Interview with Sambre

Sambre-Magda-Danysz-Les-Bains-Douches-Photo-by-Espinozr-SAMBRE installation at Les Bains Douches at Arts et Métiers, Paris. 

Lors de notre première rencontre, il m’a parlé de l’exposition éphémère que son équipe organisait dans un lieu secret le jour de l’élection présidentielle française de 2012. Le collectif de douze artistes s’était donné pour objectif d’infiltrer un ancien immeuble de bureaux situé dans une rue verdoyante perpendiculaire à l’élégant parc napoléonien des Buttes Chaumont pour réaliser le fantastique Musée Imaginaire.

Douze heures durant, l’équipe s’est faufilée et a installé une exposition entière, avant d’être rattrapée le lendemain matin par des agents de sécurité qui ne pouvaient rien faire d’autre que regarder les foules déjà arrivées, informées le matin même via Facebook du dernier squat artistique de Paris. Le vernissage s’est fait autour d’un gâteau et d’un jus de fruit, servis par les femmes et amies des artistes en échange de dons volontaires.

Cette joie de vivre, qui fait la renommée de la scène parisienne du graffiti, s’est récemment reflétée dans deux autres expositions éphémères extraordinaires, La Tour Paris 13 et Les Bains Douches, qui comprenaient toutes deux des œuvres de SAMBRE.

SAMBRE-La-Tour-Paris-13-Photo-by-Jeanne-Marie-Laurent SAMBRE installation at the ephemeral exhibition, La Tour Paris 13

Tell us a little bit about your artistic background, how and why you got into graffiti street art, and what led you to create artwork with wood.

My artistic journey is inspired by and articulated between different lifestyles. I was born in the countryside of the Ardèche, where wood was everywhere. My parents are farmers, so I had contact with the material from an early age.

When I finished my general studies, I wasn’t sure what to do, so I told myself that I would try to go as far as I could with something I liked, and I chose carpentry. For a year, I went to school in Grenoble and worked as a carpenter in the Ardèche. It was good training and I gained a lot of practical experience.

But I missed a creative part of my work, so I decided to upgrade and study applied arts in Lyon in 2004, which I followed with a diploma in arts and crafts and wood sculpture at the Ecole Boulle in Paris.

At the same time, I started making graffiti in 2000, while I was still in secondary school. When I arrived in Paris in 2005, I made more and more graffiti and became more determined.

I quickly met people involved in the culture. During my second year at Ecole Boulle, I did an internship with Jean Faucheur, which allowed me to discover the work in Graff-it magazine. It was ideal because Jean works both in painting and sculpture. He has a very versatile way of working, which suited me. He had his workshop in La Forge, where I met the VAO crew, L’Atlas, BabouTancSun7Teurk. They became my Parisian family.

In 2007, I graduated and went to the Czech Republic for three years, starting with a six-month Erasmus exchange, during which I developed my sculptural work with a teacher who became a kind of “mentor”. After the restrictions of the Ecole Boulle, he gave me a lot of freedom to work in my own way.

SAMBRE-Le-MUR-xiii-Photo-by-Jeanne-Marie-Laurent.jpg-2A ladder rests against the countenance of SAMBRE at Le MUR XIII, a three by eight metre billboard, run by Loïc Carpentier and his team. The wall was inaugurated by Bonom in July 2012. It is located at 12 port de la Gare in the 13th arrondissement of Paris, on the banks of the Seine, below the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. It uses the principle of the palimpsest on an advertising billboard.

Interview sambre tumblr_mvsdpusm9v1s60l3po6_1280SAMBRE – Le MUR XIII. Photo by Jeanne-Marie Laurent.

You were part of the Paris graffiti crew in 1984. What does the name mean and what does it stand for? How and when did you join the crew?

During my stay in the Czech Republic, I returned to Paris and took the opportunity to see the group working at La Forge, especially Teurk, and met the 1984 crew. After spending a year in Brussels developing my studio work, I returned to Paris in early 2012 and “officially” joined the crew. Since then we have been working on more and more projects together, driven by a common vision.

The name 1984 refers first of all to the book of the same name by George Orwell, to social control, to Big Brother, to constant surveillance. It also speaks of a society in which the individual can thwart such a construction and create or re-create spaces of freedom. My background makes me less of a city dweller than others in the crew, but when I lived in Paris it made sense. Making the day pleasant and enjoying life is a leitmotif of the 1984.

