Pertinence and impertinence… These are the traits of Speedy Graphito’s artistic journey, as revealed by the retrospective on him currently being held at the Musée du Touquet in France. See for yourself.
How did you become Speedy Graphito?
I’ve always painted, and I took my first drawing lessons at the age of nine. From then on, one thing led to another: I created stage sets between 14 and 20 years, and then I went through five years of training at an art school, including two years at the Ecole Estienne in Paris. My first paintings produced under the name of Speedy Graphito date back to 1984, the same year as my first exhibition at the Espace Pierre Cardin. Afterwards, the gallery Polaris – run by France’s youngest gallerist at the time – decided to back me. It was my creation of the poster for “La Ruée vers l’Art” in 1985 which ensured me sudden, immediate notoriety throughout France. Then came exhibitions, solo shows at the FIAC, and street-art interventions on the walls of Paris…
“La Ruée vers l’Art” is incidentally the starting point of the show on you at the Musée du Touquet, the gateway that allows us to sweep through more than 30 years of your career. Is this retrospective important for you?
I find that it’s important, at this stage of my career, to show the different periods that have marked the last few years, because people mainly know the recent works that they’ve seen on Internet. The show is a way to present series that seem dissociated from the rest, but which slot in with a global approach. The 70 paintings on show mainly come from my own collection: I try to keep at least one painting per period. Something else that is important in an exhibition held in an institution is that we can freely create a 3D universe, express one’s intentions and ideas, without the commercial aspect of a show at a gallery or a fair, which can sometimes become a bit taxing.
You rarely have a chance to take a retrospective look at your work: apart from the book recently published by Somogy, your main interest has been your upcoming works. What thoughts does your history inspire you with?
Looking backwards reveals the obsessions that crop up repeatedly over time, for example the series titled “Mon histoire de l’art” (My Art History), which is a return to the origins because I reproduced Van Goghs, Vlamincks, etc. These subjects reappeared several years later after being abandoned, handled differently of course, but there’s really something cyclical in it.
You’ve been particularly generous in this exhibition as you’ve created different ambiances thanks to site-specific interventions, allowing visitors to literally dive into your world…
I wanted to create an itinerary based on the idea of taking people on a voyage, recalling those haunted houses at fun fairs where different unrelated universes follow on from one to the other, from room to room. And with recent periods, I had fun bringing together two different types of hangings: more museum-like ones for the subjects related to classical art, and then ones that play with the codes of street art, the environment and space in the last room.
In your artistic path, you’ve tackled different styles, but one character remains important: Lapinture. He’s your logo, he’s what you use to sign your works, etc. Like your loyal double.
Lapinture is a character that I created who really corresponds to me. If I use a Picasso in a painting, I wouldn’t be able to sign the work with that character – this wouldn’t make any sense. It’s a character who suffices in himself, to speak about my painting and to talk about me.
Today, you’re easily classified among street artists, but you also go beyond castes, this feeling of belonging to a group…
I can’t struggle against this labelling. I’m aware that fighting against it doesn’t help, even if I’d rather belong to everything. Already in 1989, on Thierry Ardisson’s programme Lunettes noires pour nuits blanches, I’d say that I wasn’t a graffiti artist but a painter. I need to go in all directions in order to feel free. At the start, the proportion of street-art work that I did that was negligible compared to my studio painting work, but it was the first lot that earned a great deal of media attention, which created a false perception of my work. My intention has always been to put painting in the streets, and for me, street art is based on the opposite mechanism.
Does this misconception harm you?
In fact it doesn’t really matter, because time works in my favour, it explains my work and my positions. I think that people will understand my work later. In any case, this type of exhibition allows them to get a little closer to it.
You follow a double career in France and the United States, where you reside more and more often to set up exhibitions with your gallerist Fabien Castanier, in Miami, Los Angeles and now Bogota. How is your work received differently there?
In the United States, collectors are more familiar with my recent creations, which hasn’t stopped Fabien from selling the Picasso work, the one in the Touquet exhibition, in Miami. I started my series “Mon histoire de l’art” for Belgium, and at the time, chose to refer to Magritte and some other Belgian painters, but I’ve adapted because I always translate my environment, so when I paint in Miami I pay interest to American art history. Similarly, in the United States, I’m inspired by the representation of women, so I cross nudes over with Pinocchio: on the one hand, a character associated with lies, on the other hand, women who get made over a great deal over here. Great importance is placed on aesthetics, which pushes women to cheat and to exist in bodies which aren’t really theirs. In France, I’d be more inclined to deal with the crisis, with money.
Some of your paintings point to ecology, or speak about digital technology, the omnipresence and power of Google, which can have an oppressive side…
This isn’t necessarily intentional on my part. They are values that are part of me, and that come out in my works. I only realise that I’ve dealt with a particular subject in hindsight. I don’t set out by telling myself that I’m going to talk about women, to point out one thing, or criticise another thing, but something will emerge.
As of the 2000s, three colours have been very present in your work: red, yellow and blue. Why, and what do they signify?
Printing-house colours were very present in the 1980s: many artists worked on reproductions, imprint colours, the CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, key), and perhaps there’s a more industrial aspect that comes out from using basic colours. By creating my own range of colours which remain the same in all paintings, all my production is unified. The fewer the colours, the more we can play on the distribution of masses.
Your colours also become associated with your identity, like a signature…
Since the 2000s, you’ve also introduced characters from comics and popular culture.
Since around 2005. Before, I used my own symbols: Lapinture, pincers, the crown of Christ… A language that was understandable once people became familiar with them. I started off with a new dictionary after 2004 when I wanted to offer work that could be read more quickly, perhaps because I started travelling more. And I like salvaging things that already exist, a little like in music when DJs pick up what’s already been done in order to take it further and to bring it up to date. I really like this idea of recycling. And to finish off, there’s also the idea of going back to childhood, this period when we’re more intuitive, more receptive. Using references related to childhood allows taking a step back. When collectors face the painting, they rediscover a little lost innocence.
“Speedy Graphito, un art de vivre. Rétrospective”, until 21 May. Musée du Touquet-Paris-Plage, Villa Way Side, corner of Avenue du Golf and Avenue du Château, Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, France. www.letouquet-musee.com