Interview: GG from Buenos Aires Stencil

(para versión en castellano, click acá)

We’ve another newly translated interview to share, courtesy of the excellent people who run escritos en la calle.

GG from shares his perspective on a decade of urban art, and his experiences painting the ever-changing streets of Buenos Aires.

Thanks to escritos en la calle for sharing this interview with us, be sure to check out their project and their blog.

* * * * * (buenos aires stencil) is a stencil collective comprised of two Argentine artists, known as GG & NN.

GG started painting with NN in 2001. Their first design had a huge impact, and was reproduced all over the world – the instantly recognisable combination of George Bush with Mickey Mouse ears. have gone on to collaborate with other artists and take over galleries and city walls throughout the world. In 2006, together with rundontwalk, Malatesta and Stencil Land, they opened their own urban art gallery called Hollywood in Cambodia.

In this interview, we cover 10 years of and a full decade of graffiti and street art in Argentina.


Why not paint in the streets?

We started painting as after my work partner NN showed me his drawings and designs. The original idea was to create a series of t-shirts, but we felt a little overwhelmed by what was involved, it would have been a slow and complicated process.

We really liked two designs made by NN – George Bush with Mickey Mouse ears, and a 1950’s woman bowling a bomb instead of a ball, coupled with the phrase “American Style”. 9/11 had just happened, and the invasion of Afghanistan had been announced. The designs were created in response to these incidents.

So, although we’d originally created these stencils to paint onto t-shirts, one night after a few drinks we thought, “Why don’t we paint these in the streets?”.  At the time, Argentina was in chaos. The spirit of that time was to get out there and make yourself heard. If you wanted to make a point you had to do something about it.


A lot of artists started out during that period

None of us were political activists. None of us had ever painted in the streets. I’m a graphic designer, NN studied printing at the Pueyrredón. We were both involved with art, but neither us had ever painted, either on or off the streets.

When you start painting outdoors, you pay more attention to the walls. I noticed there were a lot of other stencils around, but had no idea how long they had been there. We later found out that many street artists started painted at the same time as us.

We always painted the area where we lived. Our home base was NN’s house near Luna Park. At night we would grab our stencils and paint the area where the banks were, which was abandoned at night. You have to try and imagine the scene – it’s December 2001, there’s just been a run on the banks, daily withdrawal limits were in place, all the banks are shuttered, there are news bulletins in the windows and plenty of people want to break in…

It was a unique moment in the country’s history, and I guess we were lucky to be in that place at that time.


Hasta La Victoria…

We started seeing paintings all over the Congreso area. We used to always remark, “There are other guys painting here too!”.

Eventually we got to know the other artists. We were contacted by Guido Indij from La Marca who had started to write a book – “Hasta La Victoria, Stencil“. He was getting in touch with other stencil artists, and put us in contact with them as well.

There were a number of other artists and collectives active at that time – rundontwalk, 220, Burzaco Stencil, Malatesta…



HIC Crew

We realised we had a lot in common with the guys from rundontwalk (Fede and Tester). We listened to the same music. They ran independent punk record labels and I worked with punk record label as well (Radio Tripoli Discos). We had friends in common, and we ended up becoming friends ourselves.

We often paint together with them, and our work doesn’t belong to one collective or another. When we paint together in the gallery ,(with Stencil Land and Malatesta) we’re the Hollywood in Cambodia Crew. We all share an ideology towards painting in the streets. None of us sign our work. When we paint in the streets, I don’t sign below my work, and neither do rundontwalk.

For me, painting is a way of demonstrating to the public that anyone can express an idea or emotion with just a few pesos. You don’t need the millions that brands pay to be in the spotlight. You don’t have to be a politician who pays people to paint his propaganda. You can go out alone and express yourself with a couple of pesos with a can of spraypaint, latex paint and a brush, or a stencil.

If I signed my works with my name, I’d be acting like a brand. My mural or painting would be a piece of propaganda for my name. This isn’t something I want. Once you’ve finished painting, your work becomes a part of the street. Why should I put my name to it? I think it looks even worse when you see people putting their both name and their webpage by their work. It just seems like they want to be famous.

I never sign anything. If people really want to find me, eventually they will.


A lot of people started painting letters and evolved from there

There are a lot of people who started out painting letters. Tags, bombs, pieces and hip-hop style graffiti. But at the end of the day, they’re really just painting their name. Fair enough, but it’s not for me. Also, I don’t get the codes of who is allowed to paint over who. Why not paint something better next to it and get more attention?

