One of the godfathers of the European street art movement, Blek le Rat (a.k.a. Xavier Prou) inspired hundreds of graffiti artists around the world with his stenciled style. He is frequently cited as a major influence of artists like Banksy and Space Invader, and through his work in Paris he established a style of urban art that quickly spread through Europe and eventually the U...nited States.
“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.” Banksy, 2005 He started decorating the streets of Paris in 1981 with a rat stencil, hoping to create an invasion of rats in the city. He was inspired to create this stencil after seeing the graffiti of New York in the 70’s, but he didn’t just want to copy the American style. Instead he wanted to create a style that suited Paris and so he chose the stencil as he saw this as something very Latin.
Despite the enormous role he played in 1980s and 1990s street art, Blek le Rat kept a low profile through most of his career to avoid prison time, fines and public harassment (in 1991 he was tried for ten years worth of graffiti and had to pay substantial fines, with the prospect of facing jail if caught again). He struggled years before urban art was a somewhat acceptable genre, documenting his own works and trying to find ways to make a living as a professional artist. He set the stage for an artistic revolution through years of absolute obscurity.
He is still considered a massive influence on today’s graffiti and guerrilla art movements, Blek’s arresting images have a timeless, universal appeal that go beyond underground street art.