Interview with Paris stencil art genius, Artiste-Ouvrier

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Paris stencil art by Artiste-Ouvrier at the vernissage of Le M.U.R (Association Modulable Urbain Reactif), on rue Oberkampf in Paris’ 11th Arrondissement.

Tell us a little about your artistic background and what inspired you to first start painting stencils, and become a street artist?

Street art came late for me, as I began stencilling in 1993, in order to have artworks from Klimt or Paolo Uccello, rather than the usual posters which I found silly and too far away from the painting. So basically I studied Philosophy at the Sorbonne for five years, and a bit of art history, after, and before having all kinds of jobs, from waiter to train cleaner, teacher for violent children. I began to paint in the street, half legally always, in 2003. I was already painting walls, but in the squats in Paris where I used to live.

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What prompts you to paint work in the street?

The street is more than a canvas and it doesn’t have borders actually so it’s like a huge collective work changing everyday and mixed with architecture and all the urban things. I like to paint in the countryside too. But I don’t like spraying everywhere like so many do, just for fame and pretending they do the revolution as they just want to sell their stuff, like every artist must.

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Your street style is very unique, how did you develop it?

I did multilayer technique in the nineties, like everybody else who want to have colours. In 2000 when I started again, after a long, long trip in Ethiopia, I wanted to become pro in a way and I created, or I found a special way to cut and paint, with only two layers and as many colours as I wanted. Of course, I have also a 19th century connection, and seeking of meaning, that would alone make maybe a kind of style.

Take us through your process for producing stencils?

First of all you need to know what you want to paint, and why. Once you produce your image with your camera or your pencil, photocopy and cut. And then paint, paint, paint. The question is where and why.

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

2003, rue des Deux-Boules in Paris 1st arrondissement, behind the squat of Electron Libre – it was a metal door in a middle of a big wall that later got toyed, except for my door – I don’t know why. You have all the pictures on lapanse.com.

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Artiste-Ouvrier painting at Le M.U.R. earlier in 2012

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Le M.U.R. painting detail

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Le M.U.R. detail

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Le M.U.R. detail

There’s often an erotic tone to the portraits you make. Is there a place for eroticism in street art?

Well when I make photos with models, they are no pro most of the time, and we look for emotion and meaning. So the body language turns out to look sensual maybe, sometimes erotic even but I try not to paint too many shocking scenes in the street.  For me it’s beautiful and I don’t want to spoil this beauty by being naughty. One has to find the balance, what to show, what to hide.

You used to be a writer, but you dropped words in favour of stencils. Does your previous career influence the artwork that you produce?

Of course a lot! Always the meaning involved. Recently someone asked for an old theatre play “Men on Mars” and who knows? Maybe I’ll work as a writer again. I used to say that my drawers were blooming, all the unknown text inside getting spoiled and feeding the painting.

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

I do only legal or half legal so basically I like to be invited. And sometimes I ask the owner if I can, like I did in India. I like the doors very much, especially metal doors, there I can do a lot of details.

Aside from walls, what other surfaces do you like painting on and what has been the most unusual?

My drawer collection first, then wood in general I like to paint and recently transparent surfaces that I like very much. Canvas, everything can be sprayed.

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Paris graffiti wall – rue de L’Ourcq in the 19th arrondissement

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Street art mural in Paris with street artists Jana & Js (bottom left) in the 13the arrondissement

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

I made a 5 metre high wall and I was not too proud of it, and I had a big tree to paint in mirror, 160cmx300cm. The wind especially can be very tricky and of course the rain. I had once to struggle with 15 teenagers who wanted to take my spray cans. It’s not always smooth.

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

Some old people asked me to stop to tell me it was wonderful and it was art and I should start again to paint they didn’t want to bother. It happened more than once and I found it so sweet. People’s reactions are usually very nice to me.

How do you feel when one of your pieces is buffed or vandalised?

Just the way it is. I try not to feel anything bad. It can be anger or sadness, but there’s no need to worry about it as we cannot do anything against it, except Mr Banksy who puts plastic protection on his walls. Too expensive to be toyed I guess.

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Butte-aux-Caille street art mural (detail) in the 13th arrondissement

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Butte-aux-Caille street art mural in the 13th arrondissement

Tell us about the stencil collective, Working Class Artists (WCA), which you established in 2005? What is it about working with other street artists that you like?

I like to work with other artists. WCA is a more doing research about the same technique I found in 2000, and giving all I know to young artists, to see them improve it in their own way and go further. The blue that comes out of indigo is more beautiful than indigo itself, but without indigo you wouldn’t have blue. I played a bit the indigo role in the WCA story. More than 15 WCA fellows at this day, in Germany, Paris and Normandy.

Tell us who are some of your favourite stencil artists?

I like M-City very much, he knows how and why he uses stencil. I have a lot of respect for Miss Tic or Jérôme Mesnager (but it’s not stencil). Le Bateleur inspired me but he’s dead now. I like Ananda Nahu in Brazil very, very much, and all the nice anonymous. I don’t know, I like stencil most of the time, except fashion victims or people who don’t cut themselves their stencils.

We see lots of your work around the Buttes-aux-Cailles in the south of Paris.  What is it that you like about this place, and more generally about painting in Paris? And how does it compare here to other places in which you’ve painted?

Just by chance people asked me to come back there and then I had more stencil than somewhere else, where they vanished most of the time, for a reason or another.

What we can expect to see painted by you for this year’s Lezarts festival on 9-10 June?

Actually I did only the 2008 edition and 2010 for it was the 10th birthday and we all came back to do featuring. This year it should be another artist. Yet I don’t know who’s going make it.

What do you think is the importance of street art?

We will see. I don’t like to much the “middle” effect. It can help, I don’t know. We slowly invade the contemporary art and it will be so for the next generation so it may become boring maybe when it’s official. I like to paint legally, yet I don’t like to follow the flock.

What are your plans for 2012/2013?

I intend to make a living in India where there are so many possibilities to paint in the street and to do exhibitions. I’d like to come back often to Paris but also to have the opportunity to make shows in New York maybe. Or anywhere else where people want me to.

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For more on Artiste-Ouvrier check out his website artiste-ouvrier.com and Facebook page.

This interview was originally published on the website, Street Art Paris.

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