A lot of artists here have evolved their style over time. They experimented, found their own style and figured out what they wanted to say. Tec is a good example of this, as is Blu. Blu went on to do some incredibly original work. You also have neo-graffiti from artists like Jaz, Nerf, Mart, Poeta and Roma, who use abstract forms and lots of colour.

I guess it might be a question of age. Maybe after a certain age, you just get tired of just painting your own name.

We’re painting less as we get older. We have other things to do. I have a four year-old son and other responsibilities.

Whilst we still paint in the street, we do it in a different way. We don’t use small stencils anymore, neither do we repeat the same images over and over again. I get bored if I paint the same thing. I’m much happier painting a three or four metre piece these days. We put a lot more thought into what we’re going to paint and what we want to say.

We also run the gallery, Hollywood in Cambodia, and that takes up a great deal of time. It’s already been five years since we started.


The gallery

It all started when we got a call from Post Bar. The two owners were planning on opening a bar, and were looking for a style. A friend had told them “Look, these guys are painting everywhere”, and he showed them the stencil book that Indji had made which was full of our work. He told them “Why don’t you call them and ask them to paint the bar? Then instead of having just another bar like everyone else, you’ll have a theme to your bar”.

To begin with, it was, rundontwalk, Stencil Land and Burzaco Stencil. There were eight of us but only half wanted to do it. My thoughts at the time were that if they weren’t going to pay me, I didn’t want to do it. The owners of the bar were going to make money out of the bar, so painting it for free was out of the question.

At one point NN’s girlfriend went up to the terrace and found two empty rooms. They were being used for storage at the time, but that’s when we had the idea came to put a gallery in there. It took a while to happen though. The bar opened, but it was over a year before we got everything ready as all of our energy was dedicated to the street.

What finally gave us the push to set up the gallery was the realization that if we didn’t do it, someone else would. And the last thing we wanted was to see someone with no relation to urban art coming in and running things. We didn’t want to end up having to negotiate with them to show and sell our works, so we decided to create a gallery where we could run everything according to our own rules.

80% of gallery sales come from foreigners. There are no collectors for urban art in Buenos Aires like there are in Sao Paulo for example. Tourists seem to value our art differently.

I think maybe this is because foreigners have a different perspective, having seen how things are in their own cities. They seem to value the collaborative work we do the most.

In Buenos Aires it’s common for people to collaborate together in the moment. Murals are painted by groups of artists working together, instead of a having an eight metre wall divided up into sections where each individual artist takes an area. Also, it’s common for us to collaborate over time. So I might paint something, and then months or years later someone else would add something else to my piece and make a new collaboration. That’s not really something that you see in other cities.



We met the artists from DOMA in 2004. I had gone to live in New York for a year, and met them at a show. DOMA had been painting stencils in the streets since ’94, and I think there are still a few of their pieces left from that era.

The guys from DOMA introduced us to the artists from FASE, who were also really active at that point. For several years we collaborated and organized what we called “Expression Sessions”. We would get together with 15 to 20 artists and paint a plaza with a big wall, and we would make flyers and publicise it like an event.

We invited people to come see us working to take the mystery out of it. We didn’t want it to always be the case that people would only ever see something after it was painted, and they’d be left wondering when did they paint this? Who did it? How? Why?


Artistic exchanges

In 2002 and 2003 stencils reached their peak. It seemed as if the whole world was making stencils, and everyone was sitting quietly at the corner of the street painting. It’s just like anything else, there are always passing fads. After that, stencils went out of style after a while and a new style emerged that we call Muñequismo, which was characterised by the use of cartoon characters. Muñequismo took off in 2004 and spread throughout the city. The characters would often be life-size, around two metres tall.

Around that time a lot of artists came to Buenos Aires from other countries, and many of them ended up staying. The London Police came from Amsterdam, and they started asking the artists painting murals, “Why don’t you paint them huge, like six metres tall? If you rent scaffolding, no one is going to check if you have permission”.

Blu came to Buenos Aires to create his incredible animated graffiti. He introduced us to the technique of using extension poles. He was painting six metres tall pieces at the time. It was incredible to watch him paint, doing everything with just a huge long pole with a paint bucket six metres in the air.

I think one of the best things about the scene here is the spirit of this movement (more on this here). Artists share what they know, because they understand that everyone will use that knowledge to paint the streets.


