Long before Banksy took the world of street art by storm with his stencil graffiti, there was Blek le Rat…
Known to many as the Father of Stencil Graffiti, Blek le Rat founded the stencil urban art form in Paris by the River Seine in the 1980s.
Blek le Rat is Parisian Xavier Prou, born in the early 1950s. Always having a love and fascination for street art, he was inspired by a visit to New York City in 1971, and began creating his own street art in Paris in 1981. His style was initially painting stencilled rats in the urban Parisian landscape. His description of rats as “the only free animal in the city” became a metaphor for the spread of street art, likened to the plague that rats can spread, as well as being the only wild animals that live in the city. Stencilling rats, he said, gave him a way to stand out and be free of major city anonymity. He soon adopted the pseudonym Blek le Rat, inspired by Italian comic Blek le Roc.
Blek le Rat is widely credited with the invention of the life-sized graffiti stencil and the transformation of a lettering stencil into pictures. His oldest surviving street art installation dates from 1991 and was rediscovered behind posters on a wall in Leipzig, Germany in 2012. Dedicated to his partner Sybille, it was a replica of Caravaggio’s masterpiece Madonna di Loreta.
The identity of Blek le Rat became public in 1991 when he was arrested stencilling another Caravaggio replica. He has since worked only with pre-stencilled posters, as these can be applied to walls much more quickly. He has spent much of his career keeping a low profile to avoid fines and arrest.
Very influential in the world of urban art, Blek le Rat is motivated by a desire to bring art to all as well as a social consciousness. Much of his work follows themes of oppression and homelessness, and he chooses for the most part to work in black and white to reflect the locations of his artworks.
Blek le Rat himself has suggested his retirement from creating street art is imminent. In the meantime, he continues to contribute to the street art genre and his legacy speaks for itself.
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