You are one of the most mediatic writers from France with Jonone 156, Honet, Mist y O’Clock. You started like any other writer…
Tell us a little bit about your story. Your beginnings.
I started painting graffiti in 1988 in Toulouse, after seeing old school writers from the same city doing the same thing. One day I climbed a fence in an abandoned building, where i saw pieces. I was sixteen, and I wondered what it was and who these people where. I wanted to do the same thing. i started to paint the basements in my neighborhood, hidden places, because I thought i was doing was bad, and I can not go to the city and do that. I needed more time and practice… So i began to paint and practice till I met the guys who painted in my city and one of them became my mentor. He showed me everything, all the classic graffiti books and stuff. Movies, books, pictures. One of those guys went to Amsterdam and showed me a lot of pieces from Shoe, Delta… that made my will to paint grow even more.
i even travelled for graffiti..I went to NYC in 94 where i met a lot of writers, and at this time I realized that i was going to do this for the rest of my life. they acted like fathers to me, they took me everywhere, they showed me everything, took me to the trains, and told me their stories from back in the day. They took me in with so much love and i felt like this was not only about painting with cans, it’s a global thing. I wanted to be become good, respected. I painted with a long line of people, and I’m still there, 22 years after that. this definitely became my life story.
Don’t you miss panting like you used to do, in the street, in a classic style?
Of course. If you see my gallery work, except for this time when i wanted to do something religious, my work is nostalgic. I am nostalgic about when I used to paint like a normal writer, when there was no talk about street art and so on. I miss the competition from that time…it was really pure. it was better. You do nice styles, you travel a lot, you do throw-ups in the city, you’re are respected. Today artists comes form art school, they have very little concept, you have a good web, and a nice Facebook page, and after two years they become a good street artist, without roots and no background. So the competition for me on todays scene is really insane. It’s not true. Every city you go to has its names, the oldschool people. They have the kings. I miss the old days.
The day has 24h and I have make choices, I love to paint at my studio, but sometimes I need to paint some throw-ups in the street, not for the fact that I’m still there, but just for me, for the balance, for fun. In a studio you have a small space, you have to focus in a different way. When I do throw-ups my body moves, it’s like dancing, My arms’ curves and moves. On a canvas its not the same deal.
So i look for balance with illegal, or at least outdoor graffiti. This is to hard to me since i have to deal with both sides.
The throw-up is your link with graffiti and your personal mark, but this is one of the less defensible basics in front of the people… Why have you chosen it? How did you get it?
To be honest, this is one of the best questions anyone ever asked me.
It’s pretty simple. When I used to paint classic graffiti, like wildstyle, background, characters, production etc, it was the daytime graffiti. Like in a hall of fame. At the nighttime I was doing throw ups. Cope2 taught me how to do it. It became a mark of identity. The same thing but many times. I love that concept.
One day i realized that my daytime graffiti became more boring, i loved only the ambiance and the final picture. Between the sketch and the end of the wall was too much like working, everything has to be too perfect. When it’s finished almost everyone likes what they see. At the same time the feeling of the nighttime missions was stronger than the production-walls and such. I decided to try to make my daytime graffiti mix with the nighttime style of painting. I think that for the last 15 years or more, that’s my game. A lot of people don’t like or criticize my work saying it’s to simple, to bubbly and round.. but for me it’s stronger because it’s more pure, it’s my identity.
Recently I did something i called the Panic Room, half a room full of tags, drips, throw ups, with this i wanted to talk to those people who really “loves” graffiti, like Aryz, Os Gemeos, El Mac when they do walls (which I love), but usually dont like the tags in the streets. I love dirty graffiti too, and when I did this room most people liked it, with all those drips, and tags. It became art work., and they love it. I hope when they see tags on a door, or in the street they remember the Panic Room and look at in a different way.
Do you survive with your art? Or do you do something else?
I used to do infography, t-shirts, teach graffiti to kids in more depressing neighborhoods and decoration of premises. Today I’m lucky enough to be able to live from my own work….
You used to share a studio with Dran. In which way did you influenced each other?
I used to shared it with Dran, but not anymore. He told me that a long time ago he was influenced by an old piece I did in Toulose. He was with Teen, a writer older than me from my town, and they went to see a piece I did with a friend of mine. When he saw the piece he had the same reaction like I had when I saw the oldschool pieces. It was colorful, and located in a place it was not suppose to be and he was influenced by this. but thats about all talking about getting influenced. his work is completely different since it’s closer to illustration and more critic on society and comic, even when he paints the street. I’m not sure wether we influenced each other or not.
About Bodypainting, Were you conscious of the polemic that the book was going to generate and how this was going to change your image?
