Blek le Rat

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Xavier Prou (Blek le Rat) at the gallery opening and book signing at the 941 Geary Gallery, San Francisco

Blek le Rat (pronounced [blɛk lə ʁa]; born Xavier Prou,[1] 1952)[2] is a French graffiti artist. He was one of the first graffiti artists in Paris, and has been described as the "Father of stencil graffiti".[3]

Early life[edit]

Xavier Prou was born on 15 November 1951 in Boulogne-Billancourt in the western suburbs of Paris.

Early career and influence[edit]

The iconic stencils of rats by Blek le Rat

Blek began his artwork in 1981, painting stencils of rats on the walls of Paris streets. He described the rat as "the only free animal in the city",[4] and one which "spreads the plague everywhere, just like street art".[5] His name originates from the comic book Blek le Roc, using "rat" as an anagram for "art".[3]

Initially influenced by the early graffiti-art of New York City after a visit in 1971, he chose a style which he felt better suited Paris, due to the differing architecture of the two cities.[4] He also recognised the influence of Canadian artist Richard Hambleton, who painted large-scale human figures in the 1980s.[3] In 1985, he was on the first meeting of the graffiti and urban art movement in Bondy (France), on the VLP's . Blek's oldest preserved street art graffito, a 1991 replica of Caravaggio's Madonna di Loreta, which he dedicated to his future wife Sybille, was rediscovered behind posters on a house wall in Leipzig, Germany, in 2012.[6]

"Ballerina" by Blek le Rat at the 941 Geary Gallery, San Francisco

French authorities identified Blek in 1991 when he was arrested while stencilling a replica of Caravaggio's Madonna and Child, with the connection to Blek and his artwork being made by police. From that point on, he has worked exclusively with pre-stenciled posters, citing the speedier application of the medium to walls, as well as lessened punishment should he be caught in the act.[1]

He has had a great influence on today's graffiti-art and "guerilla-art" movements, the main motivation of his work being social consciousness and the desire to bring art to the people. Many of his pieces are pictorials of solitary individuals in opposition to larger, oppressive groups.[5] In 2006 he began his series of images representing the homeless, which depict them standing, sitting, or lying on sidewalks, in attempts to bring attention to what he views as a global problem.[7]

Influence on and opinion of Banksy[edit]

British graffiti artist Banksy and Blek have expressed mutual desire for collaboration; in 2011, Blek was seen adding to a mural begun the previous year by Banksy in the Mission District, San Francisco.[8] Blek's work is hugely influential to the present generation of street artists, as alluded to by Banksy, stating: "Every time I think I've painted something slightly original, I find out that Blek Le Rat has done it as well. Only twenty years earlier".


"Sheep" by Blek le Rat at Subliminal Projects Gallery, Los Angeles
Blek le Rat, London, 2008

In October 2003, Blek le Rat had his first solo U.K. exhibition in London at the Leonard Street Gallery. He participated in the Cans Festival in 2008, which featured outdoor street stencil painting in Waterloo, London.[citation needed]

His American gallery debut took place at Subliminal Projects Gallery in Los Angeles in 2008. It included paintings, silkscreen, and three-dimensional artwork, as well as photography from his wife, Sybille Prou.[3]

Blek also had an exhibition in December 2009 at the Metro Gallery in Melbourne, a centre of street art in Australia. The exhibition entitled "Le Ciel Est Bleu, La Vie Est Belle" (The sky is blue, life is beautiful), featured wooden panels, canvas, screen-print, and photographs, tracing the artist's oeuvre from the early 1980s to the present.

Blek le Rat has nonetheless expressed preference for the streets over galleries, stating the integrity of an artist is to be seen by as many people as possible, not being sold or recognized in a museum.[4]

In 2014, Blek le Rat exhibited 3 large-scale original paintings and an edition of 25 unique monotypes with lithography[9] in a setting that bridges these traditional spaces—the Quin hotel in New York City—as part of the hotel's Quin Arts program. The artist created the lithographs at the New York Academy of Art during his tenure as artist in residence at the Quin hotel. Collectively entitled "Escaping Paris," the exhibit was curated by DK Johnston of The Arts Fund. The Quin's permanent collection also includes Blek le Rat's "Love America" on the 14th floor and loaned works the "Great Wedding" on the second floor, "What Has Been Seen Cannot Be Unseen" in the boardroom, and "Tango" in the lobby. Most recently, Blek le Rat commemorated this collaboration on the Quin's façade with an image of Andy Warhol.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Januszczak, Waldemar (8 June 2008). "Blek le Rat, the man who gave birth to Banksy". The Sunday Times. London. Retrieved 26 April 2010.
  2. ^ "Blek le Rat: This is not a Banksy". The Independent. London. 19 April 2008. Retrieved 21 May 2008.
  3. ^ a b c d Gilewicz, Samantha (4 April 2008). "The insider: blek le rat". Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 29 March 2011.
  4. ^ a b c Reiss, Jon. Blek le Rat Archived 18 September 2008 at the Wayback Machine. Swindle, Issue 11. Retrieved 28 March 2011.
  5. ^ a b Blek Le Rat interview Archived 18 April 2011 at the Wayback Machine. UK Street Art. 29 July 2008. Retrieved 29 March 2011.
  6. ^ Wall piece by street artist Blek Le Rat saved in Leipzig. Artsation. 15 April 2013. Retrieved 20 June 2013.
  7. ^ Soteriou, Helen (4 January 2010). "Exclusive Interview: Blek le Rat on Homelessness". Archived from the original on 28 October 2011. Retrieved 4 November 2011.
  8. ^ Wong, Vic (17 March 2011). "Blek le Rat meets Banksy in the Mission". Retrieved 29 March 2011.
  9. ^ Robehmed, Natalie (20 October 2014). "Forget Banksy: Meet Blek Le Rat, The Father Of Stencil Graffiti". Forbes. Retrieved 27 October 2014.
  10. ^ "Quin Arts, Artist in Residence: Blek le Rat". Retrieved 27 October 2014.

Further reading[edit]

  • Stencil Graffiti by Tristan Manco. Thames & Hudson (2002). ISBN 978-0500283424
  • Blek le Rat – Getting Through the Walls by Sybille Prou and King Adz. Thames & Hudson (2008). ISBN 978-0-500-28735-4
  • Blek le Rat: 30 Year Anniversary Retrospective. Art Publishing Limited. (2011).[1]

External links[edit]

  1. ^ "Blek le Rat" The 30 Year Anniversary Retrospective. Art Publishing Ltd. p. 156. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016.