Jef Aérosol Interview: The Man Behind the Arrow

There are probably not too many 57 year olds who can claim to have been consistently painting in galleries and on streets for the past 30+ years. But there’s at least one out there who most definitely can. Nantes-born – Jef Aérosol.

His stencil art comes predominantly in black, grey and white. Usually accompanied by his trademark strong graphic element – the red arrow – which is both a nod to urban signage and a tool for composition (but he’d rather you drew your own conclusion on its particular meaning), his work is among some of the most notable of the past 3 decades.

Having started painting in this way during the stencil art ‘boom’ of the 1980s, his reputation has grown like those of his contemporaries, Blek le Rat and Speedy Graphito. Drawing inspiration from pop, rock & folk iconography of his youth, his paintings primarily focus on humans, who he believes act as ‘silent witnesses’ once he leaves, communicating with the passers-by.

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“Fisheye”, a self portrait of sorts – Jef Aerosol

 A number of them are self-portraits (he jokes that these have led to accusations of being a “narcissistic megalomaniac!”) allowing for continued dialogue with the city and its inhabitants. Questions and statements are often evoked between the lines, either in French of English, which accompany his art. Though his works are generally poetically, rather than politically, motivated.

With a packed calendar of projects throughout 2014 (including his most recent in Rio de Janeiro) there doesn’t appear to be much letting up from Jef – so I was grateful for him finding the time to share his thoughts on everything from creating art with photocopiers whilst employed as a nightwatchman to painting large scale murals across the globe.

UKB: Before the stencils you’re probably most associated with, your career began through copy-art (using photocopiers to create artworks) which is gloriously retro now. What attracted you to that medium, and has it influenced your stencil work?

JA: Copy-art was the thing in the late 70s and early 80s. Using a tool that wasn’t made for creating art was quite interesting. But, I don’t think it influenced my stencil work, it was something totally different, except for the “speedy” aspect. I have lots of examples, but none are scanned. This is one among the millions of things I have to do before I die!

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Jef Aerosol’s stencils appeared in Rio after his recent exhbition

UKB: So, you cut your first stencil in ’82 in Tours and describe the night you painted them all over as the moment you were ‘hooked’. How does that feeling compare to the feeling you get when painting now, is it still strong, or has it changed?

JA: Feelings do change with age and experience, of course, but I still feel excited every time I paint an image! The attraction to stencil and spraying was essentially because it was all new, at the time, and it was also directly connected to my age (25 years old) and to the period (the early 80s) etc.

But even if the sensations, the ideas, the feelings, the context, the age and period are different, I still enjoy using that technique today even though I also love some other techniques and tools.

 “…I still feel excited every time I paint an image…”

UKB: I’m interested to find out your opinions of the web-based age of street art. You mention that you are trying to find early imagery of your first works – how do you feel about the age of the internet and its relationship with street art? Does the ability to share street art not on the street dilute the art? Do you believe some of the joy in street art that it’s not available to everyone everywhere, and specific to the people of that place and time?

JA: It’s an interesting question (edit: one he’s answered a few times before!) – so it would take a long time to develop. To put it in a nutshell, internet has changed everything! It has its excellent sides but also its drawbacks. I love the idea that everybody can share everything with everybody, but I don’t always like the fact that the web can level things down.

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Jef Aerosol at the In Situ Art Festival in Aubervilliers, France. (Image: Gregory Lacroix)

UKB: Many think of you as one of the pioneers of stencil art alongside the likes of Blek le Rat. Do you feel there is an associated pressure that comes with this, or even an expectation? How do you make sure you’re constantly stimulated and therefore make fresh and exciting work for over 30 years?

JA: There’s no pressure with that title at all, but nothing really “special” either…I don’t really care about the hierarchy, age, fame, etc. As long as you follow your own road and feel you still have to do what you do, there’s no other choice. I don’t think I control everything, Art is a power that is stronger than the rest.

 “…I never speak of my works in terms of pleasure. Creation can be painful…”

UKB: Would you say you create art for yourself, or for others? What do you think makes a good piece of stencil art, and are there any works you have been particularly pleased with, or not?

