Thursday, August 7, 2008

Interview with Spizz: A French Urban Artist

Paris France is full of urban art, if you just look around. In this urban art interview we talk to Spizz, a Parisian inspired by punk rock music.

Gadabout started this series by highlighting the Paris urban street art, or pochoirs (stencil art), of Jef Aerosol, and then Epsylon Point. As we said before, Paris - like most cities - is "chalk full" of urban art. There is graffiti art, political art, stencil art, poster art, paper cutouts, and more.  And with each Gadabout eZine we plan to highlight a new Paris urban artist.

In this interview we spoke with Spizz.  Want to see more of Spizz's work? Read his book? Hear music by his band? Then see below for links. Spizz also happens to be the cousin-in-law of Jade!  It's a funny story really. Jade and I were talking about the urban art interviews and articles we wanted to do in our upcoming eZines, and she said to me, "Oh, and my cousin-in-law does urban art in Paris too. I'll contact him next week to ask if he'd be interested."

That same night I attended an urban art gallery exhibition at the Anne Vignial gallery in Paris.  As I was mingling I began talking to one attending artist about his work, and mentioned that my friend and I were compiling urban artist interviews at our website. He smiled and said, "Oh yes, and your friend is Australian, no?"  I wondered how he knew this, and came to find out I had randomly began speaking to Jade's cousin-in-law. It's a small world.

SpizzSo Spizz agreed to come meet Axel and I for a beer and to chat about his work.  We also recorded it, and had the grand scheme of making a podcast for Gadabout listeners.  Yet, our plans were foiled by the screaming and antics of 3 little kids in the bar, now able to be there with their parents due to the smoking-ban that went into effect this year. We've tried to salvage as much of the audio files as we can for you in the podcast that goes along with this article; but you've been forewarned about the little yelling rascals that come along with it.

Axel has kindly done the leg work, and transcribed the audio interview transcript exactly, so that that Spizz's answers are in his words:

Question 1:  What specifically inspired you to start stencil art? Basically, what is your inspiration in your art, and your books and everything you do?

Response: That’s a long question… I discovered stencil art in 86. At the time Paris was covered with stencils and there was a huge surge of stencil art, and a lot of people were doing it- you could do it and nobody would bother you; so for a few years there was a lot of work done on the street, and I discovered it and started taking photographs of it. So that’s how I discovered it and loved it, because you know, the power it has and the surprise it gives you when you follow up on something on the street, and so I’ve always kept taking pictures. I got 5000 or 6000 pictures.
I used to roam the streets on Sunday mornings and just go in an area and take pictures. There was a huge lot. And then repression started to fall down on us, and so people got arrested doing it and had huge fines. People like Miss Tic stopped at once doing it and basically everybody stopped. So for a few years there’s been only a few stencils in the streets, and I kept on taking pictures and never did a stencil myself because I cannot really draw so I didn’t think I would be able to do it.
Then there was a new movement, stencilling started to be something again thanks to the "paris pochoirs" website and they organized, I think in 2003, an exhibition and an outdoor gathering of a lot of stencil artists, some new ones and some from the old days that came back. Then in 2004 there was the stencil project that lasted for 3 days, really a lot of people. So I went there and watched people doing it. I said to myself I should try, so I tried and I realized that you didn’t actually need to be able to draw, you can use pictures and things. So that’s how I started really.

Question 2: A lot of your work is musicians, so punk music specifically seems to be an inspiration for you. What else?

Response: Nothing! At the start, it wasn’t anything in particular really. And then I started in music stuff, and mostly rock stuff, not only punk but rock. Because that’s what I like really.  I sing in a band, called “Yp√©rites ”.  It’s for fun. But actually we do play gigs and we’ll probably record soon. We played in some places, bars like “Zorba” in Belleville, “La Miroiterie” in M√©nilmontant, l’Abracadabar in the 19th… nice bars, good size. We have another date set for March at the Saphir21, which is another small bar in a basement.

Question 3: Do you consider yourself a musician, an author, a stencil artist? What is your main denomination? Or is it everything?

Response: Some of everything. The common thing would be music. Because it’s in the book, in the stencils and in the band.

Question 4: Is your book somewhat autobiographical?

Response: Part of it must be. Some of it is totally invented, the story is absolutely invented. But the character is a first-person narration so you could say some of it is autobiographical, but mainly it’s not supposed to be. It’s only that I’ve put in it some things that I’ve seen, like the riots in Paris, they’re in the book exactly like I saw them in 86, but it’s not my life.
This book is my first book but I don’t know if I’ll ever write another one, I didn’t plan actually to write this one, I started writing a few pages and I thought “let’s go on, let’s invent a story from that”. The first pages of the book is something that I wrote just like that some day, and there was no story at all and I had no idea that I was making a book! So it could be a one-time endeavor, time will tell. The difficulty is to find the time to do everything.

Question 5: You had an art exhibit the other night, and there were about 25 different pieces.  Each one was very intricate. How long does it take you to cut these stencils, and what else can you tell us about your pochoirs?

Response: Too many hours! Depends on the piece actually. Some pieces are really quick, but usually it’s quite long because I’m trying to go in small details and if I do like a guitar I try to do the strings.  I try to do 2 colors sometimes but I don’t really like it, I prefer the simple.  I put the stencil first, paint the color, and then put the stencil back. I use it twice. Because if you do the color freehand, you need to know where the arm will be and the face will be… so the stencil helps you get your bearings. Otherwise you would need different stencils to know where the colors are.

Question 6: You've done both street art and canvas pochoirs for exhibits.  Do you consider yourself more a canvas artist or a street artist?

