Blek le Rat (born Xavier Prou in 1952, Paris), recognized as the pioneer of Paris street art, has been painting committed pieces in the streets since the early eighties. He is often described as “the father of stencil graffiti.”
When Blek le Rat visited New York in 1972 this was the very first time he had ever seen graffiti in his life. When he came back to France with colorful graffiti images in mind, Blek enrolled at Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Paris. He started stenciling the walls of Paris in 1981 – when street painting had not yet become associated with criminal activity – spray-painting small black rats running along the walls of the fourteenth Arrondissement. To him, the rat symbolized both freedom and the dissemination of art through the city as if it were the plague. He described the rat as “the only free animal in the city”, and one which “spreads the plague everywhere, just like street art”.
He chose the pseudonym Blek le Rat in reference to an Italian comic book Blek le Roc, using rat as an anagram for art. Throughout the 1980s, Blek’s art developed from small pieces into life-size characters like the representation of famous Andy Warhol, Tom Waits, Jesus Christ, and a portrait of Blek le Rat himself. The use of stencils allows him the opportunity for endless reproduction.
In 1991, Blek le Rat was arrested for painting in the street. After this, in order to be quicker and avoid being re-arrested, the artist started pasting up pre-stenciled posters. Among his famous posters is a self-portrait of the artist himself with the body of Buster Keaton, the artist’s favorite actor, depicting as a traveling man carrying suitcases. Originally created in 2004 for a trip in London which was pasted-up in London, New York, Prague, Buenos Aires, Taipei, Leipzig, Berlin, and more recently in Munich in 2016, making it Blek’s most traveled character.
Even though Blek le Rat has expressed a preference for working in the streets over galleries, he has held numerous exhibitions throughout the world and has participated in various street art festivals. His work has influenced and inspired many stencil artists like American artist Swoon. He is also the one who inspired elusive British artist Banksy - especially his painting of stenciled rats.
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