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Reflections on the multifaceted ‘flower guy’ Michael De Feo

Michael De Feo Flower Guy Goncourt Belleville Oberkampf graffiti - street art paris Brightening up everyone’s lives with flowers at rue Robert Houdin in Paris’ 11th arrondissement.

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.

Michael De Feo Flower Guy photo reportage - street art paris De Feo roller paints a new flower at rue Robert Houdin in Paris’ 11th Arrondissement.

With slight modifications that clearly bring this flower-zealot some reprieve in an endless cycle of archetypal reproduction, De Feo creates his blooms with a seemingly obsessive compulsive adherence to detail, precision, and repetition. It’s definitely neurotic, but undeniably prolific and eye catching at the same time.

He may have gained his cred and paid his dues as a characteristically poor art-student scavenging blueprint paper from dumpsters on 17th and Broadway, but this artist has found a comfortable new niche — one that’s peculiarly divided between the gallery and the street, and which brought to light more than one paradox in a whirlwind trip spent putting up work in Paris.

De Feo’s art practice ranges from the illegal to the commercial, making him both a bad boy and a gallerist’s wet dream. It’s no new trend that the fine art world likes to keep a pulse on what’s ‘hot and trendy’, and New York city can indeed boast the first move on bringing graffiti and street art into the gallery world back in the 70’s. But has De Feo lost sight of the rebellious nature and guerrilla mystique that so formed the heart and character of the original movement?

He’s definitely straddling a fine line, flip flopping between two distinct personas. In his own words, he retains an innate penchant for “rattling the status quo, doing something that perhaps shouldn’t be done or isn’t expected, or that somehow is violating something”, but his squeaky clean white converse may reveal otherwise.

It’s one thing to talk the talk, but another to walk the walk, and while De Feo gets up like all the beloved outlaws, writers, and artists out there, his change of clothes, finicky preferences in terms of paint, and distinct ease in the public spotlight, may or may not put him in quite a different camp.

Michael De Feo Flower Guy Belleville - street art parisThe Flower Guy ensures he gets the perfect shade at rue Robert Houdin.

Michael De Feo Flower Guy Canal Saint Martin Belleville graffiti - street art parisMichael De Feo blends his flower with the wall’s pre-existing artwork at Rue Juliette-Dodu, in Paris’ 10th Arrondissement.

Michael De Feo artwork for sale at Rush Arts Gallery New York - street art paris ‘Bloemen (A bedtime story)’, 2014, 53.5 x 40 inches – acrylic, urethane, spray paint and maps on canvas. New indoors work by Michael De Feo exhibited as part of his recent show at Rush Arts Gallery, New York, ‘Pocket Full of Posies’‘.

Michael De Feo Flower Guy Rush Arts Gallery New York flower paintings - street art paris Michael De Feo poses in front of work from his most recent show, ‘Pocket Full of Posies’ at Rush Arts Gallery.

All judgement aside (find me an artist without his quirks, or for that matter, that maintains a firm black and white stance on commercialisation) De Feo embodies a divide much talked about in the street art world these days. Does graffiti become commodity in the gallery? And does this rob it of something? How does a predominantly illegal movement change when it gains social acceptance and is deemed culturally enriching?

Its a mucky grey area with no clear answers, and many distinct opinions. But at the end of the day, De Feo, as both celebrated gallery king, and floral replicator extraordinaire, hasn’t totally lost the plot in terms of his fundamental motivation:

“The intrinsic value isn’t about what happens when you encounter the piece, but what happens afterwards. It opens your eyes, makes you notice your surroundings. When you’re on the usual commute maybe you won’t be so tunnel visioned anymore. Maybe you aren’t looking at street art, you’re looking at anything else in your immediate environment, but regardless things become a lot more engaging”.

Michael De Feo Flower Guy pasted artwork Philadelphia - street art paris Philadelphia.

Michael De Feo Flower Guy mural painting street art - street art paris Painted onto shutters. 

Michael De Feo Flower Guy wheatpasted street art in New York - street art paris Michael De Feo, paste-up, New York.

Michael De Feo Flower Guy wheatpasted street art in New York - street art paris New York. 

San Pedro, Belize - Michael De Feo Flower Guy - street art paris The Flower Guy gets up in San Pedro, Belize.

Michael De Feo Flower Guy wheatpasted New York street art - street art paris Paste-up in San Francisco

Children Museum of the Arts in New York City Michael De Feo Flower Guy - street art paris Children Museum of the Arts in New York City.

Michael De Feo Flower Guy street art in Buenos Aires - street art paris Michael De Feo pastes-up in Buenos Aires. 

Michael De Feo Flower Guy pasted street art in New York - street art parisPaper flower juxtaposed with actual flowers, New York.

Michael De Feo Flower Guy mural painting in Greenwich Connecticut - street art paris Mural painting in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Michael De Feo Flower Guy The London Police street art in Spring Street in New York City - street art paris 11 Spring Street in New York City.

Michael De Feo Flower Guy Saint Remy-de-Provence - street art paris Saint Remy-de-Provence. 

Michael De Feo Flower Guy New York - street art paris New York.

Michael De Feo Flower Guy canals of Venice - street art paris Michael De Feo gets up on the canals of Venice.

Michael De Feo Flower Guy - street art paris - Homage to Caillbotte’s rainy day in Paris is in Tarascon-de-Provence Homage to Caillbotte’s rainy day in Paris is in Tarascon-de-Provence.

Michael De Feo Flower Guy - street art paris Freehand painted flower.

Michael De Feo Flower Guy stickers - street art paris Stuck on flowers: Michael De Feo holds up an iconic flower sticker. Photo by Joe Russo.