From the street to the gallery

People ask me if there’s a contradiction in being a street artist and painting pieces for a gallery. I don’t think it there is. For me, the logic is that if you create something great in the streets, eventually someone’s going to notice it, like it and want to buy it. When they get to that point, they’re going to come looking for you. It’s part of the process.

Everyone needs to make money to live, and it’s great to earn money doing something that you love. For me though, I think you should paint in the streets because you love it. You should give your art to the streets without expecting anything in return, other than maybe hoping that no one else will paint over you the next day.

Urban artists, street artists, mural painters and stencil collectives are all part of a worldwide artistic movement taking place in cities everywhere. The nature of urban life and the development of internet-based communications mean that you can always connect with what’s happening on the other side of the world. It’s easy for artists to get in touch with one another.

How many people are painting in the streets today, one hundred, maybe three hundred? Then think about everyone who paints inside – how many are there painting? Thousands. It would be a revolution if everyone who paints inside went out to paint in the streets. That would be incredible.

When we’re in the streets, everyone can see what we’re doing. Even people who aren’t even remotely interested in street art will see art in the streets on their way to work. Maybe occasionally something will catch their eye and make them stop and take a closer look.



I think the culture of tolerance towards street art in Buenos Aires exists partly because police have better things to do. Important things that keep them from getting bored and hassling us. There are kids running around snatching bags and robbing tourists, and then there’s us – a bunch of older guys who like to go out and paint.

If I ever get challenged by anyone I just leave. I’ll just say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know”, and that’s it. It’s not like Berlin, where they’ll give you a fine or arrest you. in Buenos Aires you don’t have to worry about your empty spray cans being checked for fingerprints. And you don’t have to worry about your art being buffed the following day.

I just hope it stays this way. I went to Sao Paulo once and it used to be the same situation there. But then the Mayor changed, his policies changed and suddenly they started covering everything up. It can happen like that, and it makes painting challenging. But sometimes it just forces people to experiment with new techniques, and seek out places to paint where they won’t be painted over.


The present and the future

Right now, we’re all painting in Pasaje Casacuberta in Parque Patricios (read more here). A resident from the Pasaje called us up one day, and invited to come and paint her house. The neighbours really liked what we painted, and now out of fifteen houses in the passageway, we’re painting ten. It’s a great project, and we’re all collaborating together, without any individual or collective identity.

The next project for is focused on painting revolutionary phrases in aerosol, with a stencil underneath suggesting that it’s a legally created piece. Think of an anarchy symbol with a copyright logo next to it. We want to show the contradictions found in revolutionary statements that have been legalised and legitimised.


Interview by Fernando Aita

Photos: & graffitimundo


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Paredes Robadas: street art theft in Buenos Aires

This may be old news for those familiar with the scene, but for anyone who hasn’t heard about it, the story of how street art in Buenos Aires was appropriated by a conceptual artist is an unusual one.

A few years ago, something very strange happened in the streets of Buenos Aires. All across the city, large sections of murals began to disappear.

A few days before the disappearances started, we were running a tour and came across a group of people applying a coating of resin to a section of a mural painted by Bert van Wijk. When we asked them what they were doing, they replied that a gallery had asked them to protect the murals, and so they were going around the city preserving the best pieces. It seemed strange that they would only preserve a section of a mural instead of the whole piece, but they were reluctant to share any more information and quickly left.

A few days later it became obvious that the murals weren’t being protected. They were being removed. The resin applied to the wall was used to create a bond with the surface of the wall and once dried, the resin and paint were peeled away. A flower had been removed from Bert van Wijk’s mural. Sections of other murals started to disappear. In some cases, entire pieces were removed.

It seemed unbelievable, but it was happening – someone was stealing street art.

It isn’t unprecedented for street art to be physically detached from the walls. A number of pieces by Banksy have been cut away from urban walls over the years. Some of those pieces sold for six figure prices. Whilst Buenos Aires boasts extraordinary street art, it didn’t seem plausible that someone was stealing it because the pieces were worth huge sums of money. So the question everyone was left with was “who is doing this and why?”

It took several weeks for the explanation to arrive – the pieces were being removed by a conceptual artist, who wanted to use pieces of street art in his own exhibition.

Apparently the concept behind his exhibition was that street art is vandalism, and removing street art from the walls represented an act of vandalism against vandalism. Curiously, this self-proclaimed act of vandalism was also described as an act of preservation. Through vandalising vandalism, it was claimed that the artist was rescuing street art from destruction by the elements and other vandals.