JA: Art is meant to be shared, but it isn’t ‘for me’ or ‘for others’, it’s much more complex than that! It’s just a way of understanding life, of staying alive. In the same way, I never speak of my works in terms of pleasure. Creation can be painful.

I have never ever been able to say that I was pleased or not with a piece. I never like or dislike my works – they are part of myself, of my life, of my art. It’s hard to explain. Painting is not fun!

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A portrait of Jef Aerosol by stencil artist and fellow Frenchman, C215

UKB: Many others have since used stencil art and achieved fame in the street art world, most notably Banksy, C215…How does it feel to have potentially influenced such artists? Can you say you’ve been influenced in turn by them, or other street artists working just now?

JA: I don’t know if I have influenced anybody. I suppose so, as I get a lot of very touching messages from young and not-so-young stencil artists who tell me how much I have been an influence to them. It sounds a bit surreal. I have been and still am influenced by lots of artists.

Actually, everybody and everything influence me! Some young artists are so damn good, I feel very humble, old and shy when I see their work…

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‘Shhh’ or ‘chuuutt’ at Place Igor Stravinsky, a stone’s throw from the Centre Pompidou

UKB: One of my favourite pieces of yours is the large ‘hush’ or ‘chuut’ piece at the Pompidou (painted as part of a larger team). Does the finished article feel like it isn’t quite as much yours as if you paint it alone?

JA: Size doesn’t matter at all! I don’t feel more satisfied when I paint a mural than when I paint a lifesize stencil on a wall, or a small portrait on a canvas. These are three different things :- muralism – street stencils – gallery and museum works. It’s all mine.

“…when I paint without permission, it’s always with great respect for the context, the people and the places…”

UKB: You mention that you have an appreciation of consistency of style – do you think you will ever move away from stencils? Are there any other media you’d like to work in but haven’t?

JA: I had been painting and drawing, collaging, copyarting, polaroiding, inking, acrylicing, crayoning and oiling etc…. before I started stencilling! I still enjoy all those techniques, but life is short, days are only 24hrs long and weeks have only 7 days. I have stopped playing music on stage and in bands, recording and touring because of time. I have stopped teaching too.

I’d love to be 30 or 40 years old again to have the time and energy to start new things again. I’d love to have several lives so that I could dedicate one to filming and making pictures, one to music, one to travelling, one to painting, one to writing…

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Mural by Jef Aerosol in Bordeaux, France

UKB: Where do you go from here – what are your plans for the rest of 2014? You’re still involved prolifically with many exhibitions both solo and with other contemporary artists – will you ever stop painting outdoors? Do you feel that your artistic status helps you to paint outdoors without permission easier than others, and therefore helps you continue this work?

JA: 2014 and 2015 are now fully booked and several projects are already being planned for 2016. Outdoor or indoor, I enjoy both. The only thing is age, health etc… I still have the energy but the body doesn’t always allow! I know that I should slow down the pace, as my wife, friends and doctors tell me. But, as long as I can paint, wherever that may be, I’ll keep doing so.

When I paint without permission, it’s always with great respect for the context, the people and the places. I have never had problems so far. But, I don’t think it’s got anything to do with my status, in fact.

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Mural painted during his time in Rio recently (Image: Gile Smith)

UKB: How would you say street art scenes varies within France, say from Marseille to Paris to Lille?

JA: I haven’t painted in Lille and Paris for ages, and I haven’t painted much in Marseille either. I don’t know much and don’t really care about the ‘street art scene’, to be honest! The terms “Steet art” and “urban art” are quite recent, they started to appear in 2003 / 2004, I think.

Labels and categories don’t mean much to me. I prefer “muralism” when I paint murals, “contextual art” when I paint my characters on the street, “stencil art” if you want to insist on the technique used… In fact this is just ART and it doesn’t need to be categorized, does it?


UKB Guest Mix #21 – Decka Sound [UKB021]

After a short hiatus the guest mix series returns with Bristol-based producer and DJ, Decka Sound, leading the way.

