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Blek le Rat sprays his way into America

April 03, 2008|David Ng

HIS work has influenced Banksy, Shepard Fairey and countless street artists, but French graffiti legend Blek le Rat has remained an elusive presence in this country. To see his work, you had to either fly to Europe or catch an appearance in a handful of group shows. On Saturday, the notorious art-world pest emerges from the corners in a belated U.S. solo debut at Subliminal Projects Gallery.

The exhibition, titled "Art Is Not Peace but War," features old and new work, including 15 black-and-white tableaux, a series of photographs (to see some, go to latimes.com/blek) and an installation piece composed of a wooden fence that the artist will spray-paint with his trademark images. "I want to bring a simulacrum of the street directly inside the gallery," the artist said.

Last week, Blek le Rat (a.k.a. Xavier Prou) spoke amiably about his lifelong fascination with urban art, especially stenciling. "We live in a culture filled with mass-produced images," Blek explained. He said stenciling acts as a commentary on our culture of endless image reproduction by allowing artists to paint their images identically wherever they go.

Blek's most popular creation is his namesake, the rat. During the '80s, he stenciled images of the long-tailed rodent all over walls and buildings in Paris. "The rat is a rebel, the sole wild animal in the city," he said. "They're smart, and they know exactly how to get around. There's another reason I like them: The word 'rat' is an anagram for 'art.' "

The 56-year-old Blek will be the first artist to show his work at Subliminal Projects, the new Echo Park studio and gallery space owned by Fairey and his wife Amanda. "The thing I appreciate the most about Blek's work is that it is iconic and beautiful," said Fairey. "The genesis of any art form deserves recognition."

Blek said "Art Is Not Peace but War" is meant to convey how difficult the artist's life can be: "People think it's all about creativity and joy. But it's really difficult to make a living. You're fighting a constant war."

The former enfant terrible said that, despite numerous difficulties, he's still passionate about his work. "There's something childlike about what we do. In every image I create, I'm leaving behind something of myself."

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-- David.Ng@latimes.com

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'ART IS NOT PEACE BUT WAR'

WHERE: Subliminal Projects Gallery, 1331 Sunset Blvd., L.A.

WHEN: 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays. Ends May 2.

PRICE: Free

INFO: (213) 383-9299, subliminalprojects.com

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