Who said that galleries are in crisis? Mostly if we talk about those galleries that work with street art (subject that, according to statements made by Artcurial auction house, collected 3.6 million Euro in 20015, 60% more than 2014). The evidence of this is that this evening, at 18.30, is going to open the first office in Milan of Wunderkammer, one of the most important companies in Italy that opened his first gallery in Rome in 2008.
To do that (and in the best way) Wunderkammer Milan (Via Ausonio 1/A) decided to call to expose the first real experimenter of stencil, the “spiritual father” of Banksy: Blek le Rat, aka Xavier Prou. The French-64-year-old exhibits for the first time in his life in Milan: he does it with an exhibition entitled “Propaganda”. Us from Grafite HB had the honor to interview him and to record the interview on a video: the emotion was so great that at the end we made a great decision. And we have proposed him to subscribe his membership to the our association. Well, now also Blek le Rat is part of our cultural association Grafite HB: and you, what are you waiting for? While you think about it, read our interview with Blek le Rat..
Where and when your passion for stencil art did start?
A long time ago! In 1981 I started makeing graffiti in Paris. At the beginning I tried to imitate american graffiti and tags, I didn’t have the skills to make it, so I decided to make stencil because I knew the technique at that time. Well, it’s a long story: actually I knew the technique because I saw some stencil made in Italy in Padua when I was 10/11 years old, in the early Sixties. I made a trip to Padua with my parents and there I saw kind of vestige of World War Second about the propaganda made by the fascists where I saw the face of Mussolini with the helmet in profile made with stencil. So I asked to my father “Why people are doing this? What does it mean?”, and my father explained to me that it was just tje propaganda made by the fascists and he explained me also the technique, the use, because it was quite rare to find pieces like that. Also I made a trip in NYC in 1971 and I saw the first graffiti done in the subway, so all things combined together and I started makeing some rats withs the stencil in Paris.
So we can say you are the father of stencil art?
Yes, I am. I am not the father of street art but I’m the father of stencil art. nobody wanted to use the stencil, just two guys in Paris started in the early Seventies to make graffiti. One guy is called Zloty Camion and he was drawing with chalk on the walls of Paris Sixties (I think he started very early, something like 1963), and another guy called Ernets Pignon Ernest was pasteing posters in Paris. They were the two french guys and after I were the third guy doing graffiti.
Maybe you can find them in that book..
Yeah, but here they didn’t put my name. It’s really strange that you still find that book because it’s a really early book and my work is here, but they didn’t put my name, so I don’t like this book actually because the german guy who made this book didn’t care about the people, he made the book.
How do you prepare your stencil?
It’s a long process and it changed a lot since last 15 years because now I use computer to make my work. But before I used to draw the stencil and to cut it. But it’s a very easy technique, it’s very simple, because you need to be fast, to go fast when you do domething in the street, you need to make it really fast because the police and the people.. so the stencil is a very good technique to go fast and to have a nice image in a fast way.
You’ve been also arrested, once, in Paris..
Many times, not only once..
And I read that you changed your style for that reason
Yeah, because I was in court. I was arrested many times in Paris but once have been very bad: in 1990 I was in the court and so it was very bad, you know, take a lawyer..it was very bad. I had to pay a small (?), at the end, and I was in the court foro ne year, one year, because each time they said “Ow, we need more informations about you and what you were doing there”. So three months after three months, but at the ens, after one year, they decided to make me pay 20 Dollars, so it’s nothing, and I had to clean the wall and then take pictures of the cleant wall.
And now you show your paints in the gallery, it’s quite funny!
Yeah, but I already showed my paintings in the galleries
When did you start?
My first show I made it with a group in 1984, I’m not sure. It was in Paris: a guy put an advertisement in newspaper asking “who is the guy who makes graffiti in Paris?”. This because in 1984 some artists were working in Paris, for example a guy called Jérôme Mesnager, he makes the same characters in white. So we had a show group with some people makeing graffiti. So Jérôme Mesnager, VLP, Speedy Graffito.
Does it mean that when you started you hade a crew, a group, or you where alone?