With releases on Bullet Train Records and Nineteen89, a remix for Guised on District Sound coming out soon, as well as solid mixes for Watch the Hype and MDNGHT Records, it’s great to be able to bring to you this hour with plenty of excellent unreleased material scattered throughout.

Decka Sound co-runs the night 4 Seasons out of Timbuk2 (previously Cosies) which since October 2011 has brought some of the finest acts to Bristol, including Beneath, Visionist, Pinch, Trikk & Batu.

With guests Mella Dee, Facta, K-Lone and J One coming on September 13th the boys will go on to celebrate 4 Seasons 2nd birthday, before seeking to scale back the frequency of their night in Bristol to focus on expanding the night beyond the south west.



1. Ansome – Dragons Dynamite
2. Shcuro – Black Acid
3. Gideon – Whisler
4. Troy Gunner – Manifest
5. Heiko Laux – Sense Fiction (Surgeon Remix)
6. Loric – Under Sharer
7. Decka Sound – Untitled
8. Decka Sound – Malai
9. Lucretio – If We Change
10. Loraine – Trenchcoats
11. Myler – Gorilla Biscuits
12. Application – Cron Job
13. RE:FUSE – Sequence 1.2
14. Lucretio – Swamp Fever
15. Unklone – Burial
16. Shcuro – Black Acid (Larix Remix)
17. Decka Sound – Untitled
18. Decka Sound – Untitled

Erin McGrath’s Elvis Shakespeare Shutter // Leith, Edinburgh

Leith Late’s year round venture ‘The Shutter Project’ marked another milestone with the completion of Erin McGrath’s shutter at Elvis Shakespeare this week. The observant among us, the shop’s name alludes to its status is Leith’s finest purveyor of rare vinyl and quality literature.

Glasgow-based Erin McGrath has done a fantastic job on this one. Her illustration style is one that I really like. The beauty of it isn’t due to immense detail, in fact quite the opposite. It’s those kind of fat, sweeping lines and block colours that make this piece work. Definitely one of my favourite from the project so far.

The Leith Late team really are making that part of the city a walking exhibition at the moment. Great project and hopefully it will continue for a while longer yet.

You can check out more from Erin on her website Eerieerin.

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Painting on Leith Walk…

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Taping up.

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Finished shutters of Elvis Shakespeare’s

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Close-up detail

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All images courtesy of Eoin Carey – Leith Late / Shutter Project.


Flash Invaders // Street art collector app

Some might say that graffiti, and perhaps ‘street art’ more generally, holds an uneasy relationship with technology and the internet. Some feel like the web has diminished the original graffiti subculture by opening it up to wider audiences who experience the artform behind a screen as opposed to in person.

This may very well be the case, and a crime in which I am complicit simply by running this blog!

Yet there are many others who actively embrace the internet, and the potential it has to exponentially increase the number of people who can experience their art, either in person or virtually. A rise in visually stunning and digital-only ‘GIF-fiti’ like this from Insa and Unga shows that by no means do all street artists feel resentment towards the web.

Now with Invader’s recently released (and free) ‘Flash Invaders’ app, street art and digital technology are probably more closely aligned than they ever have been.

As I work in the digital/web development sector by day, and blog about street art in my spare time, I was really interested in this venture.

flash invader feat

The concept is simple. If you spot an Invader mosaic piece, grab your phone and ‘flash’ the invader (take a picture of it through the app). Once you’ve flashed it, and depending on whether or not the app recognises the piece from the app’s database of Invader mosaics, you are awarded points. These point are then totaled up, and your position on the delightfully 8-bit high score table is decided.

I’ve yet to test it on actual Invader pieces, so I’m interested to know if anyone has tried it out for real yet, and how they got on. The process of matching the image with the database is a potentially tricky one, so it will be good to find out how well this works.

flash inv screens

The high score table already has some entrants with well over 300 pieces spotted, which means roughly 20 flashed per day. I am not sure if there’s been a little subversion of the system involved or not…but yet again, those based in Paris will have the edge in ticking off a number of his pieces quickly!

