It must have been a little over a year ago when Chris Guemy, aka C215, drew my attention. It was on the streets of Barcelona where I first laid eyes on his work, and honestly it stopped me dead in my tracks. Even in a city like Barcelona, which is filled with pieces, installations, stickers and stencils this work stood out clearly. A week later I found more of his work, freshly painted in Amsterdam and the fascination with this Parisian artist was complete. For those who don’t know about C215, I strongly advice to have a look at his work plus the interviews on his Flickr profile and come back to this one afterwards. For those who do, please proceed!
“So all things I am doing outdoors belongs to a very French tradition : doing stencils in the streets, traveling a lot for doing it worldwide.”
What does it mean to you to be French? I’ve always admired France for having a strong identity, whether it is in music, poetry, film or art. How do you feel about that?
Being French means a lot, France has a long and strong history which led a peculiar and complex identity. For a street artist it means a lot, since in the 60’s Ernest Pignon did set up most of the street art rules, and that in 83 the stencil scene was already very active and interesting here, with people like Jef Aerosol, Miss Tic, Blek or Epsylon point.
France has already a quite and long and complex stencil history. So it was very exciting to enter this scene. At another point, painting in France, especially Paris is quite boring compared to other cities or places. The public is not so excited about street art in France as it can happen in UK or in the US. Paris as a city is almost completely gentrified and turns into a museum for tourists. This situation pushed many French street artists to travel and do street art in other countries : from Jérôme Mesnager to Nemo or Jef Aerosol, from Space Invaders to JR or Zevs… So all things I am doing outdoors belongs to a very French tradition : doing stencils in the streets, traveling a lot for doing it worldwide.
“Best things in life are abstract things you can’t buy, as learning a new foreign language.”
You say a lot of French artists travel a lot, including yourself. I know one of the places you particularly like to go is Morocco. Why Morocco..the people, the country, the atmosphere? Can you tell us a bit about that?
Morocco has a long tradition with painting, through calligraphy to abstract fine arts today, but also welcome many French classical painter travelling there from the XIXth Century, as Delacroix, Chasseriau and other Romantics. Nevertheless, what they did was more or less colonial painting. Not reality. Nothing done for the Morocco ordinary people…
The theoretical interest of painting now in Morocco is that there, outdoors walls are not really controlled by one sole owner, but everyone belonging to the street you want to paint in. You don’t have to deal with the police, but with the neighbors. You don’t face a law or capitalism, but collective control, moralistic anyway, and you can’t do anything if you are not introduced during days to the community, explaining your project. I like this : anything done in public gets a lot of collective censorship in this modern Muslim society. I am learning the Arabic language. Best things in life are abstract things you can’t buy, as learning a new foreign language.
So in a sense, the place where you paint is as important as the work you put there? (not only the context of the environment, but also the community around it).
I am not painting for me, so for sure I am painting for the people passing by my works. I try to respect everybody, and look for universal emotions through evocating portraits. I am always considering the reception by the neighborhood anywhere I am. I am painting quite a lot in my district and everyone knows me and I get a maximum of support. This is important for me.
You put things in the street that belong there. The faces, the animals, real street scenes in general. Why add what is already there?
People and things belonging to the streets are passing away, with time and life, as for my stencils. What is graffiti if not leaving a signed track of yours on a wall that you pass by ?
“the artwork was supposed to be placed in a street, so that departing the piece and the defined situation or architectural and societal context turns to kill the meaning of the whole”
In another interview you said that you like the idea of a piece (of street art) adding value, instead of people thinking that it reduces property value. This now has taken such heights that people take artwork (including yours I saw) of the streets, to keep it at their home or sell it. What is your take on that?
People taking off art from the streets are not collecting but destructing art, and for this reason a so called “street piece” shouldn’t be accepted by the market : the artwork was supposed to be placed in a street, so that departing the piece and the defined situation or architectural and societal context turns to kill the meaning of the whole. Street art is for the streets, and when placed to the streets, it adds value to the city. So people who are interested in indoor pieces should go to galleries instead of destructing art in the streets, because we paint pieces that are sold here which were created for indoors situations … this is the gallery part, i.e. doing stuff especially for indoor, a complete and coherent installation, with removable artworks, that people could buy and enjoy anywhere at home. This is also a financial necessity, completely different from the streets stuff, that I consider as a pleasure and a duty at the same time.
Do you feel like the public, the viewers of your work, understand your work and the emotions behind it?
A portrait is universal, and as far as you put portraits from the community people belong to, they can understand the feelings behind.
“…these kind of neat place leave no space for self expression while capitalism logic rules more and more street scapes.”
