It’s a kid’s game. Interview to Jef Aérosol
[For the Italian version click here]
I have an appointment at Wunderkammern gallery to meet the French street artist Jean-François Perroy, better known under the pseudonym Jef Aérosol, and I arrive with a terrible delay because of Rome’s crazy traffic. As soon as he shows up I barrage him with my apologies and he replays with a large smile, apologising in turn of his clothes stained with coloured paint. “Good start”, I think, and what I read about him pops up to my mind. Now aged 57, Jef began working on the streets in the early 80’s as an evolution for his love for music and rock culture, and as far as it seems his punkish attitude have remained untouched.
You started your career as a street artist driven by the personal urge of getting yourself known in a city where you just moved – in other words, you wanted to come out from the anonymity. Can we say that the special attention you pay to the “ordinary man” has an autobiographical origin?
In a certain way, yes. I did my first outdoor stencil when I was 25 years old, in 1982. Street art didn’t exist at that time: I have never seen a stencil on a wall before, so I was not joining a movement, even if before that moment I had already started working with this technique for some friends of mine – musicians especially: record covers, posters, and stuff like that.
When I left my hometown [Nantes] and moved to Tours it was to become a teacher, which has nothing to do with cultural or artistic aspirations. For me it was like a passage from youth to adulthood, very satisfying because I was gaining my independence, but also frightening: I was afraid I would stop playing or listening to music, drawing, painting – I dreaded my dreams would vanish and disappear.
Stencilling my selfportrait on the street (it was a scream and a laugh at the same time, taken in a photobooth) was a way of saying: “Look, I’m not serious, I’m still a boy who wants to do nasty things!”. The point was not getting known in the sense of “becoming famous”, but just to do things that made me feel alive.
Art as a space of freedom…
Absolutely, especially in a place where nobody could judge me. The community where you are born and raised is totally connected to what you were when you were a child; for me, becoming an adult in a city where I was never been before meant starting a new life and maybe becoming really myself.
My first stencil was also a means to let people know that I had some artistic abilities and a certain attitude. And that is what happened, because very quickly I started to paint on stage for bands, to make concert posters, and every night I was in that only rock café where all the musicians in the city met. In the end, it worked!
The other important inspirational source of your work is the “pop culture” generically intended, a large definition that gathers rockstars and artists as well as political and historical figures. What does prompt you, today, to keep on proposing icons to a society that is already full of myths?
Tricky question! [he laughs]. We were talking about childhood: everything starts from there. The artist is the one who tries to keep the innocence and dreams of childhood, whereas the rest of the population unfortunately have to leave them aside in order to “grow up”. I’ve always wanted to keep some sort of youthful rebellion, to have a fresh look at things.
The walls of my teenage bedroom were full of posters and imagines of people who nourished me since I was a very young and shy boy: musicians, artists, actors, and later writers and figures like Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Mandela. Afterwords, in a sort of transfert passage, my walls became the walls of the city, on which I kept on pinning pictures of my heroes, mixing them up with normal people’s portraits.
This is a very important point of my work, and is also the reason why I chose to use not to use colours in my stencils: all the characters I paint, as soon as they are black and white, are reduced to their humanity, so whether they are anonymous of famous, they become the same thing. And the viewers’ reactions often confirm it…
Can you make some examples?
I will always remember that old lady in Paris… I had stencilled a sitted Jimy Hendrix’s portrait in a corner, but after a while it had been erased by the municipal services. On an afternoon, while I was painting another character a few meters away, this lady stopped and said: “Oh, you are the guy who realizes these figures… I was so disappointed the other day, when they cancelled that black man with the sad face!”. For that woman, it had no importance who my stencil represented: for her, he was simply a human being. The same happens with my flute player: a lot of people want him to be Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull – but no, it’s just a boy playing the flute!
This is the result of what I want to achieve, that is shelving on the wall the shadows of people who are walking down the street – shadows or better mirrors of the crowd.
The artistic performance you realized at the French Institute of Culture a few days ago saw the active participation of the audience, that interacted with you throughout all the duration of the works by posing questions and by choosing some elements of the artwork itself. How did you come to this inclusive solution, and why?
The stencil technique is pretty visual, as a consequence is quite adapted to live performance. Even before exhibiting in galleries, when I painted with bands, people enjoyed watching and understanding how it works. The stencil has something magic and this is why I still use it after all those years.
During my performances I also show that what I do is very simple: it’s a technique I didn’t invent myself, it’s always existed and it’s used even in schools for little children. The message I want to pass is that if you like what you’re watching, you can do it yourself. Art should never be sacralized.
You’ve been operating in the urban art field since its beginning, so you had the chance to assist to the genre’s evolution in its entirety: from the illegal actions to the social acknowledgement, until its entrance into the gallery system.
What kind of enhancements do you think the artistic market brought to street art, and what, on the contrary, would you change?
I would never have imagined, when I started realizing stencils, that thirty years later I would still be doing this, and most of all that I could make a living with it…
At my beginnings, street art was something parallel, it was counterculture: you shared it only with who was already interested in it or belonged to that specific environment. Today, everybody can react and interact with what I create, and this is certainly positive. Art which is not sharing has no interest to me.
Interview by Paola Paleari
In copertina: Jef Aérosol. Credits Giorgio Coen Cagli / courtesy Wunderkammern
curated by Alberto Milani
art critique by Viviana Checchia
from 29th May to 19th July 2014
opening: Thursday 29th April 2014 – 7pm
The artist will be present at the opening, and will sign select copies of his catalogues.
The exhibition “Anony(fa)mous” is part of the larger project Public & Confidential which involves five of the most influential street artists on the international scene. After Dan Witz (NY), Rero (Paris), Agostino Iacurci (Rome/Nuremberg) and Aakash Nihalani (NY), Jef Aérosol (Nantes) will conclude the series.
via Gabrio Serbelloni 124, Roma
opening hours: wednesdays to saturdays from 5pm to 8pm
or by appointment at +39-3498112973