Can you introduce yourself?
I am cartoonist since 1999 but also the author of the reference book on graffiti: Paris Tonkar (published in 1991) … I also practiced photography for many years as the paint. Indeed, I began to paint on canvas in the early 90s from the moment I could no longer manage the writing of my book, my studies, sport and my desire to express myself with bombs painting. Before there were fanzines like “The Zulu Letter”. My book was a new project as offering an overview of the graffiti movement that was born in Paris and everywhere including in uptown. For two years I am also the chief editor of an eponymous magazine that covers art news and time for old school graffiti.
You started with the tag, and then the picture, isn’t it?
Indeed I started very young to take photographs with a pretty basic device and, with the discovery of graffiti around 1985, I started to take the photos as well as tags and graffiti … For once, these two practices conditioned part of my adolescence. With hindsight, I think the writing of Tonkar Paris is the result of two factors: my passion for photography and practice of tag in my suburb, and when the opportunity presented itself, in Paris.
What was your passion for the world of Graffiti
It was during a trip to London in 1986 that I understand the meaning of graffiti and I decided to do also: down home and in my municipality, my school and sometimes the subway … I had seen in 1985 on the side of the “Petite ceinture” without really knowing what it meant. I also saw tags of Boxer, Bando … And Blitz! Anyway, I dive in and I quickly become unconditional! The breakthrough of the book comes later, much later … I bought two books about cults (Subway art and Spraycan art) I read quite often. I think the idea of my book began to germinate in my mind at that time … It was during a raid on line 10 with the TKV, SOS, NPA and my crew at this time the NSI (New Style Invasion) I decided to do a book on graffiti in Paris and the name of the book is obvious to me: “Paris cartonnée” which later turned into “Paris Tonkar.” This is the first book published in France on graffiti art in 1991. It is also the third in the world on the subject, in other words a reference with regard to urban culture!
At first, when you began to tagging, did you know that this was associated with the Hip Hop culture or this awareness came later
No, I did not associate the Hip-Hop to the tag when I started … For me, it was two different things and even antagonistic. I began with Smurf dancing in the basement of my city with my friends in the early 80s but with no be aware that this was the beginnings of this movement in France … Then the Zulu Nation appeared in my world, I have been in contact with a guy who was one but it does makes me want to deepen thing. To be honest, I felt very far from their “philosophy” … I did not feel the need to lock myself in another identity or another culture. I felt as well as French and Tunisian. For me, the tag was primarily a way of doing things forbidden at night … And the day! While I was working on my book, Queen Candy had called me one day to persuade me not to do it because I was not part of the Zulu Nation. I kindly replied that his opinion was not interested and I hung up!
What is the relationship do you conversed with the Hip Hop Movement?
In the 90s, I conversed unrelated to this movement because the graffiti, for me, was not associated with rap and breakdance. I sometimes listened … Do not forget that the hip-hop movement has been growing due to graffiti artists who are engaged in music as Assassin, NTM and MC Solar. Without graffiti, France would not be a country where Hip-Hop is also present! Most people forget.
You knew the beginning so what is your best memory? And what is worst?
My best memory is probably the day I met Futura 2000 with whom I befriended, a great man of graffiti and a talented artist. Worst, I think this is my lawsuit for graffiti during which I found myself alone …
Between your book Paris Tonkar and magazine of the same name, your comics, the production of a documentary, workshops and conferences where you intervene, photography and your creations in the domain of street art, how do you manage to all this?
I work a lot and all the time! I have the lifestyle of an athlete and the motivation of a Cossack. I love exploring new things, go to the end of my obsessions and learn from others. I spend most of my time working and, for once, I do not tolerate whiners who want to succeed without doing anything, thinking things falling from the sky like that! Since my childhood, I learned from the life than work, honesty in relationships with their environment and fidelity to his convictions can realize the wildest dreams … I walk and I never look back: no nostalgia or regret. Finally, the link between all my activities is certainly looking for the “Beautiful” in the Platonic sense.
And more importantly, why you expand on all these fields of activity?
I love many different things! I consider every artistic field that I will explore other feed. Why abandon one in favor of another? I like this quite strange idea that my work is like a walk through a maze that I have to fully explore … Each path is a discipline. Each path has sails that I have up to understand the hidden meaning of things. Everything is an illusion in this world … And I think my approach allows me to understand our world.