Michael De Feo Flower Guy wheatpasted street art in Turks and Caicos - street art parisA flower pasted in its natural habitat in Turks and Caicos.

 

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Listen to Underground Paris interview Michael De Feo on Radio Marais, here.

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MDF’s website, here.

MDF’s Instagram, here.

 

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Interview with ZAP and JUMBO

ZAP sydney graffiti artist street art parisZAP wall in Sydney

Sydney-siders, ZAP and JUMBO, in Paris recently, were first exposed to graffiti culture in the ’80s and ’90s. JUMBO says about graffiti culture: “In this age that we live in, it has become harder to be individual and have a unique voice. Our culture is more homogenised. I think that going and taking a spraycan, ball of yarn, poster, or tin of paint to the street and creating something of your own is a statement of individual willpower and stands against the kind of society that seeks to flatten peoples viewpoints and ideas”.

Can you tell us a little about your artistic background and how you got into street art.

JUMBO: I was always interested in graffiti culture from when I was young. The guys in my school had painted trains and tracksides, and I could see these artworks on the way to and from the city. It coincided with the change in music that was happening in Sydney during the early ’90s, house music and funk, hip-hop etc, were all coming through on community radio stations. Listening to this music, mixed with graffiti, it was a strong message, I was getting something from it. I didn’t want to go all out and take risks by doing big damage and I was more consistently doing illustration-style artwork and drawing. So, I stayed more or less away from the graffiti scene until it changed around 2000 and things were freeing up, when Barry Mcgee became big and Shepard Fairey was doing poster art. That was around the time things were changing in Sydney, anyway.

JUMBO sydney graffiti artist street art parisJUMBO, Paris

ZAP sydney graffiti artist street art paris ZAP, Sydney

Further to what you’ve mentioned, can you pinpoint the main themes and influences present in your work.

JUMBO: I’ve been doing quite a lot of symmetrical work lately which usually incorporates a circus theme and animals with varying deconstructed limbs. The idea isn’t really clear to me. I just try to work ideas in around each other all simultaneously. This makes it interesting for me to paint and draw.

In terms of influences that spring to mind immediately, I like the work of Honet, Hell’o’monsters, and the guys here in Sydney Beastman, Numskull and Bafcat; and the design and architecture from the ’50s and ’60s.

ZAP: Normally, people like my works, the colours, shapes, characters, etc. Some people are brick heads though, they don’t understand anything creative.
 The main influences with my work are Psychedelic abstract forms, also ’70s and ’80s comic influences. Shapes, characters, spaceships, are all symbols of the artist’s journey through time and space.

Video by ZAP

How do you compare working in the street, often without permission, to making work just in a studio, and to the way your production is connected to the commercial art market?

JUMBO: I started out doing posters because they were easy to put up in Sydney. It’s quite strict if you’re caught doing illegal graffiti, it’s seen as an intolerable crime. Posters were an easy way to get around the problem and there are always spots to put them because they can go almost anywhere. That has changed and now I do a lot more work with spraypaint onto walls directly. I find this is a more challenging and interesting method for me at the moment. I think I’ll go back to posters again, eventually.

ZAP: I would call myself an outsider artist using spraypaint, because before street art was popular, I was experimenting with unusual ideas. I think the whole world of spraypainting on walls is great, from graffiti to street art. I don’t like how some people use street art or graffiti to make money. It’s great to make money, but when you only do the art form for money, then it becomes like anything else, it doesn’t stay underground. I think there’ll always be issues between graffiti writers and street artists.

ZAP sydney graffiti artist street art paris ZAPJUMBO sydney graffiti artist street art parisJUMBO, Paris

Take us through your process for producing artwork.

JUMBO: Bring a rough sketch to the wall and sort of expand a bit on it depending on the space and perhaps change it to suit the environment.

ZAP: The process of producing the artwork is through sketch, then wall. I pick a location through spontaneity. The architecture is also important: textures of the
 wall. I usually like run down places with a lot of character etc.

How do people usually respond to the work you create in the street?

JUMBO: Paris was great, the people were really supportive of what we were doing. The work we painted in Paris was probably not seen very much on the street there. Quite big, non subjective and colourful and abstract in style. It is non-confrontational. That being said, we did have some people who reacted badly. There was a guy who already had a lot of tagging on his shopfront and shutters, so we came along and started to paint over the tagged area. It was going to freshen it up a bit, but he saw us and went berserk, started kicking the cans we’d laid out on the pavement all over the street, and wanted to report us. He had a point, sometimes the shopfront gets wrecked, but we weren’t there to ruin it. Unfortunately, not everyone sees it the same way, but I can accept that.

ZAP: The political climate [in Sydney] at the moment is dominated by conservatives, which affects street art and graffiti, because they want everything to be very clean, like in Singapore. The whole yuppie thing doesn’t help either.

ZAP sydney graffiti artist street art paris ZAP

JUMBO sydney graffiti artist street art parisJUMBO, Paris

ZAP sydney graffiti artist street art paris ZAP

What is it that you like about putting up work in Paris, and where else did you paint on your trip?

JUMBO: Paris was great, it has such nice alleys and streets. I think you have to be cautious and consider about whether it works in the environment, because these streets are historical and the people are proud of their city. It’s not rundown anymore and some places are quite upmarket. So they react badly if you go and paint in the wrong area. I also painted in London and Berlin during this trip.

