Jun 11, 2007Blek Le Rat: Pioneer of Street Art
Back in the eighthies, long before what we call street art was formed and founded, graffiti artists roamed the streets and back alleys of the most famous cities on earth. They scoured for virgin walls and surfaces to spray paint their nicknames, a mixture of attractive colors of vibrant contrast and distinctive writting styles, each artists trying to out-do the other either by size, design or creativity. This form of art although beautiful, had limited purpose, and the artists usually tagged their own names or nicknames, something that, truth be told, is rather self-righteous and in the end for most, pointless. It also took a lot of time and skill, which in this case, being branded vandals and scum of the society, made it a pretty dangerous past time. In NY, graffiti art was reaching it’s highest point of awareness, and for most people, it’s expiry date. For Blek Le Rat however, it was the beginning of a whole new era and for us who care, it was a moment in history that really meant something: The freedom of speech born in a new form, stencil art.
The man who walks thru walls – Blek Le Rat
Blek initially wanted to emulate graffiti that he had seen in New York, but decided againts it because of the fact that Paris is a rather ancient city, and that graffiti would not co-exists with the city very well. He decided to use the stencils technique because he remembered vaguely that the fascists in his country used to stencil Mussolini’s portrait all over the city during WW2. He also remembered that the South Americans used a lot of stencils for propoganda, which is very true back in the 70′s. Blek started out in and around 1981 cutting stencils of rats and spraying them in and around Paris, and the sudden “outbreak” of Blek rats all over town was noticed. He has put up thousands of these creatures around the city, and his reason is simple: rats are the only free animals in the city and that they are feared by humankind.
rats & sheep by Blek
Blek Le Rat soon expanded his designs, growing out of rats and into more prominent stuff, like propoganda, famine and anti-war campaigns. He mixes his politically charged and controversial images with it’s surroundings, cleverly placing each stencilled art on locations that suddenly bring life and meaning to his designs. In his early years, he had no problems with the local authorities, but as the years passed by and the artform itself reached out to a younger and angrier generation, Blek discovered that tough laws had fallen upon this new form of art. He had faced many encounters with the law, and was even summoned to court and fined for everything that they could pin on him.
Napoleon by Blek
Blek has inspired the major street art players of today, including people like Banksy to Shepard Fairey who would confess and swear by his name, and countless others, myself included, no doubt. Blek is now 53 years old, but even age cannot stop him from taking a big knife to that old Ikea box and turning it into a template of art. As a bonus, he has his photographer wife, who herself has published several books on stencil and graffiti art, and his 12 year old son going on bombing missions with him! When Blek was asked what he thought of the growing relationship between graffiti and the modern art world, this was his answer:
“The problem with galleries is that� 99% of urban artists use urban art as a stepping stone into the galleries. It�s a fatal error because in galleries they�re seen by 40 people, in museums they�re seen by 10 people, but in the streets they�re seen by 100,000 people. And that�s the integrity of an artist�s work: to be seen. Not be sold or to be recognized in a museum�but to be seen by the world.”
In a world where money, fame and absolute power is craved and killed for, it’s good to see that there are some people, even the Godfather of Stencil Art, has stuck to making art because of the one thing that really matters when it comes to art: the love for it.
David With Kalishinikov by Blek
Last Tango by Blek
Aubenas Pochoir, who was taken hostage in Iraq by Blek