Absolutely not, but I did a big mistake when I did the book. When Publikat gave out the book, I had an agent, from Germany, his name is Rik and i asked him to write something for the book since he knew the concept of the book, and he agreed. but instead he wrote something completely different about Buda, Cartier- Bresson, Dalai Lama… which had nothing to do with the concept of the book. A lot of people thought the book was about me painting bubbles on naked girls, some people even thought i fucked the girls in the book… disaster.
They thing was, I used to be with a girl who also was my painting partner. I spent 7 years with this girl. I used to make photography, travel and paint with her. One day she left me and three months later she went with another guy, she got pregnant and married him. It was tough to deal with, i was really depressed. I even went to a monastery to calm down. After that, I realized I needed to change things. I had to combine all these things and fill the empty spaces in my life.I started walking around in the streets asking random girls : “do you want to spend three hours in a hotel room with a stranger?” -Three hours of freedom for you, get crazy, take off your clothes, play with dildos and I will take photos of you. But if you are shy, and just want me to paint your hands or belly, I will never ask you for more than that….
I wanted to capture the intimacy of two strangers and the sensation of fake love. When you see the pictures, the girls are smiling, but not in the way a model would smile. I wanted to show that type of moment, and this because I have a problem with love, the fact that you can fake love. People ask me if I fucked them, or if they were my girlfriends because they seem so comfortable, and this was exactly what i was aiming for. the ability to fake love. I only went to bed with two of them, one is still my girlfriend since seven years, Virginie, she is the girl i share my life with, and the one who made me come back from NYC to Tolouse. The other one was a big crush from Aukland, and I spent a lot of time with her too. The girls can be as free as they want, and it generates a fake intimacy with a stranger, they never going to meet again.
If they wanted to act like prostitutes they could, same as if they wanted to be shy. Without explanations in front of the camera they where able to be sexy in a natural way. None of them was a models except for one, and that was not premeditate.
A friend and i printed the work as a small book of only 100 copies. Publikat got interested and made it bigger, and 10.000 copies. That was the story.
I did many exhibitions with this material, but people did not really understand the reason. So many feminists raged against the book, saying that i used the girls as objects. To me, It was not only about body-painting, in many of the pictures you can’t even see the painting on the bodies. I hate traditional body-painting, I think it’s very degrading for the girl, cause they use the body like a canvas. In the pictures I do now, sometimes I didn’t even paint them. It´s only about photography. Some people understood this and got my idea and the contemporary concept of be a woman or man. It relates to the “15 minutes of fame” that Andy Warhol talked about, you know …”I exist, I want you to see me naked”. Like facebook profiles girls that appears in a sexy way. Why do they want to appear like this if no one can see it?
The “art-people” saw this in The Bubble book, and they brought it many crazy exhibitions. They showed the pictures, and of course this is a part of me, but its not everything.
So I stopped doing it for a while because I wanted to show that i am an graffiti artist, a painter, and not only a photographer who takes pics of naked girls with bubbles on them.
If i make another book I will try to explain everything deeper, the way we meet, the deal, everything. That way people can hate i or love it, but at least know whats behind the whole work.
They will understand the deal involving that the girls have to take a risk to go with me and that i take the risk of tagging her name around the city. Its really all a question of confidence…
We can see that photography is very important for you. Tell us why…
All graffiti artists even if they are not photographers, they have to became ones, because they take pictures of everything they do, knowing that if they don’t, it will disappear. So I am the kind of artist that would take a picture of the graffiti piece I just finished, but it wasn´t before I started travelling a lot that I started caring about photography. For example, when I first went to Tokyo, I took the usual picture of my piece but then I realized that It didn´t look like Tokyo at all, and then I thought that maybe if I changed my position in the photo will appear a cab driver or a sign in Japanese so then it looked like the city where I was painting. That was the beginning.
For me, photography is like magic, the opposite of graffiti, because it’s instantaneous. For a piece you have to do the sketch, to find the place… it’s a process. With a photo it takes only a moment.
Mist and I usually do a piece on the ground with a lot of scenario so that your name is not just on a wall, but a part of the city itself. There are a few of these in NYC or Manila.
Before graffiti writers didn´t care much about the scenario. Now, it’s all different, half of the photo is the background. People know that. Before, we did not think that far.
How did the video ‘Endless Obssesion’ comes out and what did you want to communicate with it?
I asked my friend Big Addict to make a video so simple, that the idea is just pure graffiti. You paint till it’s all covered and then there’s not a single spot left so you clean up and begin again, and again, and again. That’s my personal love for throw ups. I did my first throw up (the one that I consider my mark) in 1994 in New York, and I never thought that 17 years later I will keep doing the same with the same love and energy. I want to show people it can be an endless story. Do it. It also shows the pointlessness of graffiti, because you paint and you know that it’s is going to be erased. Everyone wants to do it.