We feel a willingness to inform, communicate with a desire to create on different media, in different ways … Is it for the same purpose, convey the same kind of messages or your different activities do not have the same objectives?
The essence of my artistic approach is surely the desire to tell stories and I think my academic career but also my artistic practice has been guided by this commitment. Using the picture, I speak of the world and people, with my words, I show the same things differently: drawing my co-authors responds to my imagination creating a correspondence between my world and theirs. I love writing screenplays for comics or audiovisual because it is a team work and see my screenplays be transformed on pictures like it. Definitely. In my painting or my urban collages, I’m looking for something more personal, more connected to my unconscious. I said the same thing but with different images. Adrenaline also … The color and sharing, of course.
Can you tell us more in detail these various activities, taking some examples of what you did?
In comics, I discussed several topics, but the two that come up most often are injustice and tolerance. Fight against injustice and promote tolerance are two principles which form the backbone of my written work. I take as an example my last two albums. The Gallic War (Vincent Pompetti the drawing) is a free adaptation of the book of Julius Caesar where we wanted to show that Gaul is an intellectual construction of Caesar to satisfy his desire for power and, for once, the nationalist discourse and reactionary associates this period of our history in France today is a non-historical sense: romanized Gaul is closer to us than the Celtic Gaul. With Concierge (Seb Cazes in the drawing), I told the story of a campaign between two brothers, one is a communist, former cop drunkard and resisting aigainst Nazi the other is the Mayor that is the representatives of big capital. This is a comic that shows the absurdity of the struggle for power and injustice as a weapon of domination of the working class.
The painting is probably the most personal practice (I paint for 26 years already!) Where I materialize mental images that pass through my mind for a long time. I think I got something presentable to the public. For four years, I started to re-show my work and the audience is at the rendezvous: my works are experiencing a real popular success and appeal to a diverse audience. I think the sincerity of my gait, my paintings emit warmth and soul that it is allowed to create this almost mystical connection between my paintings and people who take the time to discover my work. Gallery Philippe Gelot (rue Saint-Paul in Paris) has allowed me to push myself and some of my works, including sculptures, are on permanent loan.
My collages on the street are born from the desire to give color to the gray streets and walls of our cities … And our campaigns!
How did the Paris Tonkar adventure?
The idea of a book on graffiti and tags comes from me … In 1987 I bought Subway art and Spraycan art. In reading these two books, I had the idea: “And if I wrote a book on the same subject, but in France? “… In 1988, I talked to friends by asking them to to write it to several. Nobody wanted to participate directly, but none of my friends have discouraged me in this funny adventure. Sylvain Doriath (the other co-author) was an acquaintance of college: he did not live far from my city (“PV” for the initiated, a rather sordid area with a bad reputation and feared not bad except for those who lived there like me). In short, I learned that he was quite active at the tag by mutual friends. After a few meetings I have offered to work with me. He agreed without asking too many questions … I’m sure, over the years, this crazy adventure was possible because he followed me to the end. We actually became friends and then we started working in 1989.
When the first edition came out you were only 19 years, how it was done?
I called all editors publishing art books to get an appointment to talk to them about my book on graffiti in draft form but already well advanced. Almost all received me and almost everyone wanted to get the concept (especially photos and information) without authors … A true band of jackals! With their questionable behavior, I realized that I had a treasure between hands and I had to negotiate to the end to have the best conditions (I had no choice if I wanted one day get the money back spent by myself) … Florent Massot was introduced to me by Blitz (I’m not sure) who was an acquaintance. Florent was the only honest editor (like the Editions Marval was good advice) and that’s why I signed with him … We have developed the book into a squatin Paris! My book tells a story, that of the graffiti in France during the first years, but it is also a secret history, that of a crazy dream come true against all odds.
Can you explain the concept of your project “Girls in the city” and “Men at work” and the link and the difference you wanted to mark between these two types of characters?