ZAP: When I was painting in Paris, I had a lot of unusual reactions. There were some close calls, but mostly positive. Much more than in Sydney. What I like about Paris is the raw energy of the streets and architecture. Berlin is the same. I like Paris styles a lot,  I have always liked it since the ’80s.
 It was amazing to paint on a lot of abandoned buildings. There was a great vibe. Sydney in my opinion is one of the worst places to paint. Everything gets buffed, there is too much real estate developments, there aren’t that many abandoned buildings. The general public have a real backward idea of anything painted on the wall. If they see you doing anything with spray paint on the walls, they will call the cops straight away. Europe and South America are amazing places to paint.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced putting up a piece on the streets?

JUMBO: Finding a spot that doesn’t offend anyone is a bit of a challenge…especially in a foreign city where you don’t know for sure what is going on all the time.

Like I was saying, the law is heavy here in Sydney so there isn’t a lot of opportunity to do what you want . It has to be legal, most of the time anyways.

ZAP: One of the biggest challenges I faced while putting up street art was when I was putting these posters I had made, which where two stories high. They kept on falling down, but eventually I put them up.

ZAP sydney graffiti artist street art paris ZAP

Where and when did you put up your first street piece?

JUMBO: It was in Sydney in 2001

ZAP: First of all I, started to get into graffiti around 1986. I got into graffiti through skateboarding. I was building skateboard ramps in abandoned buildings – thats where I did my first graffiti piece.

I was into pure graffiti in the ’80s and early ’90s, until 96. I started to experiment with anti style, which was an abstract style, with the ’70s and early ’80s comic influence with fuzzy lines, no clean lines, overspray etc . The spray painting I was doing looked like outsider art. I was also going to art school then. Graffiti writers would say to me, “that’s not graffiti, it should be on a canvas”.

What do you think is the importance of street art?

JUMBO: In this age that we live in, it has become harder to be individual and have a unique voice. Our culture is more homogenised. I think that going and taking a spraycan, ball of yarn, poster, or tin of paint to the street and creating something of your own is a statement of individual willpower and stands against the kind of society that seeks to flatten peoples viewpoints and ideas.

What are your plans for the rest of 2013?

JUMBO: For the rest of 2013, I plan on doing a few overseas jaunts, a couple of shows here in Sydney and a hell of a lot more painting on walls.

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ZAP can be found online, here.

JUMBO can be found online, here.

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OX advertising billboard détournement

OX street art paris 3 IMG_0729-copy
French artist, OX’s, latest ad takeover at Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, in the southeastern suburbs of Paris, is a site – and weather – specific artwork that was planned for this out-of-town location due to OX’s fondness for displaying his artworks backed by barren suburban landscapes, as well as the changing nature of the Parisian billboard space, which makes it ever harder to find suitable billboards to hijack.OX street art paris IMG_0747-copyOX street art paris IMG_0725-copyOX street art paris 4 IMG_0728-copy OX street art paris 5 IMG_0767-copy OX street art paris 6 IMG_0764-copy OX street art paris 7 IMG_0775-copy This latest work incorporates the billboard stand into the work, which OX knots, and camouflages with the blue Paris sky. OX who lives in the eastern fringe of Paris has corrupted ad billboards all over France and Europe, and says he doesn’t appreciate the central Parisian architecture for displaying his works: streets too narrow, so not providing adequate views of the works to passers-by, and bad for photography, being two reasons. Another is that he is finding billboard hijacking in central Paris increasingly difficult.

At learning of this difficulty, the first thing that comes to the mind of this writer is police pressure. However, Ox admits he has never been caught papering up his minimalist artworks over publicité. The difficulty comes from the proliferation of new forms of billboard technology, such as the glass fronted, containing revolving ads, not suited to an artist using paper and glue. Thus, the old-style paper-paste billboards are these days to be found predominantly on the outskirts of Paris.

OX will soon visit Birmingham in England where billboard technology is yet to dominate, and one senses that he is excited. Everywhere, in Britain’s second most populous city, one may find wooden framed billboards. You know, the ones we all remember from childhood.

In the face of adversity, OX spends time to plan where he places his works. This planning also serves another of his primary aims, that of adding context to his pieces. However, sometimes hiccups can occur. This latest billboard takeover, for example, was planned for a location 500 metres further up the road from the one pictured, but unforeseen, the existing billboard content – an AIDS awareness campaign.OX street art paris 8 OX-original-location-IMG_1204 Ox’s urban artworks are not intentionally anti-consumerist. His personal views on this matter are not present in his choice to paste his artworks over billboard advertising. However, it can be assumed that he is conscientious of not obscuring publicity promoting awareness of sexually transmitted disease.OX street art paris 9 IMG_0721-copy————–

To visit OX’s website, go here.

To visit the site of an explicitly anti-consumerist organisation with a focus on billboards, a global network of culture jammers and creatives working to change the way information flows, the way corporations wield power, and the way meaning is produced in our society, Adbusters, go here.

To visit the site of Jordan Seiler’s, Public Ad Campaign blog, go here.

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Lek & Sowat’s Mausolée film launch

Mausolee Paris exhibition presented by Sowat and Lek of the Da Mental Vaporz crew Paris Street Art Photo: copyright 2012 Demian SmithMausolee Paris exhibition presented by Sowat and Lek of the Da Mental Vaporz crew Paris Street Art Photo: copyright 2012 Demian Smith

In August 2010 Sowat & Lek, from France’s DMV crew organised forty French artists to paint out the inside of an abandoned 430,000 square foot supermarket in North Paris. For a year, an illegal artistic residency took place, documented by photo and film and by collecting detritus from the huge squatted complex which has been brought together in this new exhibition in Paris’ 13th arrondissement.

