The Duduss, smiling characters who look at the world
“When I look at a photograph taken in 2012 or 2013, I find some things I didn’t remember. The image thus retraces a personal construction through collage.”
You stick your first Duduss in Paris in 2011, rue de Verneuil, on Serge Gainsbourg’s house. Have you always wanted to associate your characters with great cultural figures?
In the beginning these figures were the very definition of the Duduss, that’s all I did. Among the first characters in my sketchbooks were Zorro, Maya the bee and Sophie the giraffe. The origin of the Duduss is the caricature of a person, and the first pasted was Gainsbourg, in the emblematic rue de Verneuil. I was a fan of the artist, and it was logical for me to start there. I also knew that I wasn’t risking much by sticking there.
We’re struck by the cartoon-like aspect of your characters. The look and the jaw make them immediately recognizable.
The first sketch already looked a lot like this, with a very colourful character. It then became more refined, more graphic, but without necessarily changing, even though it now has more humour. I don’t remember why I accentuated the look and the jaw. On the contrary, I wanted to make realistic drawings and move away from the cartoon I didn’t like. My aunt, who is a painter, was the first to have the intuition that I was going to pursue this style. I was a little disappointed and I worked even more on realism, but the following year this character appeared and I wanted to keep it.
What are the objectives pursued by the Duduss?
To make people smile or think. My friends have noticed that I act by periods, according to my moods. My characters can convey a good mood without there being a message, but I sometimes denounce bullfighting or water pollution together.
It is not incompatible to make people smile and think at the same time.
Not impossible but difficult. An artist like Banksy, with his work where a master feeds his labrador his own paw, does not necessarily make people smile. Yet he is the one who made me want to convey strong messages, and made me realize that these could go through the wall.
Do you think you’ll ever leave this character?
I don’t project myself that much. I think I have enough things to tell: there are so many possibilities to decline it! Now, I also create characters like the little monkey that offer me more diversity. If I’m fed up or people don’t want it anymore, I’ll stop, but I plan to continue as long as it pleases me and the audience. If I stop the Duduss, I don’t think I will continue street art. Maybe I’ll paint something else, but I think that TocToc in the Street exists with the Duduss. Without them, I’m no longer Toctoc.
Connection to the street
Why did you choose to take to the streets to create?
I’ve always loved street art. When I arrived in Paris in 2009 to study Art I didn’t know this universe at all. I was first interested in Graffiti, then in Street art for three years, wanting to do some but without forcing myself. One day this character came out of my sketchbooks and I wanted to go and paste it in the street. It was a natural step for me who had always drawn and painted.
What’s more, I find that the very message of my character comes through the street. If I had to do it only in one place it would be on a wall. It develops elsewhere, but that’s where it belongs.
How has your relationship with the street evolved from your first steps to today?
I saw my first Duduss as a joke. Indeed, I had started drawing a lot of them on my best school friend’s notebooks because he thought they were really ugly. There was no message, he was a character who didn’t do much work and didn’t tell much. My early paintings were like that too. But little by little, I started to go down more and more into the street, not only for the adrenaline, but also to transmit my ideas through my character.
How are you going to choose the place to stick it in the street?
The choice of the place will depend on a lot of things. Sometimes I walk around the city and see a wall that I like and that will make me think of an idea. I will then take a photograph, measurements, and go back to the studio to draw it. Conversely, I can have an idea prepared in advance, and then walk around until I find the right wall. As I don’t want to stick it anywhere, I often don’t put it down for two/three evenings if I don’t find the spot I have in mind.
Does your work need context to unfold?
I don’t think it needs context to exist – and I hope a piece can work on its own – but it can reinforce the message. When a pedestrian crossing in the Marais painted in the colours of the LGBT community had been damaged, I had depicted B.I.G. and 2Pac in those same colours kissing. I found it amusing to associate these characters who killed each other.
Does the choice of gluing come rather from the mitigated risk or from the technique you wish to use?