As I said before, I stopped “speak” in the street when I started writing my book, I could not paint and take pictures all the more that I get the coordinates of a lot of people so discretion is imposed for myself. For the magazine, I started to remake urban long photo sessions with Olivier, one of the photographers of our magazine, and want to stick gradually emerged … I think it started with my collaboration with Gregos: I painted one of his faces that he then stuck. And then a second … The excitation of seeing in the street was high! I had long wanted to decline the concept of “human transformed into a robot in our modern world.” I stumbled upon these characters and I had the idea: it will be “Men at Work” because man is an animal that works, and 111 because I’ll stick one hundred and eleven (this is a number that has a mystical value ). And “Girls in the city” in reference to the series on HBO, but also in opposition to the working man and woman who moves into the city to spend the time (in reality women are also working but the pun pleased me) … It is added to that Skulls, M … a collage of diverse and varied posters! I enjoy first and foremost with the collages and I will not bind to my practice on canvas although sometimes I create connections between my paintings in the workshop and the city. The idea of the ephemeral draws pleased me too …
Is there a country that has impressed you more than another artistically?
A country not. Cities, certainly! Tunis and Damascus, for refinement, light and secrets. London, for the graffiti and the ability to exceed all limits. The Anglo-Saxon pragmatism in the art also affects me. Parisis the Louvre and the line 13. Andalusia for light and Rome for the “Beautiful” … However, it is the men and women I’ve met who have forged a part of my imagination and my artistic choices.
Are you a fan of “It was better before” in graffiti, mentality?
Not at all! I’m not a nostalgic, I am a man in motion that is enriched by the experience but do not look back and try to convince themselves that the world was better before. That speech often exists and it does not affect me. I met many people who I dive back into our past with passion, it interests me as a writer and historian (when it’s friends, it makes me happy too) but I do not feel the need to pour on this register because we have to live in his time. The community of the graffiti artists going through a crisis of maturity and it is logical to hear some take these comments. Are they right? I did not answer.
The street as “the greatest art gallery in the world” that you speak? Or you do not agree with this idea?
That speaks to me a little … But no more! I do not think the street is a place equivalent to a gallery for many reasons. First, it is a place that is not safe for those who do not know the rules inherent in this highly codified space: it is not painted anywhere without suffering the consequences. Then, there is not that art in the street. There is also racist graffiti or other many imitators, fake artists, advertising collages, advertising … In short, everything is possible: the best and the worst! Finally, the street is not necessarily the right place for all urban artistic practices Brownfields, catacombs, abandoned channels, small waist, wasteland seems more often to be the most attractive places in the creation and , in many aspects, are similar to the gallery as an artist and instead receiving a work. Personally, I think the street is the largest playground! I always thought this way: when I stick my “Men at work” or my “Girls in the city,” I have fun and I offer it to the eyes of those who will bother to pay attention to their environment. I do not do it with the idea of exposing the largest gallery in the world. Just for fun! Sometimes I think that the largest gallery in the world it is rather the internet!
Is there an effort to say something or they say something through his work?
Yes, but this is about art in general and not just the street art! At the same time, any form of art does not necessarily have a message.
Can we speak of a real “sincere faith in humanity” common to urban artists or is it too idealistic?
It’s utopian vision for the moment. The street is not a tender place and those who practice it have often hardened. Street art and humanism have conflicting visions and goals.
More generally, can we say that the street art educates the eye of the viewer from?
This is certainly the case in very large cities such as Lyon, Paris, Berlin and London. I think the Internet plays a bigger role!
What are your current projects in the coming months?
The number 7 of Paris Tonkar magazine just came out with a beautiful portrait of Nasty. I just joined the Collectie gallery (53 rue Lemercier in Paris). Philippe Gelot gallery exhibit my paintings and surprises during the summer … I’m writing the second volume of The Gallic Wars in Tartamudo editions and a script for a short film (the feature film is also in preparation) … The comic book Le Concierge at Le Moule-à-gaufres editions just released and a new Cosmic Hip-Hop magazine released in a few days.
I will participate in group exhibitions in France and the Czech Republic, auctions for the benefit of associations working in the field of childhood … and many other projects around the painting! I am in two books coming out this year: one on the Périphérique in Paris in H’Artpon edition and the other on the Street art published by Flammarion. At the end of the year, the 20th anniversary edition Paris Tonkar will finally be available (22 years in fact). The Gallic Wars released in the United States and certainly in England in a few months.
LosOtros Mj Tom is Writer, Curator and Urban Artist. For more on his work please check here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.