Lek & Sowat tell us that what remains of the site close to Parc de Villette is “a temple dedicated to a disappearing underground culture, slowly being replaced by street art and its global pop aesthetics”.

The project includes work by the following artists:

Apotre, Bims, Blo, Bom.k, Boyane, Brusk, Butterfly, Clickclacker, Dem189, Domone, Fleo, Gilbert1, Gris1, Hobz, Honda, Jayone, Jaw, J.P, Kan, Katre, Keboy, Lek, Manyak, Monsieur Qui, O’Clock, Omick, Onde, Outside, Paum/Sarin, Rems, Res, Romi, R. Skyronka, Sambre, Seth, Shook, Siao, Skio, Smo, Sowat, Spei, Swiz, Tcheko, Thias, and Wxyz

An installation inspired by and made using materials from the site of the “Mausoleum” is now open to view by the public, and the accompanying book, can be bought online, here.

The project is essentially the brainchild of artist Sowat. He was assisted by Lek, and the video was edited by Kan.

Other similar projects include the Underbelly Project and Ghostvillage Project.

Picture found at the North Paris site and framed as part of the exhibition

Mausolee Paris exhibition presented by Sowat and Lek of the Da Mental Vaporz crew Paris Street Art Photo: copyright 2012 Demian Smith

Mausolee Paris exhibition presented by Sowat and Lek of the Da Mental Vaporz crew Paris Street Art Photo: copyright 2012 Demian SmithMausolee Paris exhibition presented by Sowat and Lek of the Da Mental Vaporz crew Paris Street Art Photo: copyright 2012 Demian SmithMausolee Paris exhibition presented by Sowat and Lek of the Da Mental Vaporz crew Paris Street Art Photo: copyright 2012 Demian SmithMausolee Paris exhibition presented by Sowat and Lek of the Da Mental Vaporz crew Paris Street Art Photo: copyright 2012 Demian SmithMausolee Paris exhibition presented by Sowat and Lek of the Da Mental Vaporz crew Paris Street Art Photo: copyright 2012 Demian SmithMausolee Paris exhibition presented by Sowat and Lek of the Da Mental Vaporz crew Paris Street Art Photo: copyright 2012 Demian SmithMausolee Paris exhibition presented by Sowat and Lek of the Da Mental Vaporz crew Paris Street Art Photo: copyright 2012 Demian SmithMausolee Paris exhibition presented by Sowat and Lek of the Da Mental Vaporz crew Paris Street Art Photo: copyright 2012 Demian SmithMausolee Paris exhibition presented by Sowat and Lek of the Da Mental Vaporz crew Paris Street Art Photo: copyright 2012 Demian Smith

The show finishes on 14 April and is from 3.00 pm to 8pm, at the following address:

11 rue Marie-Andrée Lagroua-Weil-Halle (enter by the front gate of a residential apartment complex, and enter through the first door on your left),

Paris 75013

Métro/Rer: Bibliothèque François Mitterrand

Info: mausolee@hotmail.com

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Street art at Rue Denoyez in Belleville

Paris Street Art Photo: copyright 2012 Demian Smith

Paris Street Art Photo: copyright 2012 Demian SmithRue Denoyey, Belleville, in the 20th arrondissement.

The Belleville neighbourhood is our favourite street art and graffiti destination in Paris and Rue Denoyez is the main attraction. Since the 1980’s musicians and artists have cohabited with the working class and immigrant communities, Rue Denoyey’s walls have been coated with art, some great, some not so great. The neighbours may have a thing or two to say about this, but their voices are mainly drowned out by the music. One of the best bands to have started out in Belleville is Les Rita Mitsouko.

Diamant, above, makes diamonds by painting onto glass, explaining that he also creates poster and collage work on the streets: “I do not want to be imprisoned by my diamonds. I want to be free to do what I want. I keep the diamond as a signature”. His work is featured on Rue Denoyez, which is a ‘free zone’ and as such, the spiritual centre of Paris’ street art and graffiti scene. The Frichez-Nous La Paix gallery – a project space for displaying work by graffiti and street artists from France and abroad – opened in 2002 to accommodate artists from squats in the area. The gallery is available to the community for free, and exhibition artists must pay a small stipend to cover the charges. Opposite the space is a  large wall for anyone to use express themselves through art, without prior consent.

Paris Street Art Photo: copyright 2012 Demian Smith

The blue painted woman in the bottom-left hand corner is by Alice Pasquini, a.k.a. AliCè. Born in Rome, Pasquini is a professional illustrator. Annoyed by female stereotypes proposed by artists who represent women as sexual objects or cartoon heroines, AliCè is interested in true depictions of femininity. She has painted lots with French street artist, C215, and is prolific in the streets of the Paris suburb, Vitry-sur-Seine.

Paris Street Art Photo: copyright 2012 Demian Smith

The Sheepest spreads its anti-consumerist message from up high. The artist, comes from outside Grenoble, where once upon a time the authorities ordered all graffiti be removed except sheep. Left alone, they generally last on the wall for around a year before being sheared off by the elements.

Paris Street Art Photo: copyright 2012 Demian Smith

These water-drop shaped portraits nicknamed Dropman (sic [surely Dropmen?!]) are by Ema aka Florence Blanchard. Painter Ema was raised in Montpelier and spent ten years living in Brooklyn. She now lives and works in Paris. You may like to check out her show, Ephemera, on at the moment at Galerie Rue de Beauce.

Paris Street Art Photo: copyright 2012 Demian Smith

The building block is by Teurk (Valentin Bechade), a painter, sculptor, designer and performer, from the second generation of graffiti artists in Paris, which became active through the 90s.  In 1995, he travelled to Beirut where he made ​​a series of photos showing the scars of the city archived in its architecture. Concrete is of special interest to Teurk, hence his crude trademark.