Response: Actually I consider myself more like a cutting artist. I love making the stencil, cutting the pieces. I think it’s more important than painting it. It’s a pleasure to do it, it’s not really a meditation but when the outcome is quite cool and you don’t think about anything else because you are really focused. The perfect stencil result is when you have done it or when you are progressing through it and then you just take the stencil and watch the shadow on the wall. You’ve just done an eye for example and you see the eye and the expression and you see if it’s how it comes out, and the shadow is almost perfect, it will be more perfect than once you paint it actually.
But I do like painting. I’m not obsessed with painting on the street; I like it because it gives me a real thrill. It’s interesting to see people watching you and having reactions in front of what is done. Painting on canvas is really interesting too because you can create backgrounds; I really like background work. It’s not that complicated really, but you make the stencil and you imagine what kind of background you will have with it. It may have references to the stencil itself, its part of the artistic process. The Buzzcocks stencil, it’s a yellow one with figures like rectangles and triangles – this one is actually a reference to the cover of one of their LPs, it’s not exactly the same signs that you have on the LP but the LP is yellow and it has triangles and rectangles, so I took a picture of buzzcocks and for the background I used the idea that was on the cover of that LP. So sometimes I take records that I like and I keep aspects of them in my work, to give references to what it is.  Mostly punk, rock, all that scene.

Question 7: It seems to me that in recent years street art, and particularly, stencil (Pochoir) art is starting to get a lot more attention, respect and exposure than it did in the past. Do you mind the kind of commercial attention it's starting to get?

Response: To be honest I don’t really mind, some people actually say they don’t like that kind of exposure because it’s supposed to be like quite underground. I think it can be underground and at the same time exposed. It’s not bad if a lot of people can discover it.
Personally I prefer seeing stuff done by a stencil artist, even if it’s for commercial reasons, than stuff done in a style that I wouldn’t like. So it’s my style of images that can be seen, and I like it. Actually when you know, Miss Tic did some work for a rental company; there was a van parked near here on my way here, and I prefer seeing that than something else like advertising. Everybody is doing the stuff they want to do, so…

Question 8: Is there a particular artist that inspired you the most, or that you liked the most?

Response: I think it was more like this accumulation of different artists that I discovered at the beginning in 86. it was not specifically one artist, it was everyone! For 20 years I took photographs of all of them and then one day… I could mention people like Jef Aerosol, Le Rire du Fou, Le Bateleur, quite a lot of people.

Question 9: It seems you've created your own unique style, and one can point out your pieces immediately. What is behind that style?

Response: All of them are musically inspired, often by EP covers, even the chicken! The image came from a tablemat in a restaurant, but it’s musically inspired because it has the writing “psycho chicken” and that’s a song by The Fools. So that’s how I put it in perspective, I saw it and it reminded me of the song. And the two little girls, there is no rock n roll in it but it has the sentence “when I grow up I wanna be a punk”

Question 10: Are there any political undertones in your work?

Response: No, just music.  Maybe it will change, I don’t know… but for now it has to be music.

Question 11: Considering you've written books, play music in a punk band, and do urban and canvas art, what do you think your future work will be?

Response: That’s a good question… I’m doing several different things at the same time and it is getting difficult to do everything at the same time. So I just take things as they come, go from one exhibit to organizing another one like I just did. I do always have a stencil in process and do always have songs with a band in process, book-wise I don’t know, I don’t feel like I have the time now to write another book, so I don’t really think about it, I only think about selling this one and maybe doing something else with it, I don’t know, we’ll see when all the books are sold. So I don’t really ask myself if I’m going to do a career in art, I wouldn't consider myself as an artist in the sense that I don’t live from it, it’s more something I do on the side when I feel like it. I have absolutely no constraints; I feel free doing it. I have no goal, I don’t need to live from it, so I just do it. And so it goes on and it seems to be going ok. I’m not putting myself under any pressure doing this: there is no pressure for the band, it’s just for fun.

Question 12: Is there any piece or work you consider your favorite?

Response: The favourite is the last one.  It’s always the last one.  It’s like when you do songs in a band, the last one that you just finished is the one you like most. We are really in that at the moment because we are doing two new songs and so it’s like they’re the best ones! Actually they’re not the best ones!  I know what people say: what I hear is that the two little girls is the best one. Because they like it. I like it too!  The chicken is funny! What I do like about the chicken is the background. It’s full of bright colors and it says “psycho chicken – la revanche de la poule au pot”. The history of that is that I did it during the avian flu outbreak…

Question 13: Oh! So you DO have political messages in your work! (sly smile)

Response: I don’t think it’s political… just ironic.  I don’t feel like sending direct messages anyway. It’s not my initial message. There are many different angles… but what I liked a lot most about the punk movement was the “do-it-yourself” angle, it was one of the biggest ideas in punk. You don’t need society, you don’t need big companies, and actually everything I do is do-it-yourself, the book is do-it-yourself, the band is do-it-yourself, all the stencils are do-it-yourself, and I do my own promotion, my own sales, I decide that I want to do this and I do it. And that’s the do-it-yourself, you’re free because you’re not contracted to anyone. You just set on mind on doing something and you do, it’s a great freedom. Apart from your own pressure you have no other pressure, and that’s quite good.

Question 14: If you could just say one line, or one phrase, or one short sentence about your work, how would you describe it?

Response: It’s very difficult… it’s a very difficult question! I’d say I’m kind of unconsciously trying to render the rock spirit into graphism. Mix art and the spirit of rock.


To see some of Spizz's work, photos:

Check out the latest stencil book, which highlights Spizz in it:
Stencil History X:

**Photo Credit: Flickr CC - Some rights reserved by Julien Mourlon

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