michael kershnar street art paris

michael kershnar street art paris

Hybridisation is probably the most and least suitable noun to describe Michael Kershnar’s work, a mixture of graffiti and skate cultures, indigenous American iconography, Old Testament stories. We met him at an apartment he’d been keeping for a few months, just off of the Grands Boulevards, where he took time to graciously share his story with us, along with some cheese and avocado.

How would you describe your artwork, its message, the audience?

Creation, The Creator, something larger, trying to invoke ancient feelings, too, something kind of familiar, which touches people regardless of gender or age.

I want little kids and their grandmothers to like it. I want a hard core audience to like it: skateboarders, cynical graffiti writers, – everyone across the board. And of course, not everyone will like it, but I like to make it accessible. I keep trying to approach what I would call ‘aesthetic truths’: perfect composition, perfect use of space, that there’s some mastery or undeniable beauty.

How is it connected to skateboarding?

It’s connected to skateboarding because it’s outside, and for me it’s a lot about spots. If you skate from place to place, you grind the curb, you ollie up the curb –  and every curb is valuable to a skater – when you approach putting up stickers or street art, as it were, it’s the same only about poles, for example. There are the little ones you walk by, which you can apply stuff to, the back of crosswalk signs… The little nooks and crannies of the city are valuable and you’re kind of tickling them, appreciating them and adding to them, and the public doesn’t care so much for either one, but to a select audience they’re the best the city has to offer.

michael kershnar street art paris

(top) Abandoned Paris shop front on Rue Vertbois, Paris’ 3rd Arrondissement.

Who are some of your favourite street artists? And what is it about street art that you like?

The artists I think are the best are in the streets, are people like Barry McGee, he’s a guy who’s doing it the best.  You can find handstyles, you can find stickers, you can find fill-ins, so he’s maintained an active practice. Same with Pez or MQ in SF, and right here in Paris, you have SupeEd Templeton‘s out there everyday doing photography in the streets.

It’s public, it’s for everyone, it’s like Paris’ green Wallace Fountains – everyone can drink from them. I don’t think art should be some ivory tower thing, I think it’s kind of populist in nature, and it’s one’s way of showing what they’ve got, and want to see what other people have got. I like it when really masterful people do stuff in the streets alongside the new jacks.

It shouldn’t just be ads in the visual landscape, it’s much more personal to see someone’s art. It shouldn’t just be a company or money controlled thing. There should be marks of individual expression.

 Michael Paints at Le Dude bar on Rue St Marthe and Rue St Maur in the 10th Arrondissment. Photo by Marco Zavagno (2014)

michael Kersnar canvas

An archetypal wolf face inspired by his childhood pet, a husky dog named Keomi.

Who’s your art made for?

I do art for myself, my family and friends. It’s always spiritually dedicated, so I feel like it’s my contribution. It’s my way of showing up and doing something in this world, so it’s for everyone.  I also really like Instagram, I like posting there for the homies, sort of like “This one, there’s a lot of Francisco and Nina and Jack in it,” and this one is someone else.

Nina and Jack?

They’re friends in San Francisco who inspire my work. Lovely people. They’re also into living in nature, for example, practicing fishing consciously. It’s the other side, there is not much nature in the city, so it’s fun to bring the animals to the city through my art, and remind people that it is a big world, we’re just one species.

How did you arrive at your idea on bringing nature into your work?

I grew up with a Siberian husky, her name was Keomi. I loved her so much and she had that wolfy face. My sister and I, we used to draw her as kids. So my characters actually stem from trying to draw my dog’s face. I was always interested in the dynamic between wolves and men and the spiritual tie that exists there. I feel it’s really ancient.

michael kershnar street art paris. photo by  Luidgi Gaydu

Michael Kershnar (left) skates at République. Photo by  Luidgi Gaydu (2014)

michael kershnar street art paris thrasher

Homage to Thrasher

What’s been your experience of the indigenous American culture. How did your personal ideas about spirituality develop?