You come to Barcelona very often … what do you like about the city?
I come very often to Barcelona because it’s very close to Toulouse and my ex-girlfriend Miss Van lives here. I love it. All graffiti artists love this city.
You can tell how young and energetic a city is by the skateboard and graffiti activities. I think this is The City, maybe only besides Berlin.
You can have a touristic, clean, snobby part of the city but also the messy, dirty one. Tags, throw ups, graffiti everywhere. We don’t have this anymore in France, not in Toulouse, not in Paris.
So I think this is a plus for the Spanish way of living. My grandmother is from Valencia, I went to see her and my auntie, also The Fallas. They have street life there even if they are not young people anymore. Spain is like South America or Manila: countries were people live in the street and they’re nicer to other people from other countries.
You can feel the difference, you have to be careful but you can do graffiti like a normal thing.
You travelled a lot and most of the times to Asia… What do you find there? What are you looking for?
In Asia they have this new look upon graffiti and it varies from place to place but I love the dirty Asia, like the Philippines, the small cities in China, Bangkok… people there they have this pure point of view. Here the people had learned how they have to look at graffiti. The have an opinion but normally it’s not a personal feeling, it’s more like education. In places like Manila, it’s pure emotion. It’s only about beautiful or ugly. This is one hundred times better for me than to paint in a place where people like it because it’s trendy. The people from Manila think that if you paint the wall you spend some money on it so they take the piece like a gift.
I painted a big wall in Manila. In a very ghetto place, and I painted ¨ Manila rocks my world¨ with a big heart, tattoo style. Everybody just came to me, people gave me food, and talked to me and helped me around all day long. All the little girls and boys painted my name on their hands. Everybody was respectful and gave me so much love.
I finished the piece late at night so I went to take pictures the next day and all the people were there to say good bye. It almost made me cry.
What are you bringing to Mtn Shop & Gallery?
I was doing something different but when I was in Valencia for Las Fallas, even though I’m not a religious man, for a while I stopped to the procession, the flowers, the girls and the prayers… and I thought it was beautiful. You don´t have to believe in God in order to appreciate beauty.
So when Nicola my agent told me about my expo here, I decided to do something special. I thought it could be funny to show something that I was touched by. I wanted to do something really unique, like black and white, spiritual even with a dildo, big pieces like in a church.
Also I wanted to do something smaller which everyone can identify with, accessible to all the normal people like me, original but just small pieces, related in color on stained glass. The idea of the stained glass is that light goes through and in the light the color is very intense, it’s kind of translucent. The water ink I use is called Colorex and they are the same translucent colors, still so intense that sometimes the pink looks like fluorescent.
So on one hand we have the white wall with small white frames, bright fluorescent drawings and on the other hand a black wall with stained glass, bright translucent color.
You did the same in ‘Panic Room’…
I’m a bit like that. I have one part of me who tries to organize everything, a little bit German, clean and perfectionist, and another part of me who hates all this. I hate to be like this. I’m always in between things. I’ m 39 and my father is the same so I have to accept this, even if I don´t like it.
Appart from stained glass, which other materials and techniques would you like to try?
I love to experiment with real stained pieces of glass… this is painted glass. Now I’m working with my friend from Philippines to do a few sculptures inspired by my paintings; we did the dildo, the apple, then I drew my letters, and he sculpted the letters on the apple. I love to try 3D stuff, because now I’m more into figurative art like Marylin the heart. I love to have an object made of letters.
I also began to work with my friend Big Addict to make some videos. For me Endless Obsession is a piece of art. The concept is stronger than the movie.
Sometimes you find someone that you feel you can combine disciplines with and this opens your mind. Combine my work and their technique.
In all your production there is a strong interest in sex…
I think it’s part of me, because I have a very special history with sex. When I was 14 my girlfriend was 16 (now I can explain this because I’m older), I think she was a sex freak. And by freak I mean in a good way. I was the first of my friends to have sex, so I had no one to compare to. But she was crazy, she was wearing her mother´s wedding dress while having sex with me, she was having sex with me while talking to her father on the phone, or while her daddy was cutting the grass she told me to lick her pussy… you know this changed me, she was my mentor in sex and she introduced the game Sex to me. I still love that. She made me a sexual person. She showed to me in sex there are no borders. Only respect. So sometimes I like when the girls show their femininity. Back in the 70’s women took sexual power to a new meaning.
I love girls and I love girls showing their feminine side. I think in other countries like South America sex is more like it was in 70s.
I feel that we lose a bit of freedom.