Paris Street Art Photo: copyright 2012 Demian Smith

1984 is one of Paris’ most famous graffiti crews. This piece of work has actually been created onto hardboard and stuck to the wall, rather than painted on. The roller is a much-used tool among graffiti and street artists, as well as the more commonly known spray can.

Paris Street Art Photo: copyright 2012 Demian Smith

Paris Street Art Photo: copyright 2012 Demian SmithPortrait of a child with Tin Tin’s dog, Snowy by Swiss artist Bustart

Paris Street Art Photo: copyright 2012 Demian Smith

Peek at the top-left hand corner, where there is one of Space Invader’s prolific mosaics. Known as “Invader” to his friends and work colleagues, he was born in 1969, and started out in his ‘career’ in 1998. His works can be seen in cities across the world, an “Invasion” which he documents, with books and maps of where to find each invader. The locations for the mosaics are chosen according to criteria including aesthetic, strategic or conceptual advantage. An Invader campaign in Montpelier was orchestrated so that, when placed on a map, the locations of all the mosaics formed an image of a giant space invader character. The mosaics are half built in advance and when Invader arrives in a city he obtains a map and spends at least a week to install them, before cataloguing, photographing and mapping the locations of each piece. Invader is one of the artists that features in Bansky-directed 2010 film, “Exit Through the Gift Shop.” He is the cousin of the main character, Thierry Guetta, aka Mr. Brainwash.

Paris Street Art Photo: copyright 2012 Demian Smith

The work on the left is by French artist L’Atlas, who is interested in the subject “displacement.” He is a distinguished calligrapher and practices calligraphic abstraction, whereby every letter is considered as a shape and every shape as a letter. The piece on the right is by an Italian woman street artist, Nemo.

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Interview with graffiti collective OnOff

Interview street art graffiti paris LIMO-ONOFFCREW-2

LIMO - ON OFF CREW Paris Street Art Photo: copyright OnOff

Tell us about your artistic backgrounds.

The OnOff Crew is a group of people, friends that have evolved in different creative areas: design, architecture, graphic design, photography, drawing – we are all working in these kinds of sectors as designers. Our time at university studying art gave us references, practices, cultures, and it also opened our mind in our graffiti art.

We’ve been a crew for three years, based in Paris. Each member comes from a different city and department in France.  Paris reunification has enabled our focus and motivation to grow. We created the crew in Reims where the graffiti scene was not very big but we had some great meetings. The province offered us great blank spaces unlike Paris. What we value most in Paris, however, is the multitudes of styles, people, crews, meetings, events. There is a large emulsion in Paris, and it moves all the time. New pieces appear every day. This is a gold mine for the eyes.

LIMO - ON OFF CREW Paris Street Art Photo: copyright OnOff

LIMO - ON OFF CREW Paris Street Art Photo: copyright OnOff crew

LIMO - ON OFF CREW Paris Street Art Photo: copyright OnOff crew

LIMO - ON OFF CREW Paris Street Art Photo: copyright OnOff crew

LIMO - ON OFF CREW Paris Street Art Photo: copyright OnOff crew

LIMO - ON OFF CREW Paris Street Art Photo: copyright OnOff crew

LIMO - ON OFF CREW Paris Street Art Photo: copyright OnOff crew

Do you have favourite spots for making artwork outdoors?

A couple of months ago we were painting on that wall of fame on Rue des Pyrénées. During three or four years, every Parisian crew has made their own piece there. Every weekend it was a special moment with new meetings, new connections, festivals, photography. For us, it was the best place in Paris, not only for graffiti artists, but for families and people with kids to appreciate, to come and enjoy colours in the street. Now it’s dead. RIP that wall.

We don’t think there is a ‘best place’ for street art in Paris because each person can make a place as a unique and special as he likes for himself – all of Paris is a street art map.

LIMO - ON OFF CREW Paris Street Art Photo: copyright OnOff crew

LIMO - ON OFF CREW Paris Street Art Photo: copyright OnOff crew

LIMO - ON OFF CREW Paris Street Art Photo: copyright OnOff crew

Do you prefer to paint certain places over others?

On the end of the week we are thinking where to paint. Mostly we go to walls that are free to paint. We like to make meetings with others crews. Where we were in Reims we liked to find some empty places, with texture, architecture, special ambiances, factories, abandoned houses. We prefer this context to walls in the street. It makes us paint more expressively and sensitively because we make some link between the space and our paint.

LIMO - ON OFF CREW Paris Street Art Photo: copyright OnOff crew

What other surfaces do you like painting on and what has been the most unusual?

We really like big and high walls outside. Sometimes we work on other surfaces to give to our production new directions: paper, cardboard, canvas, stickers, packaging, bar toilets, people. We make some unusual productions like shoes, boats, clothes, skateboards. There is not a perfect surface as every surface is a new challenge and it makes our experiences more rich and special.

The collective includes graphic designers, video editors, illustrators. How do these techniques feed the work you put up outdoors?

We try to influence our street art by these techniques. For example, we like to put design references in our painting. We enjoy creating links between old references and contemporary practice and visual render. Sometimes we work on infography, folding, to prepare an intervention. We also think we can find reference and ideas in every domain (cinema, theatre, products, publicity, optics) to make our paintings more specific and closed to our ways of work and lives.