As a kid, I always identified with Native Americans, I liked that they lived close to the land and their spirituality. Through my work for the skate brand Element and a program called Elemental Awareness, we’ve become good friends with people on the Apache and Navajo Indian reservations. I’ve been there a bunch of times, and worked on art amd primitive skills. Especially when I’m around the world, I can sort of present that. It’s a bigger story than ‘white man draws a tipi.’ It’s not just like, “Oh! What’s in for Spring 2015? A neon tipi wearing sunglasses!” I love the Native American culture of ancient days, and I love it now. I feel blessed to be a part of it today because as a kid I didn’t know any people from that culture, I didn’t know any Caribbean people, I didn’t know any French people. We can choose to be citizens of the world, if we go on that adventure.

I fully grew up Jewish, I had a bar mitzvah, learnt to read Hebrew… I am pretty familiar with the Old Testament, Jewish literature – I like all those stories. When I was a kid I didn’t want to go to Hebrew school on Tuesdays and Thursdays and Sundays, I wanted to skate. But now when I go to a synagogue, I know the stories, I feel like the education was really good for me. All my grandparents are Jewish so I maintain some kind of cultural dogma for them, I eat Kosher and I don’t have tattoos, but other than that, I spend money on Saturdays and things like that. I’m interested in all religions of the world. I’ve been to Nepal. I’m interested in man’s search for meaning, and I can see that my ancestors’ journey was the same. It gave me a strong foundation as a kid, “What’s your interaction with God going to look like?” It’s a good question to ask a young person, and that’s like the Jewish question. With the Abraham story, “How are you going to do it, dude?”  So, I was like, I’ll do it through skating, I think. And to do something positive in the world, it became about Elemental Awareness, this non-profit that my best friend Todd and I co-founded with Element. And then it wasn’t running a non-profit organisation, that wasn’t for me, it was the art. And now I feel really at peace with art as my contribution for that. And so I’m keeping covenants that I made in childhood and developing and growing, and acknowledging who I am, and who I could be, and who we all can be, that’s my story.

michael kershnar beastie boys
Beastie Boys concert poster by Michael Kershnar

michael kershnar street art paris

Imagery on the primitive skills Kershnar learned growing up, which he teaches to others through the foundation he helped to build, Elemental Awareness.

michael kershnar street art paris

Kershnar gets up by Notre Dame Cathedral

Michael Kershanr Toreschreiber street art paris

Michael’s great grandfather.

And the idea of anti-Semitism?

I was just going say; I’ve heard some anti-Semitism in France, more than the US actually, quite a bit. I think many French don’t know so many Jewish people closely. They’re like “Well, you know, I’m not talking about you or your mum, but you know, Jews in general.” And I’m like “I don’t know. Whom are you talking about?” Maybe there are like secret people or something but I don’t know them. This was my great grandfather and he came from Poland and the rest came from Russia, but they were just dudes on their spiritual path. But what I like, the way I feel connected to it is that his last name is Toreschreiber , which means they were calligraphers, and I feel like that’s in me, and that’s a strength in my letters, and that I can pull these Hebrew letters that no one else really does, with Hebrew and English. My story is a Jewish one, and I identify with it, but I think a problem can be that sometimes people think it is a closed tribalism, and there’s a lot of anti-Israeli sentiment here, and maybe those issues coincide. I don’t know, at times I feel like I have to keep my head down about Judaism or something. I think Israel has the right to exist, I wish it was peaceful with everyone in the whole world. These are hard issues.

And then it even comes to World War II. It’s a heavy story, I don’t always want to get into all of it, but I’m down to talk to anyone about whatever they want to talk about, if they have a sincere interest. My grandfather did a Kosher chicken market in Brooklyn, it was where my dad grew up, five brothers, and they these beautiful old sign paintings, “Kosher Poultry”. I feel pretty neat because they all went on a boat to America and do something still kind of related to the Jewish culture and feed the people and generations later it’s me and I’m doing fine art, but I feel connected to it. Even being in France, my grandfather was wounded in WWII in France, and ended up in a hospital here and didn’t know if he was going to make it or not, but came home and then my dad was born. I wish I spoke French like him. My story is a Jewish story and it sometimes I think people think that’s a bad thing, but it’s the culture I was born into and I received my education from.

michael Kersnar canvas

What were the negative aspects of that tribe created from that collective story?