The promotional blurb for the show offered the following cryptic explanation:

The artist “seizes parts of street graffiti – destined to be destroyed either for its exposure to the elements or for its covering with several paint layers – and brings them to the gallery space in an exercise of preservation that comes off closer to a forensic operation rather than to the conservation of fragments of a cultural inheritance.”

Understandably, this explanation didn’t sit particularly well with the street artists affected, or admirers of their work.

From the perspective of local street artists – an outsider had entered their scene and destroyed their art in pursuit of his own project. He had made no attempts to contact any of the street artists whose work he intended on taking. No permissions had been asked. He had simply arrived and started taking whatever he wanted for his own exhibition.

The opening night of the exhibition was discretely publicised. The gallery was full of the appropriated murals, encased in resin and suspended from the ceiling. The pieces were seemingly priced by size, each costing thousands of dollars. Fine wines were served on silver trays by waiters in white gloves. The artist was surrounded by admirers.


Reports on what happened next are a little vague. But the key details are that at some point, a fire extinguisher was set off and people began to evacuate the gallery. And then, amidst the confusion, every piece of stolen artwork in the gallery was destroyed, and those responsible disappeared into the night.

This brought an abrupt end to the exhibition.

It seems plausible that the artist expected some form of reaction. Comments he made on Facebook suggested that he saw the destruction of the pieces in the gallery as a legitimate response that completed his concept. His attempts to vandalise vandalism had been vandalised.

But for a number of reasons, the underlying artistic concept simply didn’t make sense in the context of Buenos Aires. Several of the pieces the artist had deemed to be “vandalism” had been painted with permission. What he had presented as being worthless “street graffiti” had value – to the artists, the owners of the walls and the public.

One particular case stood out – a mural had been ripped from the walls of a private property. Like many other pieces, it had been painted with permission. The mural had been painted at the request of the homeowner, a mother who had asked artists to paint something for her young son. She was understandably furious that her son had woken up one morning to find that his mural had been “seized”.


The artist should have researched the scene before carrying out his conceptual project here.  If he’d spoken to any local street artists they could have told him that their work isn’t generally considered to be vandalism. One of the defining characteristics of the scene here is its public acceptance, which is built upon good relations between street artists and the community. It’s common for artists to knock on doors and ask permission before painting, and people all too happily offer up their walls.

In the days following the short-lived exhibition opening, the artist found himself denounced by an angry public and an unsympathetic media. A similar exhibition that had been planned in Sao Paolo was cancelled. Many of the street artists affected made public demands that their paintings be returned. Property owners who had murals removed from their walls began discussing legal action.

It’s possible that unsanctioned attempts to strip art from public and private walls for personal gain might be condoned in other countries, but it’s hard to imagine where it wouldn’t be seen as unethical, not to mention an obvious breach of the artists & property owners rights.

We spoke with an Argentine intellectual property lawyer about the incident. She explained that in Argentina, the artist is the ultimate owner of their artwork. They decide who gets to use their artwork and how. That artists choose to paint in public is irrelevant. It doesn’t even matter if artwork is created without permission. An artist who paints without permission may be held responsible for property damage, but they are still the owner of their art.

Artists who paint in the street want people to see their work. They accept that the passage of time and the weather will inevitably degrade their work, and other artists and writers may paint over it. This is the natural cycle, and the conditions artists accept when they paint in the street. However, it doesn’t follow that by painting in the street, artists are giving permission to others to use their art for their own commercial or private gain. Their art doesn’t become public property simply because it is in public view.

Whilst the technique of physically removing art from the walls was unusual, appropriation of street art is nothing new.

Several Argentine street artists have already successfully sued multi-national companies who incorporated their art in advertising campaigns without permission.

Over in the US, a major retailer was recently ordered to pay damages and hand over their entire stock of t-shirts to a street artist whose design they had ripped off.

Whilst many street artists value the exposure print media brings to their work, an interesting article in the New York Times highlights a case brought against a photographer who had created a book featuring street paintings. Not only were artists unhappy that their work had been commercially reproduced without their consent – several objected to how their art had been presented. Based on the complaints raised by the artists, the book was withdrawn from circulation a month after its release, and damages are being sought.

Ironically, several Buenos Aires street artists whose pieces had been stolen appreciated the concept behind the exhibition. What they didn’t appreciate, was the fact that they were never consulted or included.

