In the late 70’s and early 1980’s, while the streets and subway trains of New York were being embalmed in graffiti ‘tags’ by the likes of Fab 5 Freddy and his ilk, a young Frenchman living in Paris named Xavier Prou began his own kind of ‘Guerilla art’.
In contrast to New York graffiti’s connection to Music and Breakdancing, his work was politically charged and used stencils to create his images. It was seen by many as statements on subjects ranging from war to homelessness, and by doing so took ‘street art’ to a new place. He made people stop and think.
Without Xavier there would probably be no Banksy and Banksy’s use of rats in some of his stencils is thought to be in homage to Xavier (or as he is better know Blek Le Rat).
Who are your heroes?
Heroes are for kids, sorry but I don’t have anymore heroes in my life. When I was a kid in the 60’s/ 70’s my heroes were rock or movie stars like Mick Jagger or James Dean… I was inspired by David Hockney, Warhol of course, I also love the Italian Renaissance period, comics books, music inspires me a lot as well.
How does it feel to be a pioneer of Street Art?
I don’t go out very often except for working. I never go to the galleries opening show and have only few artist friends, so it is difficult for me to explain how do I feel as a pioneer. The moment I feel it, it is when I have a show and then people talk to me directly on that subject and I have to admit that it’s make me feel happy and proud of what I have done in my life.
Would you encourage kids to paint on a wall or go to art school?
Both of them, I think it is also important to study art and history of art because it is a pleasure to learn of how artists in the past have worked.
Do you have a favorite piece of art?
I love it when I leave a piece of my art in the street. Last week I was in San Francisco and I left some pieces in the streets of the city. At each time it was a kind of climax when I finished painting them.
Do you feel any responsibilities to be political when you produce a piece of art?
Everything we do in the life is political, so yes, it is political. But I have to say that I don’t have any political statement to say to the people. It is political in terms that it is a window for people to access art. In the past only an elite set of people had an access to it. Through street art everybody in the city has an access to art, so it is a huge change!
Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night with the urge to go out and do a stencil?
No, Working in the streets need some preparation and organization before to start, otherwise you can go straight to the police station!
Is it harder to make art now you are more well known?
Yes, it is much harder now because now the police are hunting street artists. When I started in 1981 the police did not care at all of street art. When they saw me painting in the streets they used to ask if it was a political statement that I was doing.
I answered them that it was not, but only ‘art’ and they said “OK it is beautiful keep on the good work!”, I assure you it is true!
What was the inspiration behind your recent work?
My son Alex is a great inspiration in my recent work. I have done his character in San Francisco in Mission.
Banksy acknowledges you as a major influence on his work…. Have you met ever him?
I have never met Banksy, but he sent me a piece of work and emailed me, so that was nice.
Where are you happiest?
I love my family, so when I am with them.
After a night on the streets, where should I go for breakfast in Paris?
French people don’t have good breakfast compared to British or American people. French just have a coffee and some croissant for breakfast and any kind of “Cafe “in Paris is a good place to go in the morning.
You can find out more about Blek Le Rat, including his upcoming shows on his website www.bleklerat.free.fr