Well there are the stereotypes, of course, like ‘Jews are cheap’, so I then I might have to always make sure to buy rounds of drinks, or treat people a lot or something. You always have to act against the stereotypes. And then even if you think you’re doing a good job of countering a negative stereotype, someone will come and tell you that you’re being a greedy Jew or that you are probably rich anyway. I don’t agree with greed, some people are greedy in every culture. But it’s obviously better to share than to be horde. Everyone knows these things and I think everyone on Earth is trying to do their part. For me, I am asking, “Why am I Jewish? What is the big lesson? Maybe it’s humility. You carry something in you that has given you a lot, but some people don’t like it. That’s kind of the nature of the world, there are positive and negative elements, so just take it and focus on the positive and even things that people can perceive as negative, internally to you it can remain positive, and that’s kind of what Judaism has been for me. Everyday I feel thankful for the stuff I was taught when I was a kid, which was straight up Old Testament literature, and why that was spiritually valuable for a person in their daily life, and I think that’s good teachings. And some of those stories are crazy, so you have to find out, “Why would good people allow a stoning to occur”, and there would be these really intellectual takes on every little bit of it, so much commentary. It was an education. What are you feelings about Judaism?

michael kershnar street art paris

I don’t know the stories. But I have massive respect for the legacy. And in terms of the holocaust, in fact, I’ve been noticing the book Mein Kampf on sale in certain bookshops. What are your ideas about this book?

I mean I wouldn’t try to get it on the Oprah top ten list but I think if people are interested in history and they want to read it to find out what he wrote, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t. I’ve not read it, I don’t know exactly what argument it makes against the Jews. Obviously, there’s no truth in global conquest, and making the whole world Germany, everyone can say that’s ridiculous. We’re all going to die to invade all these countries? Ultimately, hatred is wrong. That’s not what we’re on earth to do. We’re here to create greater understanding and love and communication. And that’s why, even in the arts, I do animals. It’s beyond all the differences between humans.

I would also encourage the people to maybe read some other stuff on WW2, some holocaust survival stuff, The Diary of Anne Frank to balance it out. I went to Auschwitz alone, just to see it. I was really troubled by the holocaust as a child and I even thought when I was a little kid that maybe one day the cops would take me out of school because I was one of two Jewish kids in my class. Just like how I read in a book how it happened in my grandparent’s time in Europe. But I would tell my self that that’s a crazy fantasy, it’s never going to happen. It was maybe a historical trauma. And the trauma goes on with Israel, a safe place to go which has been historically yours, the Hebrew language, the Roman expulsion, but then it’s not a popular cause and it’s not working out right, it’s not stable. I wish it was stable, it would be so great. I am sure Jesus and Mohammed and Moses and all the dudes would want Jerusalem to be the most peaceful place on earth, where you can walk around stoked, feeling the good Godly vibes.

michael Kersnar canvas

Canvas work by Michael Kershnar

What are your thoughts on what could be done to ease the Israeli-Palestinian situation?

There’s an excessive use of force by Israel and I hope there’s a moral shift soon because to me the whole thing is borne out of the ashes of WWII so it should happen before that generation has gone and the memory is gone. Otherwise it becomes like a historical footnote “Some ancient war happened a long time ago… ” Some historically insignificant war like the War of 1812 that no one thinks about, you know what I mean? So the sooner the better for stability. I guess the fear is “Are these people ever going to give us peace?” The whole region is unstable, there’s always stuff going on. If it gets fixed, on the Palestinian side, there needs to be a shift, too. If they get the keys back, they can’t continue saying, they hate Israel or they hate the Jews, otherwise it won’t be peaceful. They both have to give and receive and take and share. More same schools, all that has to happen more and more. Tons of different kids in the same classrooms, growing up together. Which is kind of what they did in America with racism and segregation. Not that racism is dead.

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Michael Kershnar paints at Rue Saint Marthe and Rue Saint Maur in Paris’ 10th Arrondissement. Photo by Marco Zavagno (2014)

Back to Judaism, would you say you use any of the stories in your work?