As urban art becomes more established, its creators are increasingly aware of the rights they have over their art. Their art may be shared with the world in full public view, it may be ephemeral and it may even constitute vandalism. But it is still their art.


Buenos Aires’s richly mixed heritage and turbulent past seem to play into every facet of its culture, including its dark cinema, diverse cuisine, the wild street art that bedecks the neighborhoods of Palermo and Villa Crespo…

The Godfather of Stencil: Interview with Blek le Rat

This interview comes courtesy of the excellent people who run escritos en la calle, an extraordinary project which meticulously records written graffiti throughout the city.

The walls of Buenos Aires have been used as a channel of communication long before they became a medium for art. The streets are filled with politics, humour, love and rage, articulated through the simple act of someone writing on a wall.

The focus of escritos en la calle is on written graffiti, however they have also conducted a number of interviews with stencil artists. Buenos Aires has a rich of tradition of stencil graffiti, and for decades stencils have been used by politicians, activists, artists and members of the public looking to make a point.

This interview is with one of the first artists in the world to use a stencil to make a point – the legendary Blek le Rat. Thanks again to our friends at escritos en la calle for allowing us to repost this newly translated interview.

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In 1981 stencils by Blek le Rat began to appear all over the streets of Paris. Today, this french artist is preparing three exhibitions of his stencils in San Francisco, London and Paris. With his enthusiasm intact, his words inspire us in this exclusive interview, where he speaks about his career, about the transition from street artist to gallery artist, and about his visit to Buenos Aires.

By Laurent Jacobi, from France / / Photos: Blek le Rat

How did you begin?

I studied Beaux Arts and Architecture in Paris. Around the time of my graduation, in the 80’s, I was working with teens in abandoned tenement buildings in so-called “free” spaces. One day I watched the kids painting graffiti in our cabin. It was a great idea. A real trigger. We said to each other, my friend Gerard and I – “we’re going to do the exact same thing around the walls of Paris”… So we bought bodywork paint for vehicles and we went to the neighborhood 14. I painted graffiti inspired by the American styles. It wasn’t that bad if I remember correctly.

Had you seen anything like this before?

Yes, of course. In 1971, during a trip to New York, I was amazed by the drawings in the subway. In the 80’s I was still thinking about them, something was developing in my thoughts. If I go back even further in time, I had a visit to Italy when I was young, and I’d seen traces of fascist stencils there. Despite the theme, I thought they were really beautiful stencils. Of course I was also greatly influenced by the political paintings in French Algeria and from May of ’68.

Graffiti is everywhere: In Roma, Pompey and the Parthenon. It’s a type of art that has always existed, a social phenomenon that lets personal expression become collective. You can express anything with it, your love, your hate…

Your career began with the French left coming to power…

Yes, but that’s not to say that I felt any sort of support… I did a huge tour around France in a 4L and that gave me considerable notoriety in the press. Also, in 1983 an article was published in Télérama. During the 80’s and 90’s graffiti exploded. It was absolutely everywhere. A real steamroller of images. There was not one millimeter of wall left unpainted, there were tags on every surface.

What has influenced your work?

On a conceptual level, we are really an extension of Pop Art. The work of English artist David Hockney affected me greatly. In 1972 or 1973 I saw one of his exhibits and I was totally fascinated by his colorful crayon drawings. In A Bigger Splash, a movie that I saw 5 or 6 times, I saw him paint a life-sized character on the walls of an apartment in London. I thought it was magnificent. Richard Ambleton as well. In 1983 he painted characters 2 meters tall in Paris: beautiful shadows. At this point I had been making little rats and I decided to experiment with stencils at a larger scale.

What can you tell us about your techniques?

I’ve worked with stencils from the very beginning. If you don’t include political graffiti, I am the first to have used them for a work of art. There are no accidents with stencils. Image created this way are clean and beautiful. You prepare it in your studio and then you can reproduce it indefinitely. I’m not good enough to paint freehand. Stencil is a technique well suited to the streets because it’s fast. You don’t have to deal with the worry of the police catching you.

Has the idea of risk played a role in your work?

Absolutely not. At the beginning of the 80’s the police wouldn’t say anything at all. They asked me only if it was something political. I’d say “it’s art”, and that was it. The problems really began with tags. In the beginning police usually thought they were sectarian… The repression came later, when they realized that they were just individuals writing their names. That was also when I began to have problems with the police. They attacked me in New York and I ended up in a criminal court in Paris…

It was never very pleasant working in the streets. I’m paranoid and anxious. Even today when I paint with permission, I’m always a little bit nervous.