My integration into the crew was mainly through human and artistic affinities. But graffiti is not our only reason for living. Our work is an extension of what we have done in connection with graffiti, be it video installations, painting, sculpture, tattooing, animation. Each member has a specific style of expression. That’s what gives us strength as a group, because there are so many different things. We enrich each other and feed off each other’s work, even if we sometimes question each other’s work.

It is not the visual identity that unites us, sometimes we do things that are opposite to each other, there is no attempt to create a visual school. What we want is to reflect, share questions and try to give answers. The idea is to combine skills to be adaptable and responsive to different scenarios, and to create a complete universe.

This year I’m more focused on deepening my own identity, but the two are never completely separate, in the sense that it’s like a family. In my discourse the crew is always present, they are at the centre. Often we have our own opportunities and our own approach and then, depending on the project, it is more or less part of the team. But there is always a connection and communication on our respective projects. It is first and foremost human, there is no set system or rules at that level.

Interview SAMBRE-Le-MUR-xiii-Photo-by-Jeanne-Marie-Laurent.jpg-4Interview SAMBRE-Le-MUR-xiii-Photo-by-Jeanne-Marie-Laurent.jpg-3SAMBRE – Le MUR XIII. Photo by Jeanne-Marie Laurent.

Interview sambre drawings SAMBRE – Le MUR XIII dessin.

SAMBRE-Le-MUR-xiii-Photo-by-Jeanne-Marie-LaurentSAMBRE – Le MUR XIII. Photo by Jeanne-Marie Laurent.

Tell us a little about your work. What are your main themes and influences?

I still find it difficult to talk about my influences because I have no fixed reference. I would have to talk about everything in terms of how it affects my life. I like the surrealist universe. For me, creation is never something completely new, but rather a reworking of what surrounds us.

I am also interested in responding to the present time and place, to the present situation. Without claiming to give an answer to the socio-cultural context, it is not only my identity that is expressed, but it is through my identity that I express what is happening around me. I don’t take specific influences, I’m influenced by everything, by everything and nothing.

Your work at LE MUR XIII is entirely in wood, but you also work with spray paint. What differences do you see between working in 2D and working in volume?

I think the main difference between 2D and 3D work is the technical means and the location in space. A painting without a location in space can only have a visual effect; paint only changes the perception of space, whereas volume physically changes space. A work in 3D is also much less spontaneous, there have to be guidelines at the beginning, although I try to leave a margin for improvisation because I like to be surprised.

For Le MUR XIII, the structure and direction was based on the idea of the face leaving the frame. The question I wanted to ask was how this embodiment relates to man and his role in a mechanised, industrialised environment. Away from its original context, it is no longer quite human, but an urban animal. This is a reflection on the notion of confinement and stress, which can also be structuring and constitutive, the ambivalence, the paradox of all that tugs at us and that we must try to reverse.

The similarities between 2D and 3D could be in the composition, the visual impression of space, even if the understanding of solids and voids is much more important in a volume work. In painting, however, there is really a spontaneous emotional release in the gesture, the balance of colour on the surface.

I have made installations that mix installation and painting. For my work in the La Tour 13 exhibition, I used paint to compose, to draw attention to a particular place. In my installations, I use colour more as a means of delimiting or accentuating parts.

In the last year, I’ve moved away from using colour because there have been more opportunities to make installations. But it is inevitable that I will make a bridge at some point.

Sambre-Swiz-French-Kiss-crew-Photo-by-Man-Art-is-LifeBy SAMBRE and SWIZ. Click to view larger image, here. Photo source: Man – Art is Life

What’s your opinion on being called a graffiti artist as opposed to a street artist, and what does this term graffuturism mean?

To me the term ‘street art’ has become a burden, it no longer means anything. Now it has pejorative connotations, it includes all types of stickers, stencils, inscriptions. I think as an expression it is simplistic, it is a term for the general public and it has lost its essence. I can not say that graffiti is street art.

Graffuturism is a term derived from the artist Poesia’s website of the same name, to define a contemporary graffiti style, a form of graffiti that goes to something else, with other materials and other movements that stand out from the letter. According to this definition, it covers a lot of different styles. Personally, I think it is too broad a term. This proves that everything that is a phenomenon is hard to describe, hard to name, especially when there are tons of new styles emerging, coming from all sides, from all backgrounds and from all over the world. But that, I think is positive.