Yes, some of them, for example in a concert poster I made for Stephen and Damian Marley there was a Moses and the Red Sea reference. So in reggae posters I’ve definitely referenced a lot of Old Testament stories. But it’s not that usual, and then only a couple of my friends would know that’s that. Or maybe very Jewish or Christian people who’ve read the Bible will know it. The Binding of Isaac, I’ve referenced. It’s a crazy story, and in my religious class we would have to work it out: “Why would a loving God ask a father to cut his own son’s throat?” It’s a hard story to cling to to, so there’s a lot of deconstruction and metaphor, and ultimately it’s can be seen as an uplifting tale. But even as a kid, I was worried about the animal being sacrificed, “But the animal got sacrificed, why do we have to slice a ram’s throat for God?” And then it’s like the nature of life is consuming in the way that we’re all born, live, and die and if you plough a field you’re going to take homes from mice, so even the agrarian way can be cruel, and you, in the end it’s done to you. And all those stories, in the end the right thing happens, goodness ultimately wins. I believe in Buddhism, and they say the Universe is created from a formless void, total chaos, and it’s not from a loving God, and Judaism says that it’s actually from a loving God and people’s internal nature is good, which makes you feel more at home in the world. Internal nature is good, people are good, everyone wants to see the good, it’s hard to explain. All these tenets, do good things, don’t do the bad things, give and receive love.  I don’t think it’s a reward system, it’s more like an energy flow tidal kind of thing. And then nature is proved over again. That is something I took from Judaism, “Look how perfectly balanced nature is, that’s how much God loves everything, even the big animals that eat the other animals, it’s all connected. But you have to see it more as all balanced in love not just as a vicious shark amongst all the beautiful colorful fish in the world, you know. Because the shark plays its role too.

So do you want some food, I have avocado and cheese…


To discover more on the awesomeness that is Michael Kershnar, check out his website and Instagram.

Paris street artist Levalet - Underground Paris (3)

Born in the Lorraine region of East France, 27-year-old Levalet takes advantage of Paris’ architecture, combining his knowledge of theatre and painting especially, with a keen eye for topography, to produce site-specific scenes painted with Indian ink. Here, he talks about what makes his work possible, his artistic background, the legality of making street art in Paris, and places he likes putting up work.

Tell us about your works, what are your main themes and influences? 

I don’t know if we can talk about any main themes in my works, I work on staging each piece uniquely. My influences are numerous: theatre, film, plastic arts, comics. Afterwards, I contextualise it with the environment which affects the iconography of my scenes. Most of the time I rely on situations inspired by everyday life, and always a bit out of sync with reality.

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Chanoir - Alberto Vejarano - street art Paris (3)

Interview by Antoine Weber

Introduction by Ignacio Mackinze

Paris-based Colombian artist Alberto Vejarano aka Chanoir returned to working in the streets two years ago, aiming to enlarge the ‘expressive resources’ of his distinctive cats. A former student of the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, he is aware that street art has a different logic to that of working in his atelier. Having stepped down from his ivory tower, motivated by a public and his friends, Chanoir is is also doing work for brands, which poses no problems for him – actually, quite the opposite – he sees it as a means to an ends, as a prolific way to gain recognition as an artist.

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Words by Jess Zimmerman:

Michael de Feo feels just as much at home getting in trouble with the cops in Amsterdam as he does dishing out the art world jargon. This multifaceted artist —part street, part gallery—manages to walk a fine line between the hoity toity art world and the comparatively unaffected urban scene.

De Feo comes to Paris with a mission he’s repeated literally countless times before: he’s here to paint flowers. This should come as little surprise for an artist working under the moniker “Flower Guy”, and he’s been at it for a mind boggling twenty-two years.

Does this warrant our respect or should we question his mental health? The real question is whether the sight of his now iconic imagery makes him want to hurl his daisies? Fat chance. This New Yorker is staying true to the perennial that brought him fame.

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Jorge Pomar art exhibition Paris street art graffiti interview Le MUR Oberkampf. Photo by Demian Smith copyright 2014

Naively painted animals toting guns on a public wall in Paris? Chatting with Argentinian artist Jorge Pomar (AMOR), reveals he experiences little anxiety over the potential clash of such imagery.

In Paris to paint at Le M.U.R. – the three by eight metre billboard in Paris’ 11th Arrondissement, set aside by the city council for the purpose of promoting urban art – his latest painting, above, is child-like and colourful, but actually serves as a vehicle for a much darker message, not so dissimilar to his 2013 exhibition at Belleville’s project space, La Friche.