You talk about gentrification in western Europe. What exactly do you mean by that?
a small interpretation by ourselves: In Amsterdam, we see a lot of neighborhoods changing from places where the real people lived, into neat, clean and tidy places made to look good for the outside world. Are you afraid that there is no place (or respect) for street art in such locations?)
You understood perfectly what gentrification is by your example… These kind of neat place leave no space for self expression while capitalism logic rules more and more streetscapes. can’t say more, I am not so able to speak about the changes in western cities: this is sociology.
I was wondering, is there any place in the world you haven’t been too yet, but you are dying to go?
We said theoretical, no personal questions Arden, and it would be personal.. ;). what I can say, is that street art is like surfing, people should never paint two times on the same spot and travel to experience new situations, new laws, new societies and cultures.
Nicole told me to ask you about this Israeli artist (she can’t remember the name) you showed her. Could you tell us a bit about this artist and what makes you so excited about his work?
The Israeli artist is Adi Senned, he’s on Facebook, you should interview him. I love his work because it is really personal and self expressive, whereas most of the stencil artists imitate someone else they consider bigger, in style, process and kind of result, expecting the same success by copying them. Banksy, Faile, Sten, Logan Hicks have so many copycats. At the end copycats advertise for the people they imitate.
But they miss the most interesting part of street art: there is a place, and even possible success, for anybody doing real self expression, at one condition, that they imitate nobody when they paint, that they trust their own style and feeling instead of doing “in the way of”… It is the beginning of stencil art history, moreover in the streets, and many new things are still to be done. The problem is that young people study too much stencil artists they like instead of being inspired by the Classics of Art history …
We recently got the book Untitled, and one passage reads:
“how long before graffiti disappears completely? Legions of guys just following all the graff artists around the globe chipping their shit off the wall and sticking it on eBay before the paint even dries? You’ll just be seeing these chipped of bits of wall andd saying “sweet, that was a banksy” This is not actually happening. It could though. It sounds logical”.
Next to that, we also read an interview with you by Fatcap with the following:
“FT: How do you feel about the commercialization of street art in recent years?
C215: It could be good but if artists continue to do it in the streets. Many are now so busy with galleries that they forget the streets…”
Do you think a thing like this could ever occur, that street art gets so much commercialized and capitalized it will be a rare thing to see on the streets?
I am not seeing into the future yet, unfortunately. but I know that many artists go to the streets just for advertising and then disappearing in galleries when renown. It is a mistake, the basis being the streets. As soon as you disappear from the streets, you lose your basis and your best opportunity to continue to improve.
How does having a master in art history support the ways of a modern street artists? Did this influence, or help you develop your own style?
Studying Art history helps not to believe you’re inventing something every morning, and at te same time, helps you to create real new things, by adapting elements or process from old masters and turning them new. This helps you to make real new things among your scene. the more distant and old are your references, the more original you will be. From another point, studying Art history helps you not to believe in the hype, and consider your work as a long term run and process. Becoming an artist takes a whole life, so don’t believe you became one just because you got an interview in a trendy magazine. Being in a fashionable magazine means you’ll soon be old-fashioned, not that you entered Art history…
“I have a complete different process and my goal is not to be hidden, but recognized as an artist instead of a vandal”
How much of C215 is Christian Guemy? You seem not to mind that everyone knows who you are, and you do your things in broad daylight. Also quite the opposite of Banksy who is the main mystery man. Could you elaborate on that?
I am completely ok to sign or present myself with my civil name, since I do not feel guilty at all for painting my stencils in the streets. Most of street artists take no risks and paste up posters or paint on legal walls but want to stay with hidden identity to excite the curiosity of the public. I have a complete different process and my goal is not to be hidden, but recognized as an artist instead of a vandal. I don’t feel a rebel, but would love to contribute to a new revolution, and the new Renaissance could be one. The interest is to help people to build new social relationships together around self expression and art placed in the public spaces, and help them to stop consuming materialistic stuffs to enjoy free ones, non materialistic ones, as music or theater played in a public space or street art.
With the internet a lot of artists are not depending on traditional ways for their exposure anymore. Do you think the internet helps people rediscovering the value of things that are non-materialistic?
You said everything I could answer in your question .. well done!
What is freedom to you?
Freedom is doing what I want as long as I am respecting other people, if not doing something useful for them. So painting in the streets sounds perfect to me.
You end a lot of your interviews with “stop consuming”. I have my ideas about this, but could you tell us a bit with what you want to say with this?”
There’s nothing to think about, since we have no choice if we want to leave something from this earth for our children…