Complex recently created a short film on the legendary French street artist Blek Le Rat, the father of stencil graffiti. The video documents an insightful glimpse of the master at work, roaming the New York City subways and streets under the evening sky and leaving his renowned mark with a couple of stencils. (One of a violinist and another resembling the iconic pop artist Andy Warhol). Complex writer Leigh Silver stated, “He also talks about what drives him to paint the streets at night, the origin of his graffiti name, and the hardships artists working in his medium face.”
New York City was where Blek had discovered graffiti art in 1971, yet he didn’t want to imitate the American graffiti style since he felt it wasn’t suited for France’s architecture. Instead, Blek sought to establish is own style and revolutionized the street art world by pioneering stencil graffiti in 1981, ultimately paving the way for other notable artists such as Banksy and Shepard Fairey. In the beginning, he spray painted small rats throughout the streets of Paris. According to Blek, rats are the only wild living animals in the cities and will even continue to thrive once humans are extinct. Rat is also an anagram to the word “art”, which he adopted as his emblem/coat of arms. In 1983, Blek created the life-sized stencil, a depiction of an old Irish man yelling against English soldiers in Belfast in the 1970’s. “I always been fascinated by the people at the risk of one’s life do not hesitate to say what they think,” he wrote on his website. For the past three decades, Blek has permeated the globe with images that symbolize social consciousness, liberation from oppression, and freedom in order to inspire and enlighten. His powerful arsenal of images include a person resting in a sleeping bag (his exploration in the plight of the homeless), Florence Aubenas (a French journalist who had been kidnapped in Iraq in 2005), an armed soldier with the word “NO” embedded on his chest in red paint, the beloved Princess Diana, and much more.
This short film marvelously captures the engaging thrill experienced by street artists, as Blek treks inner-city neighborhoods, gazing upon building walls while keeping vigilant watch for authority figures, and exhibits his profound craft underneath dimly-lit street lights. Every moment of the 8 minute film is captivating, as Blek passionately discusses his life, his work, and his ever-increasing motivation to change the world one piece at a time.