My work was also encapsulated under the term graffuturism following exposure last year at galerie OpenSpace’s show of the same name. You could say that graffuturism is work in a graffiti style that has “matured”, which has evolved into something else, with other materials, a different direction, a different approach.

Explain what it was like to work as well as live at Les Bains Douches, the abandoned space in central Paris where you created the incredible wooden globe.

The project took place from January to April. Les Bains Douches was a place in transition, a term to which I attach great importance, because in these places, the material takes the form of temporary release, it reasserts itself. It was a period during which I had no apartment, so being able to take residence within the space suited me very well. I stayed there for three months, and it worked out well as the place that spoke to me most, where I created my work, was on the same floor as my living space. What inspired me was the form of this sphere. The big advantage of this place was that it was official, no one could come to disturb me. There were just some limitations explained to me by the architect regarding certain things that shouldn’t be removed for the building to continue to standing. There was electricity and construction workers on hand to lend me equipment. The conditions were ideal, in a place in transition, with a real stamp. I could do whatever I wanted.

For me, it is not frustrating that my work will not be seen by the public. In a way, it’s a shame because we always want as many people as possible see our work. But at the same time, it is an introspective experience. There is this kind of paradox to work for your self, mixed with a desire for others to see it too. For me it was really a time of meditation, it was ritualistic going there every day. I was often alone, though I was helped by my friend Martin – otherwise I would never have been able to finish in time.

Thanks to graffiti, what I do is about the ephemeral and invisible, it is sometimes only through photography or video that my work be viewed by the public. It creates a mystical context, an environment where we do not know very well what is real and what is not . It is poetic, vaporous.

La Tour Paris 13 is a similar concept to Les Bains Douches. How do the two projects compare?

It was quite different, firstly because I only stayed a week at La Tour 13. You had to be effective because of the time constraint. For Les Bains Douches, I spent at least two months in the space continuously working.

When I arrived, the tower was already busy with other artists working, and I felt as though I’d arrived last. It was not the same atmosphere, it was summer, while Les Bains Douches was through the winter. The place consisted of small flats. It was not the same project, except that they were both places in transition, where we had a lot of creative freedom. The nature of the projects is the same, but the circumstances were completely different.

With La Tour 13, I did not immediately have a vision of what I wanted to do. It worried me more than Les Bains Douches. And, then I saw the doors in the hallway, and knew I’d found my material. I began to cut them without knowing what I was going to do, I just needed wanted to cut. I was guided by spontaneous intuitions and gradually it took shape. It was more about the experience, possibly my particular response to that space, with the unique conditions of the moment.

I arrived at the tower through Sowat, who put me in touch with gallerist, Medhi. I did not really have a choice of the room. There were many artists spending their time painting and Medhi wanted there to be more works using space, a little more interactive.

What are your plans for the coming year? Do you have any more projects ahead such as Les Bains Douches and La Tour 13?

There are no plans for these types of projects. I’ll work in more unusual places. I’ll probably make a presentation at Haute Ecole de Commerce on a piece of the barracks they were reluctant to destroy.

And, another project for a college in June 2014 in Orléans, through the Magda Danysz Gallery, an 800m² deconsecrated church dedicated to ephemeral art exhibitions. What is interesting is that it is not a mere exhibition in a gallery, I’ll have to spend time to install and create on the spot. It will be a total experience again. I’ve done the scouting phase and now I need to formally determine what I’ll do. Given the scale of the project, it’ll involve partnerships, there’ll be a budget, and people handling the administrative side, which will make my work easier. Especially because I may set the bar a little high.

You were involved in Lek & Sowat’s Mausolee project which was unveiled last year, as well as creating in the abandoned factory in Siberia. What draws you to create in these sorts of spaces?

It’s always interesting to see why these projects are emerging, interests, expectations. To me, these are also good opportunities to realise my creative vision. At the moment, I do not expose in galleries because I have nothing to explain. I work more in places where there is a context for what I mean by creation. I do not feel like selling my soul. For now, I will focus on the terms, places and people with which I agree.

For now, there is no urgency, because for me the creation is not just a source of income, an object for sale, although I’m starting to live from what I do. I prefer not to rush.

interview sambre le mur 13 paris graffiti wall tumblr_mvsdpusm9v1s60l3po10_1280


Visit SAMBRE’s site, here.

[This interview was initially published at on 22 February 2014]

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