You may be drawn in by Pomar’s work at Le M.U.R. with its chipper rays of sunshine, but this mural is certainly no wallflower. Be prepared for a cold hard dose of social reality to go with it.

An interview with Pomar follows:

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Nelio street artist paints Le M.U.R. XIII, Paris 13th Arrondissement graffiti mural wall

Nelio had been staying in Buenos Aires for five months prior to painting on the Seine’s Left Bank at Le M.U.R. XIII, pictured above, learning Spanish, collaborating with local artists, and avoiding the north European freeze.

Here’s an in-depth interview made with him in the Argentinian capital, which sheds light on his development as one of France’s leading post-graffiti artists.

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Miss Van exhibition at Parisian street art project Le M.U.R. - Photo by Demian Smith (1)

Miss Van, also known by her real name, Vanessa Alice Bensimon, a native of Toulouse, in the south of France, is now one of the 140 plus artists to make their mark at the Le M.U.R. project, pictured above.

The eight by three metre former advertising billboard, which every two weeks plays host to a different graffiti-street artist – and in keeping with the ephemeral spirit intrinsic to street art discards every work to make room for the next invitee – is managed by the not-for-profit association, Le M.U.R., founded by street artists in 2007, who had been previously involved in systematically and illegally hijacking the space with artwork.

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Cleon Peterson Palais de Tokyo Lasco Project Paris street art graffiti exhibition - Photo: Demian Smith IMG_4171

In the same week Google announces the French launch of its virtual street art documentary project at the Palais de Tokyo, a similarly impressive and graffiti-related event takes place within the same venue – a body of work presented on walls in the museum’s basement, which unlike the former, can be viewed in reality, and as far as we know, free of any rights infringement issues.

The exhibition is set in the underground and forgotten entrails of this, one might say, bourgeoise art establishment – imitating the true place of graffiti art in European cultural life - and is a continuation of the project instigated by French graffiti artists, Lek & Sowat, a couple of years ago, which we reported on, here.

A play on the name of the caves at Lascaux, known for their wall-painted prehistoric art, the Palais de Tokyo’s Lasco Project, third edition – curated by the elusive Hugo Vitrani – is, perhaps, the best yet, including work by among others, early New York graffiti artist, Futura 2000 and UK graffiti pioneer, Mode 2. Other artists included in this edition are as follows: Cleon Peterson (USA), Horfée (France), Ken Sortais (France), Evol (Germany), Vhils (Portugal), Cokney (France).

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Sambre - Magda Danysz - Les Bains Douches - Paris graffuturism street art Photo by Espinozr

The first time we met he pointed me to the illegal and ephemeral exhibition organised by his crew, 1984, due to take place at a secret location the day of the 2012 French Presidential election.

The twelve strong crew infiltrated a former electricity company headquarters close to Parc de Buttes Chaumont (19éme) to produce Le Musee Imaginaire.

Once installed, security guards stalked the premises indisposed. Crowds had already arrived informed that morning by Facebook of Paris’ latest art squat, wives and girlfriends of the artists selling cake and juice for voluntary donations.

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Mygalo artist Paris truck graffiti street art - "l'amour" basse graffiti van. Photo: Mygalo

Mygalo 2000 interview Paris street art graffiti skull art José Guadalupe Posada. Photo: Mygalo

Not street art, usually, graffiti on Parisian trucks: a new middle area. Skeletons and skulls, graphic in the way of typo-graffiti, but carrying messages tied to death, love, twerking - too intellectual to be merely called ‘graff’.

Truck graffiti culture in Paris is the most sophisticated of its kind anywhere in the world, “base street graff’”, by the likes of Horfé and the Peace And Love (PAL) crew, for example, often done on trucks and vans as random acts of dissent and invasion of people’s private property, but generally there’s not much going on with it past the initial emotional and colourful thrust.

Due to its cartoonish presentation – and my own ignorance of turn of the nineteenth century Mexican political cartoons – only once I dug deeper (!) into this cohesive body (!) of new truck art, and unearthed (!) the identity of its author, did my senses truly get brought to life as to the brilliance of Mygalo 2000.

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