Anyway, it looks like a really fun way to combine the collectibility of his art, and introduce a gamification aspect to give it an appropriately digital twist. It also got me thinking about app development in this way as an art form, or as a way to complement art. Does anyone have any examples of apps being used in this way? I’d really love to check them out – if you do, comment below, drop us an email or find us on Facebook.

Download the Flash Invaders app and start ‘flashing’ his mosaics!


Ostgun Ton Label Showcase – The Art School, Glasgow

The Art School in Glasgow, the multi-purpose music and events venue of the Glasgow School of Art, plays host to legendary Berlin-based label Ostgut Ton this weekend presented by Animal Farm Records. The techno giant travels to Scotland for their first showcase in the country, and makes the trip one that’s worthwhile, with the promise of a tinnitus-inducing 10 hours of techno.

The Ostgut Ton label brought into existence in 2005 is owned by Berghain, the Berlin club that is nearly as famous for its door policy as its banging techno. The label, guided by Nick Höppener is known worldwide to release some of the finest techno tracks from the likes of Ben Klock (who, incidentally plays in Edinburgh the same night), Prosumer and Tama Sumo.

Starting at the pretty alien time (by UK standards anyway) of 6pm, the night will get underway with the Animal Farm guys taking to the decks, steering the night dutifully in the direction of 3 producers/DJs I am very excited to see in action. Function, Marcel Dettmann and Martyn.


Function at Culture Box in May as part of the Ostgut Ton Nacht.

Fresh off the back of his Boiler Room appearance last week, Function will be performing a live 1hr set in Room 1. I was lucky enough to catch the New Yorker at Copenhagen’s Culture Box earlier this year on May Day weekend, ably supported by Tama Sumo. His performance really set the place off. Everyone will be hoping for more of the same this weekend, and I’m sure he won’t disappoint.

For an idea of what to expect, have a listen to the live set he performed last year on Boiler Room Berlin below (his most recent is yet to be uploaded unfortunately, but is definitely worth keeping an eye out for).

Going by last week’s performance I’d love to see him for longer than the hour slot he’s taking up, but regardless, it’ll be unmissable. And for that matter unstoppable – judging by the trouble the Boiler Room guys had in getting him to wind his set up…

Diverse Dutchman, Martyn, has released his first LP The Air Between Words in almost 3 years and looks set to take the headline slot in Room 2 between 1am and 4am. Since the critically acclaimed Ghost People was released in 2011 I’ve been looking for him to make an appearance in Edinburgh. It just so happens that within the space of a few days he’s set to make his first appearance in my hometown and another only a short trip down the M8.

I guess it’s like they say, you wait for one Martyn performance, and 2 come at once… Both appearances will be ones to savour, though. Everyone will be hoping to catch some of that unpredictability on Saturday, and that he has the chance to drop one or two of the tracks from the new LP into his set…

Finally, back in Room 1 for the conclusion to the evening, the man at the decks will need little introduction. As his RA profile states; “Ruff, rugged and raw. Mentioning Marcel Dettmann as well as his feeling for and vision of electronic music, his way of dealing with it, is impossible without these attributes”.

Those two sentences sum Marcel up better than I ever could, so there’s no real need for me to go any further here. It’ll be a fitting way to close what is sure to be a night to remember.

All this will be fuelled appropriately by a limited supply of Club Mate the Berlin energy drink of choice for the evening. All the more reason to get down early!



Urban Kultur on Hypnotic Groove // Box Frequency FM

So this week I was invited to play a few tunes on the Hypnotic Groove monthly radio show on BoxFrequencyFM. Hypnotic Groove is a great dance music channel based mainly via Soundcloud (but keep an eye on the Hypnotic Groove new website) showcasing the best local underground music talen in Scotland and beyond with a regular mix series, and of course, their own radio show.

I supported the HG top dog – Jay Dub – for an hour or so of house/tech-house before he moved in and played a seriously good and very eclectic set to take the show through to its conclusion.

You can check both sets below, and as always, I’d love to hear what you think! Leave a comment below, or on the soundcloud page.