LIMO - ON OFF CREW Paris Street Art Photo: copyright OnOff crew

LIMO - ON OFF CREW Paris Street Art Photo: copyright 2012 Demian Smith

LIMO - ON OFF CREW Paris Street Art Photo: copyright 2012 Demian Smith

Your recent exhibition at Le Friche gallery in the Paris neighbourhood, Belleville, included an unusual and intricate installation. Can you tell us a little bit about the show.

It’s been a while that we have been questioning the concept of volume in our 2D pieces. The idea at this moment was to introduce depth in the wall by experimenting with the 3D effect of bi-coloured blue and red glasses as an optic graffiti. When Photo Graff Collectif (PGC) & Frichez-Nous la Paix gallery asked us to intervene in their space, we found that it could be a good occasion to push our 3D volume reflexion further. So we be began to think of a unique installation that would fit only in this space for the exhibition. This space had to be the representation of our walls atmosphere in three dimensions. By this way, the spectators were totally emerged in the heart of our world, a surreal and highly coloured world, which was given highlights to have more impact.

Our product design experience at school helped us to make the main idea in volume more concrete, in association with our friends Club 300. We work five days and five nights in a real workshop atmosphere. The whole installation was composed by green and coloured cones, white rabbits, little houses and that black character. The OnOff Black man named “Colonel Prols” landed it this world by chance (as the spectator), and he is surrounded by a world of strange activity, so the name “Enter the Wall” was an evidence for us.

What is the importance of street art do you think?

For us, street art (or street activism) is a way of life. Our eyes and brain are always careful to space, ideas, logotype, advertising, interaction between people and street areas. Our practice gives us the occasion to express ourselves with a huge liberty. Street art is also a medium that helps us to catch people’s attention in their everyday life, no matter the way we do it : graffiti, stickers, drawing, installation, posters.

Do you have any plans for 2012?

Pleasure, laughing, ideas, new concepts, painting, travelling with my homies: Limo, Jok, Olson,  Kanos.

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OnOff give a special thanks to Club 300, Rachel, Louise, Simon, Lucie, Juliette, Arnaud, Jeremy, Margaux, Neoar, and PGC and Frichez Nous La Paix Gallery.

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Interview with C215 aka Christian Guemy

C215 Paris Vitry-sur-Seine Street Art Photo: copyright 2012

Tell us a little about your artistic background and how you go into street art.

I haven’t had a formal artistic education, but my natural mother drew and left me her materials after she died at the age of 18. My grandmother drove me to reuse her materials and I would draw every Sunday at her place. This was when I was six, and I also used to draw a lot at school for fun – things like comics for the school journal and caricatures of kids and teachers. When I was fourteen, my uncle commissioned me to write Midnight Dreams in the NYC graffiti writers’ style, which was also around the time I first tried using spraypaint.

I’ve got a master’s degree in art history from the Sorbonne, about Franz Marc and Romanticism, and another master’s degree from CNRS, about XVIIth century religious theory of architecture and painting, but I’ve never been to art school, I’ve never taught or studied fine art.

C215 Paris Street Art Vitry-sur-Seine Photo: copyright 2012

Where and when did you put up your first street piece and how did your style develop?

It was of a colourful portrait of Ava, the mother of my daughter, Nina, in 2006, which I’d already made, without a computer.

Your friends and family are featured in many of your pieces. How do you go about selecting your subjects? Are they all people you know and what is the process to get your work onto the street?

This is a very natural process – I don’t believe that much in ‘Art’ with a capital ‘A’, and when I think about my future, I want to remember my feelings and the people I met, so most of my recent works are based on pictures I took during my trips, pictures from my life, representing people that I loved. I am also working with friends like Jeremy Gibbs and Jon Cartwright. I think the most important thing in life is friendship.

C215 Paris Street Art Vitry-sur-Seine Photo: copyright 2012

How do you choose which walls to paint on?  Do you prefer certain contexts over others?

It depends on the stencils I‘ve been preparing. I used to prepare my stencils and my colours according to the places I visit. After that I try to interact and make my works blend as much as possible into the environment.

Tell us about some of the reactions that people have had to your work on the street.

Most of them are nice, but it does occasionally happen that someone will have a stupid reaction. I remember once in Marseille a very bad feeling: a family of Arabic people began abusing the friend with whom I was painting because she was Italian. This happens, but rarely. Most of the time people come and check what I’m doing and are surprised, and then compare it to writing and love it.

C215 Paris Street Art Vitry-sur-Seine Photo: copyright 2012

You live in Vitry-sur-Seine in the south-eastern suburbs of Paris, which is covered by your work and the work of several other well-known street artists including Roa, Jimmy C, Nunca and Pixel Pancho. What has been your role in making Vitry a street art ‘destination’?

I don’t know, it has also been very natural, just inviting friends of mine to paint in my area, with neighbours and city institutions providing walls. No sponsor, no project, no flyer – just artists working, relaxed in the streets. This is the good side of not being in Paris, intra-muros.

C215 Paris Street Art Vitry-sur-Seine Photo: copyright 2012

Having travelled extensively presenting your art in cities around the world, where did you have the best and worst experiences?

It has been great to paint all over the world and I’ve had mainly good experiences, and just a few negative ones. I especially like to go painting in places that are not yet familiar with street art.

C215 Paris Street Art Vitry-sur-Seine Photo: copyright 2012Photo: C215

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced while putting up a piece?

I think it was great to paint a copy of Caravaggio’s Medusa in the Piazza del Popolo in Rome, during the anniversary of the Carabinieri: hundreds of cops busy with a ceremony. I did it, as I did many other stupid risky paintings in the last few years.

C215 Paris Street Art Vitry-sur-Seine Photo: copyright 2012 Demian Smith

How does the street art scene in Paris and the surrounding arrondissements compare to that in the other cities?

