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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 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.