Blek le Rat, the man who gave birth to Banksy

Published on : SUNDAY TIMES

Blek le Rat is the grand old man of street art — he paved the way for our very own Banksy. After years of dodging the French authorities he’s finally making serious money. But is he still a revolutionary? Portraits by Pal Hansen

“Have you ever made some graffiti?” asks Blek le Rat in his seductive French accent, his eyes drifting off dreamily towards exciting memories of his own. “Er, no,” I stutter back sheepishly, feeling like a kid at school who’s just been asked by an older boy if he’s ever gone all the way with a woman. “You have to try to do it once,” he sighs.

“Go once in the street with a spray can. Spray your signature. Then go back the day after to see. I’m sure you’ll go back. Because when you leave something in the street, you leave a part of yourself.”

Perhaps it’s the French accent. Perhaps it’s the excitement of finally tracking down the legendary Blek le Rat. But the prospect of careering through the streets of London spraying my name hither and thither suddenly feels extremely tempting. Had there been some spray cans in the room with us, I think I would have asked him there and then to lead me out and show me.

So this is what spraying graffiti does to a man. The rational bit of my brain might disapprove, but the irrational bit can’t wait to start. Blek le Rat, the smooth-tongued satan of stencil art, had imparted an important lesson. Inside all of us there appears to be a little chap with a spray can frantically signalling to be let out.

Right now, anything you learn about the urge to paint on walls is useful because there is no bigger cultural phenomenon abroad in the world than graffiti, or, to use its posher modern name, street art. In case you haven’t noticed, it’s taking over the planet. The outside of Tate Modern is currently plastered with the stuff. The prices it is fetching at Christie’s and Sotheby’s are head-scratchingly huge. Even Selfridges has begun auctioning it. And that is just in London.

Travel further afield, to Rio or Melbourne or Barcelona or Beijing, and you will discover entire slabs of city overtaken by it. Street art is currently the hottest potato in the pan. And a lot of that is down to Blek le Rat. …..

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