Paris gave birth to street art, as New York gave birth to graffiti, and I guess in future Paris will be involved in this movement in a big way, like no other city in the world.

Where in else in the world would you like to put up pieces?

I want to go to South Africa quite soon as well as a few other exotic destinations.

C215 Paris Street Art Vitry-sur-Seine Photo: copyright 2012 Demian Smith

Tell us about your latest exhibition that is taking place in the XVIIth century Saint-Louis de la Salpêtrière church in Paris,“Prophètes”.

Basically I’ve been transferring my main kids’ portraits into religious icons, and placing them in a church, as ecumenical symbols.

My art is anthropocentric and I believe every person is a cosmos, with a certain divinity. I want to give this through my art as a symbol of a new iconology. Instead of old classical religious icons, I selected kids’ faces as an ecumenical symbol of faith and hope.

Stained glass is a new medium to me and follows from, firstly, painting white on dark surfaces, and then, my exploration of colour. This is the first time I’ve tried exploring light as a medium; although, the stencil allows light to pass through it.

Light is also linked to religion, however, for the people who would have a certain inhibition to visit an exhibition taking place in a Christian church, they can still visit the light box which will be displayed outside the church, on the wall of the City Hall of the 13th arrondissement of Paris, creating a “universal” space, which acts in a different way from the religious space of the church. Maybe for me, as a street artist, it is even more important to see the reception of this one piece, than the rest of the light boxes that will be inside the church. Every night, along with the city lights, the light box will be turned on.

C215 Paris Street Art Vitry-sur-Seine Photo: copyright 2012

You have said that the exhibition is “a call for religious tolerance and ecumenism”, and many of your street pieces carry the slogan, “MAKE ART NOT WAR”. What role should politics play in urban art?

Painting in the street is already a political act, because it helps to fight against standardization. You can have a more specific message, but for me “Making Art” in the streets is already something

C215 Paris Street Art Vitry-sur-Seine Photo: copyright 2012

What do you think is the importance of street art?

Street art is as important now as was Rock ‘n’ Roll in the 1950′s. So, it’s just the beginning, and it will change the world.

C215 Paris Street Art Vitry-sur-Seine Photo: copyright 2012

What are your plans for 2012?

Being happy, travelling as much as I can with my daughter and to enjoy life.

C215-Christian-Guemy-credit-photo-agnes-gautierPhoto: copyright Agnes Gautier

C215’s latest exhibition “Prophètes”, organised by Galerie Itinerrance, opens on 22nd March 2012 at 6pm at the XVIIth Century consecrated Parisian church Saint-Louis de la Salpêtrière:

Chapelle Saint-Louis, Pitié-Salpêtrière
47 Boulevard de l’Hopital, 75013

C215.com

C215 Paris Street Art Photo: copyright 2012

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Interview with Nick Walker

Nick Walker Street art paris photo: copyright 2012Nick Walker’s Vandal character genuflects to the Paris street art scene?

Interviewing a street artist from Britain is an odd first post for a Paris blog on street art, perhaps, but we were keen to find out the latest  from him after the recent swathe of interventions he left for us, produced during February’s freezing conditions – a distant memory in today’s 18 degree Paris sunshine. So, for the record, his debut on this blog reflects his achievements in Paris, and has nothing whatsoever to do with any underhand British favouritism.

In the interview, Walker tells us how he picks his locations and reveals that Paris hasn’t seen the last of him (he may yet return to spend time and learn the language); and that he’s still on talking terms with Banksy, despite exploding a rat.

Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into street art.

I grew up in Bristol in the UK and got into graffiti art in the early 80s. I was transfixed by music videos like Blondie’s Rapture, Malcolm Mclarens’ Buffalo Gals, and Hip Hop History, an Arena special on BBC2. One of my major influences and turning points was seeing the graffiti artist outlining the Buffalo Gals lettering throughout the video. It was so well executed and spontaneous that I instantly wanted to be able to do it myself. ‘Nick Walker’s first exposure to graffiti’ – the Buffalo Gals music video with artwork by Dondi White.

Nick Walker Street art paris photo: copyright 2012

Nick Walker Street art paris photo: copyright 2012

Nick Walker Street art paris photo: copyright 2012Nick Walker’s first exposure to graffiti – the Buffalo Gals music video with artwork by Dondi White

Your new graffiti artwork around Paris, some of which is in collaboration with London street artist SheOne, features your bowler hat motif . Can you explain a little about these pieces?

The recent artworks scattered around Paris are of The Vandal, a character I created, whose purpose is to travel from city to city throwing his palette of paint down high rise buildings and famous landmarks – his version of ‘painting the town red’. The Vandal’s premiere appearance was in a painting called ‘The Morning After’ which is all about the artist ‘post-action’, as he reflects on a night’s work and enjoys the quiet walk home, still a free man, with the city behind him dripping in rich colour. This concept developed into a series: I’m currently working on the eleventh city, which is Paris.

Nick Walker Street art paris photo: copyright 2012Street artist Nick Walker makes a mysterious reference to “Derby” in this recent work made in Paris’ 11th arrondissement, a collaboration with London graffiti artist, SheOne

Nick Walker Street art paris photo: copyright 2012Testicles, spectacles, wallet … spray can

Nick Walker Street art paris photo: copyright 2012The genie in the bowler hat

How do you pick your locations?  What do you think is the importance of context to your street art?