To be honest, I didn’t take myself seriously at first, and my very first Duduss were not signed. I met the artists JBC and Gregos who encouraged me, and JBC accompanied and advised me on my first collage. I chose this technique because I was unfamiliar with the spray can and the other materials I could use.
What interaction do you imagine between your characters and the passers-by?
Passers-by do what they want: as soon as I say what I have to say, it’s out of my hands. If they want to smile or take a picture of themselves there is no problem. What I like is that they talk about it, that they show it by explaining how they felt about the job. Their interpretation doesn’t always correspond to mine, but it’s interesting to see these different looks.
What is more important: to have an audience or to express your message?
If it’s a painting meant to make people smile, I would say the most important thing would be to find an audience. But if it’s a message I want to get across I do it more for myself. I’ve never been a big talker, and the fact that I was able to make a collage about bullfighting in a small town in the South was a relief. Expressing this point of view made me feel good: people would see that I was against it.
You regularly mention Keith Haring and Tim Burton as sources of influence.
Tim Burton is for me one of the artists who best expresses his imagination and pushes it the furthest. I appreciate his films and paintings very much, and after him I try to create my own artistic universe. But I also sometimes quote Eminem, who, like Tim Burton, has created his own world, with characters who respond to each other from album to album. Keith Haring inspires me more in the line and the black outline of the Duduss is inspired by what he does, but also in his relationship to the street.
Do you portray characters because they inspire you or because you like them?
The characters inspire me the most. It often happens that people ask me to do certain figures that I refuse, either because I don’t know them or because I don’t like them. So almost all the characters I paint are personalities that inspired me, characters from films or musicians that I love.
Do you work in sets?
I’ve done a lot of series, especially in 2012, with one devoted to Tim Burton, another to Halloween, and another to Serge Gainsbourg. But I gradually stopped because I find that it’s a facility that justifies the fact of making several collages at once. When I wasn’t posting it was easier to do it that way, but now that I feel like I want to deal with certain subjects, I focus on what I want to talk about. For example, Cruella and her bleeding coat represents my desire to denounce the fur trade.
Keeping track of his work
How do you see the ephemeral aspect of collage?
The ephemeral aspect is part of the game – which I accept – knowing that my collage can leave at any time. Hence the importance of photography the next day. I’ve already been known to paste at night and then come back during the same evening to see my collage torn. It was one of the first, and now I have a ball in my stomach waiting for the next day. On the other hand, the one that lasted the longest is a collage by Angus and Julia Stone, which stayed in place for four years. I had followed the different stages of its degradation, but in the end I was almost happy that it disappeared because it didn’t look like anything anymore. I think street art should be ephemeral. I think it’s a shame, for example, that Banksy’s works are protected by plexiglass plates, even though they would otherwise be instantly degraded. Indeed, I think that if Banksy didn’t want his works to disappear he wouldn’t make Street art.
How much importance do you attach to the photograph you take next? Is it an archival or artistic photograph?
I’m very fussy with photographs and I’m going to make both archival and more artistic images. As I glue at night, I go back the next day to the place to take daytime photos, and this from all angles: one from the front with sharp edges, a more artistic one with the interaction caused by a car or a passer-by… I make about fifty collages, to try to cover all the possible views. It’s an important moment because it’s thanks to this image, posted on social networks, that the majority of people will see my work.
For my photographs, as in life, it’s double or nothing: I’m going to want to throw it all away or keep it all. I keep them on my computer, classifying them by year, month, and street name. So, when I look at a take in 2012 or 2013, I find some things I didn’t remember, see some of the friends who were at that party. The image thus retraces a personal construction through collage.
What are you looking for when you take your photos from all possible angles?
I want to make sure I have them all with me, because I know this work is ephemeral. All these views allow me to memorize the collage. I usually post the photograph taken from the front, but if I post it again, I like to show an interaction, so that the person looking at it can understand what I did without having been there, so that I can explain my world to them. The passer-by or the car can thus make the picture funnier or intensify the message.