Do you ever go back to see how what you’ve painted has turned out?

Systematically. I take photos, I talk with people in the neighborhood and I watch their reactions without letting on that I’m the author of the piece. It’s the best part of graffiti: a moment of true happiness.

What do you want the spectator of your works to experience?

Pleasure, more than anything. I’m not interested in aggravating people. My images are clear and visible for all. I want people to love me, not hate me.

How is graffiti considered nowadays?

In France, a graffiti artist continues to be considered a vandal. There have always been a few galleries that support the art, but they are somewhat marginalised. In England, the US or Australia, the support of the media, politics and the art market is much stronger. I’m much better known internationally than I am in my own country.

What interests you about graffiti these days?

After whole periods of stencils, tags and graffiti, we are now entering into a phase of intervention in urban space. For example, I really like Space Invader, Jerome Mesnager, Costa or Zeus with his billboard interventions. In France the current scene is unfortunately quite poor. We’re lacking in imagination and creativity. We’re slow and it takes us time to assimilate new movements. You really have to go to London, Australia or China in order to find things that are truly different and innovative. I am a big fan of an American artist who does molded sculptures around cities with scotch tape. There’s also an English artist who does tiny characters and puts them in different situations throughout public spaces.

Are you conscious of having made an important impact on graffiti?

Yes. From the start I saw a lot of people who were interested in my stencils. This interest lessened until Banksy came on the scene and brought this artistic technique back into style.

I’ve received a lot of emails, almost 40 or 50 a week, where people ask me about my technique or they ask me for advice about creativity. This brings me a lot of joy and I always try to be friendly. At 60 years old I’m like a grandfather. In fact, they call me the Godfather of stencil…

What do you know about Argentina?

In 2006 I was contacted for a documentary and I spend 10 days in Buenos Aires. I arrived in December and I stayed with an older middle class woman, who passed away shortly after. The architecture there is very European. I felt like I had travelled back in time. It was like visiting my youth in Europe. I painted a bunch of abandoned ships in La Boca. I also did some work in a dumping ground between two apartment buildings, inhabited by a couple and some dogs. They had accumulated thousands of things from the trash in a pile and I added a person on the top of it. I also stuck up posters in Palermo. More than anything, I had a lot of problems…

What kind of problems?

In Palermo a woman got upset and took down all of my posters. Then one Sunday morning a complaint was filed by the people of the neighborhood and the police came and arrested me. They brought me to a police station, took my passport and interrogated me. They didn’t believe that I didn’t speak Spanish and I spent an entire day in jail.

What did you notice about graffiti in Buenos Aires?

It’s a lot more political, with very specific messages. It’s the same in Mexico City, where I also did a giant Victor Hugo on a house that belonged to a bunch of Trotskyites.

Is there an element of political discourse to your work?

In the case of Victor Hugo, of course. But I don’t create political messages for the left or right. I once made a David with a Kalashnikov, which got me into some trouble. All I was saying was “I don’t want the war between Israel and Palestine” – the right of the Palestinians to have a separate state and to come and go freely and, on the other hand, the right of Israel to live in peace.

What are you working on now?

It’s been 30 years of le Rat. I’m working on 3 exhibits for 2011-12, which will take place in San Francisco, London and Paris. I’m preparing the pieces now. They will be a mixture of old and new characters.

Do you think that le Rat has evolved?

No, it’s always been the same. Only I’ve gotten much older… I’m 60 years old now. My story is over. I hope to stop creating one day because I’m a little weary. Marcel Duchamp ended his career to play chess until the end of his life. It’s just a question of money. Artists don’t get retirement plans or pensions…

How do you work now?

I ask permission and obtain authorization before investing in a wall. I work with galleries in Los Angeles and San Francisco, who organize commissions of my works for individuals, institutions or brands. Now I create images for the places that are available. I also continue to work “illegally” but no longer in Paris. I don’t like that city.

Do you have any advice for someone just starting?

I have an 18 year old son, and I always tell him: “don’t be an artist, it’s really difficult”. The life of an artist is not made of love, creativity and fresh water. You have to know certain recipes. You have to understand how the art market works. You also have to be able to speak to the public, to flatter them, and you have to give them things they can understand. Art is a real business, and it’s complicated, with rules and laws, ways of exhibiting and of placing value on someone’s work in order to establish its market value. I wasn’t aware of all that when I began.

