Wild Fantasies: C215


23 Monday 23rd August 2010

For Parisian street artist C215, the city is more than a canvas, it’s an accomplice. He may be the one cutting out stencils and painting pieces but, he insists, it’s the ever-changing urban environment that creates the art. With his anti-consumerist emphasis on the city as a collective space and his vivid, realist style, C215 is a true graffiti innovator amid a glut of pretenders. Don’t Panic spoke to C215 ahead of our Wild Fantasies 10th anniversary exhibition from across the Channel about art, politics and the perils of finding fame in the street art scene.

So how did it all begin?
I’ve been drawing since I was a kid. I started doing graffiti when I was 16 and when I was 18 I was part of Spiral Tribe so I went round drawing spirals everywhere. But I’ve always been shy. I didn’t show my drawings to people for years because it made me feel exposed, like I was naked. What I like about graffiti is that you’re trying not to get discovered. I was naturally inclined to graffiti because I’m naturally shy. 
You studied History of Art, how has this influenced you?
I did a PhD in History of Art at the Sorbonne, studying mainly French religious paintings from the 17th century. I can identify with that period because I had my own renaissance – I was reborn through painting. After this long period of studying I had two years of freedom and decided to use the time for drawing. I came back to graffiti but this time with what I’d learnt from my classical studies at university. I started using stencils because they allow you to make something extremely beautiful and quick, when and where you want. My painting combines abstraction and psychedelic tribal imagery with the figurative because of my classical influence. 
Which other artists, historical or contemporary, do you admire?
Romantic artists like Delacroix and classical painters like Nicholas Poussin or Charles Le Brun. One of the most important artists in France in the 20th century is Ernest-Pignon Ernest. In ‘66 he was painting life-size figures in the street and travelling to South Africa and Napoli. He was the first in France to do this. He was a direct inspiration to me and to a lot of people, but no one credits him. He is the alpha and the omega: the best street artist there has been. No-one since him has done anything as beautiful, deep or meaningful.  
How does your creative process work?
I often collaborate with photographers like Jon Cartwright. I love his pictures. What is important is that I completely transform the picture he gives me, to get a good result when I paint and painting it in a place that makes sense. It is sampling culture, taking something and putting it in another context, like in VJing. Only the result matters. Street art is a contextual art. It’s about going into the street and painting the right thing in the right moment in the right place. In a way street art does not exist. It is created again and again through the context. The passersby, the weather, the traffic, the kid kicking an empty can around, the commercial posters on the walls: all this comes together to make street art. We create street art collectively, along with the city. 
Does your art have a political message?
We French (my girlfriend’s Italian and she always laughs when I say ‘we French’) have a special tradition of painting which is quite different from the Anglo-Saxon one. We don’t need people to understand everything immediately. We have an expression in French ‘to create a feeling’. That’s what I try to do. The city is more and more standardised and gentrified. The urban is the new landscape for the human being and we have to adapt it to our own scale. I want to raise emotions, to make people see something and speak about it together. This is not about politics; it’s not about being Left or Right. It’s about sharing experiences and doing something free – running around the city with your camera instead of going shopping in the mall.
You have made art all over the world; what has been the most challenging place to paint in?
I think in a certain way it was London because it had such a competitive atmosphere. What is called street art is really advertising. People are just doing posters or graffiti to promote themselves as a brand. I felt this strongly so it wasn’t easy for me to relax and make work there. Morocco was the complete opposite. When I’m painting something on a wall in a souk in Casablanca, many of the people who see my work have never been in a gallery. It’s not about that, it’s about the fun, the good memories and the picture. Art must be about freedom and self-expression. 
Could you tell us a bit about your work for Don’t Panic?
I got the picture for my piece from a young man called Marcus MacBride, who was following my work on Twitter. He sent me this picture of his friend Neil screaming. I thought that this was perfect for Don’t Panic. The piece is multi-layered and uses the colours of the French flag – red, white and blue. It’s interesting for me to create a horrifying image because I’m not used to making paintings that divide people.  
Given the choice of colours, are you reflecting on the current situation in France?
This is a dark period for France. Sarkozy is the worst president we have ever had. In France, like in Italy, the Left is divided and the Right is almost fascist. This fascism has no face, no uniform, just the colour of money, which makes it hard to fight. 
What are your plans for the future?
In the future I would like to cut myself off completely from the street art scene. Sometimes I feel like Edward Scissorhands. I experience the galleries, the public and the scene as an invasion of my life. I am going to use this time as a time of compromise where I can get success but after that I would love to just go away and paint. I would be happy to spend all my time as a graffiti artist but an invisible one.
C215 will appear in our 10th anniversary exhibition Wild Fantasies, alongside D*Face, Shepard Fairey, Pure Evil, Mr Jago, Eine, James Joyce, Mudwig and Word To Mother, at Stolen Space gallery, London from September 24 to October 03, with a preview night on September 23 and a student night on September 29.


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