Blek Le Rat

The urban artist Blek Le Rat has been credited as the godfather of graffiti stencil art who is said to be an inspiration to the most famous stencil artist in the world, Banksy.

Blek Le Rat was born Xavier Prou in Boulogne-Billancourt that is in the western suburbs of Paris, France around the year 1951 / 52.

Xavier Prou began creating his signature stencil art on the streets of Paris around 1981.  His now famous rats began to pop up and get noticed by Paris inhabitants, he described his rats as the “only free animal in the city, one which spreads the plague everywhere, just like street art.”  He took inspiration from a French comic called Blek Le Roc for his artist name with the obvious change that is an anagram of “art”.

In 1991 he was identified by French police and was arrested while spraying a stenciled replica of Madonna and Child by Caravaggio.  Since his arrest and a direct connection made by police to work around Paris, he subsequently shifted his artwork to paste ups that carried a less dangerous penalty if he was caught.  The oldest of his works to survive was found in 2012 behind many posters on a house in Leipzig, Germany.  The piece is a replica of Madonna di Loreta which he dedicated to his wife Sybille.

Over the years many comparisons have been made between Blek Le Rat and the works of Banksy.  When comparisons were first made Prou said “People say he copies me, but I don’t think so. I’m the old man, he’s the new kid, and if I’m an inspiration to an artist that good, I love it.”  In a more recent interview publicized in the documentary movie ‘Graffiti Wars’, Prou offered this :  “When I see Banksy making a man with a child or Banksy making rats, of course I see immediately where he takes the idea.  I do feel angry.  When you’re an artist you use your own techniques.  It’s difficult to find a technique and style in art so when you have a style and you see someone else is taking it and reproducing it, you don’t like that.  I’m not sure about his integrity.  Maybe he has to show his face now and show what kind of guy he is.”

Blek Le Rat still holds great influence over today’s street artists and the guerrilla style art movement that is loved and loathed in equal measure.  He represents a shift in ideals however, where real artists can express artistic and socially conscientious views in a way that is free from censorship.  He is also said to prefer working in the streets rather than his more recent gallery exhibitions as is a more effective way of preserving his integrity as an artist, and allows his work to be seen by as many people as possible.

Country : Paris, France