Last week urbankulturblog spoke to fantastic street artist C215, real name Christian Guemy, about his entry into street art, his inspirations, thoughts on the scene in general and plans for the future. Here’s what he had to say…
UKB: Tell us a little bit about your background and how you became involved in street art.
C215: I am 37, born in France, in a popular family, with a countryside education with no connection to stencil art or graffiti until I was 15. Then I sprayed a free-hand yellow scooter a few times and very quickly got bored of graffiti
UKB: It’s interesting that you gave up on graffiti. How and when did you get back into it?
C215: I came back to spray paint when my daughter was 3. She was the main motivation for me to do it. I wanted to paint her face in the streets everywhere so I could create “souvenirs” for her. I do not belong to the pop culture, I have a catholic background with a classical artistic education but I think everybody is worth portraying. So I like to paint anonymous people, and I have no problem painting homeless faces, crazy people, gypsies and other rejected people from society.
UKB: Do you feel empathetic towards those in society that have been rejected in one way or another? Maybe that everyone deserves their moment in the spotlight?
C215: I see beauty out of the fashion standards, and emotion can be provoked by people that could be considered as ugly just because they are singular. Depends the way you view them.
UKB: What made you turn to graffiti when your daughter was born instead of say photography, to create these ‘souvenirs’?
By going to paint her portraits in the streets I wanted to gather a collection of pictures for her later, to show I was thinking to her despite we were not living together. I never thought I could be a professional artist. I was not educated for that.
UKB: Having grown up outside of street art culture do you think this gives your work a unique approach, untainted by any expectations or preconceptions? Has it affected how you paint and what you paint?
C215: I don’t like repetition, cynicism and hype of popular culture. I don’t need to paint the jet set, I don’t need to criticise the brand culture or the overconsumption. This is pop, and this is problematic of the XXth century. We need to find art that gives hope and dignity for society, shaping a new culture for a new civilisation. I hope street art culture and muralism helps society move that way.
UKB: Now that you are painting more often in the streets, are there any street artists that you admire in particular?
C215: I really like taggers. Crossing the law and feeling the adrenaline. That is an important part of the feeling. O Clock is a very good artist. Banksy has been exploring the streets like only a genius could. Most of my favourite artists are not street artists. A lot of them are doing legal murals in festivals like Blu, Conor Harrington, Mac, Aryz and some others. Dan23, Stéphane Carricondo, David Choe, Matt Small, Chloe Early are excellent urban artists, and I would love to see more of their work in the streets. Despite this, I really like to paint illegally. This is an important part of my art. I find it more romantic that way
UKB: Would you say the adrenalin from painting illegally is something that keeps you coming back just as much as the appeal of painting a nice piece in a visible area?
C215: There is of game of provocation in painting illegally. So when I think about a painting I’ve done, it’s rare I think only about the painting, most of the time I remember the feeling I had when painting, the weather, the area etc. Passion for graffiti comes from that necessity : adrenalin.
UKB: Street art has recently found increasing popularity in mainstream society, with exhibitions, galleries and now collectors seeking out the work of street artists. How do you feel about street art appearing in exhibitions? Does this destroy the meaning of ‘street art’ or do you feel it is a worthwhile direction for artists to go?
C215: Street art can only be done outside. Everything done outside is not necessarily good art, but a good photographer can turn a lot of non-artistic things into a piece of art. This is the magic of street art photography. Inside is something else. It can be art for sure, good or bad, but not street art.
UKB: What artists do you admire/take inspiration from (outside of street art)?
C215: James Jean is my favourite illustrator. Influence comes from different paths. Old masters are very important for me: Caravaggio, Gericault, Delacroix. Also Franz Marc, I studied him for my university research.
UKB: Are there any artists you’d like to work with in collaboration, maybe at a festival?
C215: A lot of artists, I wish I could only find time enough to prepare a good quality collab.
UKB: Have you got any plans/invitations to paint at festivals in the future?
C215: I have been painting a lot as an independent in the last few years, and I didn’t involve myself so much in big murals. But I will do more now, beginning in France with a few institutional commissions, mainly in Paris and surrounding regions. I am happy to do murals for the sake of conservation, since big murals survive longer than my little street stencils!
UKB: What do you love most about painting in the street?
C215: Finding something existing, a context, and transforming it. Meeting people when doing it. Imagining some others discovering your work, taking a picture and sharing it, until the piece is decaying, and then destroyed. A complete poetry that a gallery could hardly provide.
With that pretty profound answer from Chris, we decided to wrap it up there. Thanks once again to Chris, it was a pleasure to speak with him! Excited to see new work go up on his Flickr page here soon, all photos taken for this interview are available there.