First I ask a contact in the chosen city to source some walls and then I study photos of the area in order to get a good idea of scale and then I choose which image (stencil) would be appropriate or inappropriate in that specific location. A lot depends on how hot the area is, which direction the traffic is travelling, and how nosey the neighbours are. If you choose a really touristy area the police will be quick to shut you down. Context is very important, too: it’s always a good idea to take the subject matter and place it in a relevant or directly polar environment – a little provocation can be fun at times. I have a mild political agenda but it’s always intertwined with a degree of humour and entertainment.

Nick Walker Street art paris photo: copyright 2012

Nick Walker Street art paris photo: copyright 2012

Nick Walker Street art paris photo: copyright SheOneNick Walker paints in Paris’ 2nd arrondissement last month. Photo: SheOne

Your work, Le Corancan [pictured below], painted illegally Canal Saint Martin in 2010, featuring several veiled women lifting their skirts to reveal their stockings and suspenders as they danced the cancan, was removed almost immediately by the French authorities, and made more than just street art news. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced putting up your work in Paris?

Le Corancan was a rather stressful painting – the deal was to finish the piece before the school opened opposite the wall. A reliable source had said it was likely the care taker would call the police so it was a good idea to start as early as possible. However I forgot to put my watch forward, so was an hour behind, still operating on UK time. We ended up starting much later than hoped, just after 7am, and finished at 10am. I was still painting when the kids started arriving and it was getting a fair bit of attention to say the least, but I finally managed to finish up and move away from the wall. I sat on a bench by the canal watching the police arrive. There were about six on foot, constantly saying “non, non …” into their radios. I hung around for a few minutes and then decided it would be a good idea to go back to the hotel before one of them clocked my finger nails. I knew that this piece didn’t have a very long shelf life, as it coincided with the French government’s final decision to ban the burqa in its capital city. Anything remotely political on the walls around Paris at that time was getting buffed immediately.

LeCorancan-photo-street art paris canala st martin credit-Nick-Walker-2Six women wearing Islamic veils and dancing the cancan painted  just before the French government moved to ban the burqa from being worn in public, painted next to the Canal Saint-Martin in 2010

Tell us where your favourite spots in Paris are for painting, and hanging out?

For painting I don’t necessarily have a favourite niche, the whole city is up for grabs – it’s a case of painting at a spot that makes the most sense at a given time. It can be quite a spontaneous process or heavily planned. The piece we did on Rue de l’Échaudé in the Latin quarter of St Germain-des-Pres was in a good area. We rolled up to a wall opposite Cham’art Contemporain and just got to work – no one cared. In fact, quite a few of the surrounding shop keepers came out and had their photos taken with us. Sometimes blatantly being seen in broad daylight is the way forward. If you’re painting at night on a city wall you look a thousand times more suspect. In terms of hanging out, there’s always a good chance that I may end the night at Le Baron, owned by French graffiti artist Andre.

Nick Walker street art paris photo: copyright 2012A collaborative piece by Nick Walker and SheOne in the Left Bank neighbourhood of St Germain-des-PresNick Walker street art paris photo: copyright 2012

Nick Walker street art paris photo: copyright sheeone
Photo: SheOne

For several of your recent Paris paintings, you collaborated with London graffiti artist SheOne. Are there any Parisian artists with whom you’d like to work?

I like what “Da Mental Vaporz crew” is doing right now, a serious melting pot of styles. I keep seeing the work of Dast on vans around the city. I really like the simplicity of his work. It reminds me of the work of late New York graffiti artist Keith Haring, in a way.

Dast street art paris photo: copyright 2012‘Haring-esque’ street art work by Parisian graffiti artist, Dast

What’s your opinion on the street art culture in Paris? How does it compare to street art in London and Bristol, and other cities around the world?

The graffiti scene in Paris is intense. Paris has had it locked down since day one and you can see that immediately when arriving at Gare du Nord on the train. It’s like a pandemic – no other city is quite so heavily layered up. New York used to be as densely hit in its heyday, but with all the gentrification that’s taken place in the last two decades the crown has been passed to Paris. In London, the Borough Councils and the Police are too uptight about graffiti and relentlessly buff walls, only for them to be re-tagged. It’s a waste of money trying to persistently control and clean so much street art in London. They’re simply shovelling the snow during a blizzard.

Nick Walker street art paris photo: copyright 2012Walker’s Vandal character painting the streets red

Nick Walker street art paris photo: copyright 2012

The exploded rats seen in some of your paintings are aimed at your contemporary, and fellow-Bristolian, graffiti artist Banksy, it’s been reported. Tell us how this discord began.

It’s weird – there have been rumours for some time about this. Yes, it’s a bit cheeky, blowing up a rat but that’s as far as it goes. I was just bringing a bit of edge into the game, and people are still speculating about it. The truth is that I like Banksy, and we still talk.

What are your plans for 2012?

I have a couple projects coming up for Paris, the first of which will happen in April. I’m also in a few group shows, so I’m painting in the studio pretty much every day. My ultimate goal is to get a French tutor and move over at some point. I have much unfinished business in Paris.

What do you think is the importance of street art?

Firstly it’s important for it to be on the street and in the public realm for everyone to enjoy. If an artist calls him or herself a “street artist,” then it is imperative that they be actively painting in social space. A wall, a shutter, a building, an alley way; a blending of aesthetics, humour and a gentle nudge of an idea might just change how a passerby views their day. By changing a known environment, you look again at a familiar site and perhaps see the world a little differently, if just for a moment. The street is the biggest gallery an artist could wish for and it doesn’t matter if it’s illegal or not in my opinion it works better on the street. Also, it’s a gift to the people of the city.

nick walker street art paris photo: copyright nick walker

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Nick Walker’s website: theartofnickwalker.com.