression of being part of a pre-existing artistic current?

I have more the impression that it is a personal approach. When I talk with other artists, I feel like we each have our own signature. As I come from the Graffiti world, I sometimes have more affinity with the approach of graffiti artists who go on the motorway or the ring road: they are purists who thrill me. Contrary to others, I don’t play on the interaction with the urban setting, except for the silure made with Ardif, because it was important to me that the Seine appears on the photo. The word Street art being very vast, I would define myself first and foremost as an illustrator, and poster artist by extension.

I really like collaborations because they allow me to get out of the daily routine and force me to leave my entrenchments. It forces me to adapt and gives original creations. However, I would also like to make works with graffiti artists because they could be very interesting.

Encyclopedia of Underwater Species

Your work is distinguished by an almost scientific rigour in the layout.

This comes from my training, from having spent a lot of time in old libraries. There is a culture of precise drawing in the Sciences, with the aim of getting as close as possible to reality in order to better archive and document it. These are very detailed sketches, very fixed. So I never do three-quarter sketches, but always from the side, from the back, really trying to respect the codes of naturalist drawing. I trace them with Indian ink, while sprinkling them with small dots that remind me that they used to be engravings. Concerning the colours I use those that define the species. For the pea crab one notices for example wine spots, as well as a clear and slightly pinkish body. Starting from this dominant, I make colour tests and mix them. I thus compose my own graphic recipe.

teuthis street art
Flamand rose (Phoenicopterus roseus)
Do you see these drawings as a classification of species?

I start each time from a real animal, the idea being to sweep away biodiversity, which is a great source of inspiration. Sometimes I also draw objects, such as scuba divers or compasses. If I take a photograph each time I don’t replicate my collages, except for a few duplicates between Le Havre and Paris.

I like to represent species that are not often seen. When we walk around Paris, we always find cats, lions, parrots. It’s just as well to draw a small shrimp, which only lives in a specific region, not only because it’s very graphic, but also because it’s going to surprise people more. I often write the scientific name of the animal in small letters, which can make people aware that it really exists and arouse their curiosity.

The breaks you inlay give your drawing a more graphic dimension.

The breaks bring a fragility, a slightly mineral aspect, which also evokes the city of Le Havre, razed to the ground during the war and rebuilt in concrete. The landscapes are essentially composed of pebbles, flint, dikes, blockhouses: it is a brutal architecture. I must have in my subconscious a love for these shades of grey, and that’s why my drawings often take on slightly faded, pastel and desaturated tones.

Are you planning these breaks or are they the subject of a second step?

I always start from a model, for example an old engraving. I try to find the perfect shape in pencil and then see where I can place these lines, without ever making parallels. Then I start to break. So they come in a second step and allow me not just to represent an animal, but to bring a graphic research that goes beyond the mere observation drawing. In this way, they make it possible to reappropriate the forms of Nature, which are perfect but to which we, as humans, want to add something.

How do you see your work evolving?

I think I will always keep this aquatic signature inherent to my work. Teuthis means squid, and the sea is full of invisible or forgotten animals. When you walk along the Seine, you don’t realize the presence of catfish and pikes. I take them out of the water to put them in the street. This silent universe has always fascinated me. It is however possible that at some point I may want to move away from it in one way or another, notably by breaking more and more of my drawings, without them becoming abstract.

Collage and the street

Why did you choose the collage?

In Graffiti I made very simple lettering composed of two or three colours, with the aim of making a five-metre long piece in ten minutes. The precision work that I do today makes it impossible to practice wildly on a wall. In Le Havre, since the architecture is classified as World Heritage, the anti-graffiti brigade is extremely effective. The fact that I’ve been on the bill has also given me access to walls that I would never have dared to attack otherwise. Since it is not really a material degradation, it helps to avoid prosecution. The collage allowed me to type pieces several meters long in the city centre. It even happened that in Paris the cops asked me what I was doing, before wishing me a good evening.

teuthis street art
Gluing is a particularly ephemeral technique.

It is a disadvantage, which is nevertheless a reflection of today’s species and biodiversity: the posters fray and disintegrate. It also proves that the wall lives: once the collage is gone, you move on. I never paste twice on the same wall, to always obtain a unique image.

How do you choose the places to stick?

I like places that are very visible, and if possible never typed before. In Le Havre I’m very happy to be first every time, whereas in Paris it’s almost impossible. I glue unique pieces because people are more satisfied when they find the drawing and take a picture of it. It’s also a way to force me to renew myself. It’s easy in poster art to rest on your laurels, make a beautiful one and replicate it twenty times. I force myself not to do it: I pose one, photograph it and archive it.

teuthis street art
What have you got to do with photography?

Photography has a place of its own in the extension of work. I will take time to choose the angle and getting a beautiful image is a bit of a trophy. I always take a first one as soon as the poster is pasted, to have a backup photo if it disappears during the night. Indeed, I’ve come back twice and found nothing. That’s also why I don’t redo the same pieces twice: it would be too time-consuming if I did. I then file all my photographs, so that I can archive them and one day make a book with the date, the geographical coordinates and the name of the species.

teuthis street art
What does the street offer you as a creative space?

As my drawing is very meticulous, I spend my time curved on my sheet of paper. Sometimes I even work with a binocular magnifying glass for the hairs or the smallest dots. It’s interesting to have this second time which has nothing to do with working on a very large scale in the street, in a much more violent gesture that is accessible to everyone. The gesture is more spontaneous than in my initial drawing. It also offers an adrenaline rush, and the slightly narcissistic pleasure of finding the next day one’s night job. It is enjoyable to hog a wall with friends, it’s a feeling of pure freedom. I don’t think I’d be able to get away from it. Nevertheless, the street is not a necessity for my drawings.

Pictures:  Teuthis

You can find Teuthis on Facebook and Instagram.

Interview recorded in october 2019.

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