No, I was with a friend of mine: we started together for three monthes, his name was Gerard, but after three months his wife became pregnant and she asked hom not to go in the streets, so I kept on alone.
What about the exhibition you are goingo to make here on 20 January?
Actually it’s my first show in Italy, so it’s kind of a sconsacration and for reason I am happy, it’s on the math of propaganda because the first graffiti I saw was propaganda made by fascists, and my work is kind of a propaganda also. Well, it’s not a kind of, this is propaganda because when I leave an image in the street I know that the day after thousand and thousand people will see my work. It’s my own propaganda that I do. The theme of the show is propaganda and it’s also my link that I have with the italian paintings: I was very influenced in all my life by the art from Italy like most of the artists al lover the world, but I was very very influenced, by the Roman antiques, Pomepi, Caravaggio and all of the Reinessance period, like every artist, but I’m very very impressed. And I think the street arti is a kind of Reinessance of art after the conceptual art which is the death of art.
What do you think about conceptual art?
I don’t under stand anything in the conceptual art, I was never touched by conceptual art because it touches only people who have studied a lot, it’s complicated and I don’t under stand, it’s for an elite as an access for this kind of particular art and I was wired against this art all my life even in the Seventies. I like Marcel Duchamp because he was the first one and I under stand his work but now, you know, when I see people makeing strange things, they put strings and they put cloche..I don’t know, I don’t understand! What do you want to say? There is a reason, there is reason why you do that, I’m sure, but I’m not interested at all.
On the other hand street art is very different: with the conceptual art you speak to a small group of people, with the street art not, it’s the opposite.
Absolutely. It’s kind of democratization of art because the public is global, al lover the world.
What do you think about street art now?
I think we are still living the really beginning of srteet art: it started more than 40 years ago in Philadelphia and in NYC but I really think we are really living the beginning of this movement. It’s gonna be more important in 20 years further, I’m sure of that because for an artist is very important to be seen and when you leave something in the street, I told you before, when you leave an image in the street you know that the day after thousands and thousands of people will see your work. So I’m sure i twill take different matters of expression but the stencil will be not anymore used by the artists because the new artists will use new techniques.. I don’t know how i twill be, I don’t know the evolution, but I’m absolutely sure it is gonna be the art of XXI century.
Is there an artist that you prefer more than others? Despite Banksy..
I like Banksy, I love Mark Jenkins, he worked in that gallery actually (but that’s not a reason why I love him, I loved him before he entered the gallery here, I really love his works, he is really good), I like guy called Slinkachu, a british guy, I like Shepard Fairey, I like Swoon, I really like Swoon, I like many artists.
Yes, Stan&Lex. They are a group of people, right? Yeah, they are two, I’ve never met them but I like their work very much.
Have you ever heard about Blu?
Yes, I had a show with him in New York, actually, at the Jonathan Levine Gallery. Yes, I like his work.
I asked you about Blu because something heppend to him in Bologna: some critics decided to remove a lot of paintings by Blu (and some other artists as Ericailcane, Alicè) to put them in a museum.
Ok why not?
Because it’s an ephimeral work, it doesn’t stand for a long time on the street. So we have to keep memory of what happened in the street. It’s very important, because for example we don’t have anything from the Sixties in NYC, we only have photos, but we don’t have any pieces of what happened in NYC in Sixities and Seventies, so I think is very importanbt to keep memory, I’m not against that.
Can’t you take just a picture of this paintings?
It’s not enough, you know. We need something material. No really, I’m not against that. I’m a little against when they resell, they take something and they resell I don’t like it, but if you go in the museum it’s beautiful.
But what I didn’t tell you is that those people didn’t ask anything to Blu, Ericailcane. They didn’t ask them “Do you agree?”
No of course no, but I can’t under stand why they didn’t ask, because they could ask him and I’m sure he would ansie “yes”, because it’s in a museum..
Maybe because if you want to enter in a museum you have to pay..
Yeah.. ok it’s a mistake comeing from the museum not asking him. But it’s not so important. I’m sure Blu is very happy inside himself. I would be happy.