PRINT Summer 2006


Monsieur Chat

Monsieur Chat—known in the US as, simply, (C)—is a French graffitist and founder of the artists’ collective CHAT (Harmonious Community of Taciturn Artists). Since 1997, the group has painted its signature yellow cat on buildings throughout Europe and more recently New York, garnering coverage in numerous publications, including Libération and Le Monde. The phenomenon is the subject of French filmmaker Chris Marker’s 2004 documentary, Chats Perchés (The Case of the Grinning Cat), which received its US premiere at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival in April and will open across the country this fall.

  1. FRENCH POST-GRAFFITI Personally, I don’t really enjoy conventional art spaces. Gallerists tend to treat their artists as novelties at best, so I prefer art in the form of traces of human activity that I find while walking the streets. People have long used urban surfaces as canvases, but today’s post-graffitists—most notably the French artists I single out here—utilize stencils, stickers, and other graphic modes to expand the nature of tagging. Culture shouldn’t be a matter of education or abstract concepts—I appreciate the simple things.

  2. CHRIS MARKER It seems appropriate that I mention Chris Marker, since he has made me his latest subject. But also because the inspiration goes both ways—I’ve been a fan of Marker’s ever since I saw the 1962 classic La Jetée, his film about a man haunted by a violent image from his childhood (which turns out to be a prophetic vision of his own death), not to mention Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys (1995), a postapocalyptic reimagining of Marker’s movie.

  3. KOURTRAJMÉ This collective—founded in 1995 by directors Kim Chapiron and Romain Gavras—of some 130 young Parisian filmmakers and artists has recently put out a self-titled DVD compilation of short films. The group’s collaborative efforts have led to some impressive exposure for its members, including Chapiron, whose debut feature, a horror flick titled Sheitan, was produced by Kourtrajmé and was shown in this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

    Kim Chapiron, Paris, 2005. Kim Chapiron, Paris, 2005.
  4. SPACE INVADER The most well-known and most original of France’s post-graffiti artists is probably Space Invader. He revolutionized street art with one basic tactic: He zeros in on the characters from the cult video game that inspired his alias and translates their pixels into tiled mosaics. Since 1998 he has unleashed approximately two thousand of these bitmapped creatures across thirty-four cities around the world, and has hit everything from the Hollywood sign to the Jiulong public pier in Hong Kong.

    A mosaic by Space Invader, Paris, 2006. Photo: Denis Gradel. A mosaic by Space Invader, Paris, 2006. Photo: Denis Gradel.
  5. ALËXONE A French-born, Brussels-based graffitist, illustrator, and artist, Alëxone has an inimitable style that is always full of humor, whether he is working on city walls or on canvases. In addition to his letter-based tags—created under the name Oedipe and looking like the work of well-known abstract painters—Alëxone makes murals of comically grotesque humans and animals engaging in such bizarre activities as fighting jam-packed in a wrestling ring or riding what look like inflatable horses.

    Alëxone’s painting Saint ma clou, 2005, shown on a rooftop in Paris, 2006. Alëxone’s painting Saint ma clou, 2005, shown on a rooftop in Paris, 2006.
  6. IN SITU: UN PANORAMA DE L’ART URBAIN DE 1975 Ì NOS JOUS Edited by Stéphanie Lemoine and Julien Terral (and having yet to appear in English), In Situ provides a history of the Parisian street-art scene. The book discusses the different techniques and locations taggers have used over the past few decades and features individual sections on the most infamous offenders. Interspersed throughout are nearly two hundred pictures, as well as interviews with gallery owners, heads of subway security, and thirty-five artists—including me—making the book a comprehensive sociological study of a group that usually works best undercover.

  7. KRSN AND AKROE These two artists often work together, but each has his own style: KRSN creates characters that are ironic, minimal, and rendered primarily in muted colors. Akroe, on the other hand, prefers bright, psychedelic forms, as you can see in his latest works—large, aluminum cones (meant to represent the jet spray from a paint can) covered in colorful spirals, each sculpture rotating like a barbershop pole. In May the duo released a book, Liltrip Polychrome, which comprises forty-eight postcards of paintings they made while traveling throughout Europe.

    Akroe, Jet-Ballet, 2006. Installation view, Wall, Orléans. Photo: Akroe. Akroe, Jet-Ballet, 2006. Installation view, Wall, Orléans. Photo: Akroe.
  8. BIRDY NAM NAM This crew of turntablists (Crazy B, DJ Pone, DJ Need, and Little Mike) won “Best Team” at the DMC World DJ Championships in 2002, but didn’t release its first album, which is self-titled, until last October. The music brings back the jazzy sound of early hip-hop, though it far surpasses anything that’s come before. Made using only vinyl records, turntables, and a multitrack recorder, the songs prove the group’s technical prowess.

  9. GALERIJA 10M² With a ground floor measuring just 2.7 by 2.7 meters and an even smaller mezzanine, this art space in Sarajevo poses a real constraint to the artists asked to exhibit in it. The shows focus on newcomers from the Balkan region, but have also featured artists—French photographer Luc Delahaye and Danish performance artist Uwe Max Jensen, to name a couple—from other parts of the world. The openings are pretty laid-back, but always draw a motley mix of people, including the occasional diplomat or ambassador.

    View of “Happy New Year,” 2005–2006, Galerija 10m², Sarajevo. Photo: Pierre Courtin. View of “Happy New Year,” 2005–2006, Galerija 10m², Sarajevo. Photo: Pierre Courtin.
  10. WALL Since it opened in Orléans in 2003, this space has hosted fifteen exhibitions, featuring work by, among others, Alëxone, KRSN, and Akroe. The gallery staff—a collective of sorts—also puts out Update, a free magazine distributed by hand. Of particular note is the “free-style” section in which artists showcase their latest works. That, and the music pages in which a lot of great bands from independent labels are introduced, keeps readers totally updated.