When you were starting out, did you imagine that you might ever make a living from your art?

Honestly, no. I was very aware that it was a new form of art, and a different type of expression. We didn’t know how it was going to develop, but we did realize that we were developing something truly innovative. I never that I would live off of this, and that I would be known in the US or in London thanks to Banksy… I merely saw the breaking point: painting in your own studio and exhibiting in a gallery was not the future. It was a transition. Art became public, it was no longer reserved for an elite audience. There was a true democratization. In fact, there’s really no contradiction between a work on exhibit in a gallery and another done free in the street.

How do you handle the fact that street art is ephemeral?

It’s ephemeral and yet the mark it leaves behind is important. There’s nothing left from the 80s. For example, all of Keith Haring’s graffiti has disappeared and they are no longer tangible. At the beginning I didn’t create works on canvas and I didn’t even take pictures of my stencils. I never imagined that what I do would someday be considered a work of art. It’s sad because an entire part of my life has been lost and it’s nice to have a memory of where we’ve been. Yes, I’ve kept some of the stencils. The only way to work is on a medium like canvas, or pieces of wood. I started to photograph my works when I noticed the consistency of what I was doing. For 20 years I’ve left works in the houses of collectors and there they are maintained.

When did you start to realize that you were creating works of art?

It’s terrible to say, but I realized when people started to offer me money. My work had always had a different value for me. When I sold a piece in Christie’s or in Sotheby’s for 40,000 dollars, something happened, the dynamic changed. Especially for those who don’t consider graffiti as a form of art.

It’s sad, but everything has a price. At the beginning, I had my own discourse: I wanted to be outside the system, to trick the art market. In fact, it’s impossible. You never leave the system, you can’t escape it if you want to live. At 60 years old, I no long want to trick anyone. I’m not creating a revolution. I came to understand that I wasn’t going to change the world. However, I continue to work for free in the streets. I give access to images the people aren’t used to seeing in museums. It’s the art at the corner of the street. It’s the gift I give to the world.

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To read this interview in French click here

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Jaz – urban watercolours

Jaz has painted a number of spectacular pieces in Buenos Aires during the past few weeks.

The zoo of painted animals inhabiting the streets of Buenos Aires acquired a lion and an extraordinary pair of giant polar bears, each 3 metres tall. Jaz had painted a similar piece for the Fuera de la Linea exhibition in Rosario.

His latest paintings feature a theme he explored during his recent trip to the US. His pieces in both the Ritual Exhibition in Brooklyn & the Living Walls conference in Atlanta featured a surreal visual of humans and animals melding together at the head.

The streets act as Jaz’s sketch book. All his ideas begin in the streets, with some later being adapted into gallery pieces. One of the scene’s most prolific artists, his ability to work comfortably and quickly at enormous scales is remarkable, as is his seemingly limitless range of subjects and styles.

Besides his arresting compositions and the imposing scales of his pieces, one of the more unusual qualities of Jaz’s paintings are the materials he works with. His recent paintings use an unconventional artistic medium – asphaltic paint. Also known as bitumen, asphaltic paint is a thick, black viscous liquid typically used in road construction and roofing. Mixed with petrol and blended with industrial white emulsion, asphaltic paint provides the complex array of sepia tones which give Jaz’s pieces their remarkable textures.

Painting with asphaltic paint is cheap. Really cheap. A small container of asphaltic paint has lasted Jaz over two years, and he’s only half way through it. Industrial white emulsion is the cheapest paint money can buy, petrol is substantially cheaper than paint thinner, and asphaltic paint provides all the pigments Jaz needs to render his ideas at huge scales, at minimal cost.

Once applied to the wall, the glistening blend of petrol and bitumen creates textures and reflects light in a markedly different way to spray paint. The mixture covers the wall effortlessly, in washes of colour that build in layers. Jaz’s street painting give the viewer the strange impression that he has somehow managed to paint a huge concrete wall using watercolours.

Roma explained in a recent interview that many artists were forced to improvise with materials following the 2001 crash. The high cost of imported spray paint lead to many artists experimenting with new materials for their street art, however in Jaz’s case it’s principally a stylistic choice.

“I’m taking the same materials that the streets are made from and using them in my paintings” Jaz explains. “I like the connection with the street.”

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