Juxtapoz // Tuesday, 14 Oct 2008

Jonathan LeVine Gallery present Paris—New York, New York—Paris, a solo exhibition featuring new works by Xavier Prou, also known as Blek le Rat.

For this show, he has created a new collection of large-scale paintings using pouchoir (stencil) techniques, and a video installation featuring his interventional street art pieces over the past 25 years. Blek le Rat returns to the gallery for Paris—New York, New York—Paris, marking a much-anticipated first solo show in New York for this celebrated artist (an artist that you may just see popping up in a future issue of Jux as well!)

Paris—New York, New York—Paris combines historical references with social commentary through Blek’s iconic pop-culture and self-portrait based imagery. Adding a human element to his often politically charged messages by incorporating himself into his subjects, Blek uses his own likeness to represent the artist in all of us.

Some of the pieces contain religious context as, in a tribute to both Warhol and Da Vinci—we find Adam with Eve, holding a banana rather than an apple.

Another painting portrays the artist seated in the place of Christ at The Last Supper table. Political symbolism is also prevalent, offering war commentary through an army of marching soldiers carrying paintbrushes in the place of rifles. Doves of peace appear in several of the works, as well as a gasoline truck driven by a laughing man, an unmistakable statement on the fuel crisis.

Perhaps the most compelling element of Blek le Rat’s work is his use of humor. One of the new paintings simply reads: “BANKSY?” next to a figure, which resembles The Invisible Man. This speaks to the media’s recent obsession with revealing the famed contemporary British street artist’s true identity. Although Blek le Rat’s work is often compared to (and at times confused for) work created by Banksy, Banksy himself has actually been quoted as saying that he is heavily influenced by his predecessor, Blek le Rat, whom much of his work pays homage to.

A pioneer of graffiti writers in Europe, Blek le Rat was one of the first people to use stencils for creating art on the street, using icons instead of writing his name. He was first exposed to graffiti in 1971, in New York, but didn't start making his own until ten years later, in Paris.
Inspired by a stenciled portrait of Mussolini, which he saw during a trip to Italy among WWII ruins, he created a silhouette of a rat running along the streets. He stenciled the rat for two years and quickly became recognized around Paris.
This marked a monumental break from the dominance of New York's graffiti style. His method of creating image based art to complement the classical architecture within the context of European cityscapes changed the face of urban art and still continues to greatly influence younger generations of artists around the world. The artist’s new monograph, entitled: Blek le Rat—Getting Through the Walls, published by Thames + Hudson, beautifully documents his entire artistic career, over the past twenty-five years.

Paris—New York, New York—Paris runs October 18th—November 15th, 2008

Learn more on Paris—New York, New York—Paris at jonathanlevinegallery.com

More Blek le Rat at bleklerat.free.fr


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