The 28-years-old global artist with French roots is unbound and unstoppable: huge projects in France and Asia are emerging, followed by worldwide fame and recognition. He has definitely took off in the world of art, but Zdey himself remains down to earth and faithful to his Graffiti roots. We talked with him about his last works, Graffiti and Street Art, about working in and with communities. What we got are some surprisingly open answers which, at moments, appear like the art he is creating: direct, bold and overwhelmingly present.
– What are you currently working on?
I have to divide the answer in two since I have recently completed two projects: an outdoor and an interior one.
The exterior project was a massive 600 sq m surface in the North of Paris in Aubervilliers. It was a huge column of some 16 meters height supporting the highway above, on which I painted both faces and an inclined plane.
– How long did it take you to finish?
I´ve spent 2 weeks working on it. Eight days working on the lift for both the vertical surfaces and another week for the ground works. All works were done with a great logistical and painting support by my agents from WYVI Agency and my graffiti crew S1TR.
– General spirit of Street Art is very much based on an idea of community. Do you usually work together with a team or collaborate with other artists?
It depends a lot on the project. But let me first start with the culture where I come from, which is Graffiti, not Street Art at all. Some people may categorize what I do today into Street Art, but that´s not really where I come from. I don´t really know what Street Art is actually. I come from Graffiti which is really all about putting up your name and putting up your crew. So when I talk about my crew I do really talk about our work, which we do together. I am the only one out of the crew, who does big scale murals (for the moment!). Most other crew members are painting letters the proper graffiti way, not looking for followers and shit like that. The good old way! The crew is called S1TR and the interesting thing about us is that we are actually made of two different crews, which fusioned ten years ago in 2007: S1 from the west suburbs of Paris and the TR from the east side. They really are doing the work out there around France, let me mention some of them: Panar, Nomé, Orgie, Gauché, Fusible, Siek, Pack, Corbak… We’re a family really. They always get involved into my big projects. Big UP to them!
Aubervilliers France 2017
– And what is the interior work you mentioned?
It´s an indoor piece in “Station F”, which is the biggest startup co-working space in the world. Around a month ago they opened their doors in Paris and invited me for three different projects distributed all over the Station F. So, according to the spirit of the place I ́ve made a piece connecting the paths, the corridor and the walls of the space with a continuous vortex, which appears very immersive.
Station F – Paris 2017
Station F – Paris 2017
– Where does the cartoon character Zdey find himself in this complex multi-layered and three-dimensional space?
Are you talking about the character or myself?
Zdey and S1TR crew luring around the corner / La Bellevilloise – Paris Belleville 2017
– I´m talking about both of you. How do you implement the character into your vortex worlds?
I always try to explore many different directions in my art. But Zdey the character was born in India when I was working back there. At that time I was only writing letters. At some point I got bored with only doing that and thought about creating a character which would be able to talk to people who don´t get Graffiti. The intention was to create a bridge to these people. My character was inspired by Zoro and his double life, since back then I was working in finance in a big group with this costumed life during the day and a different night identity. So that´s how Zdey came to life, as an alteration of Zoro. After that I quit my job in India, returned to France and Zdey started appearing all over the streets. With time I started doing more and began creating universes. Entire worlds changing the volumes of streets. It was at first to complete worlds in which Zdey could evolve – the character and myself. The vortex worlds however do not always have Zdey in themselves. Sometimes he is part of the depiction and sometimes it´s just a world waiting for him and others.
Detail “The Laser Robot” 2016
Detail “The Laser Robot” 2016
– How do you prepare & sketch?
I create while doing. I do sketch a bit, but less and less these days. Also in my latest project I did a main sketch in the beginning but it turned out to be a very different thing at the end. There´s lot of improvisation on the spot. I realized this is the way I enjoy painting the most.
– An impressive aspect of your vortex worlds is the fact that you seem to be engaging buildings in their entire form. Not just blank, flat parts of them which can be turned into good canvas surfaces. It´s not a mere reflection of a sketch on a flat surface.
Yes, I try to use everything available. I think it´s funnier that way. Like in the school in the 13th arrondissement. In that project I was not working alone neither but with bunch of immigrant kids, who are living in France without their parents. They basically live in a house with people who take care of them and try to integrate them in the new society. At some point the municipality of the 13th arrondissement offered me this big school building, which was about to be demolished, saying “If you want to have fun with the kids you ́re working with then go ahead, we will give you a carte blanche to do whatever you want on the building”. That´s how it all started and I spent the entire following summer with the kids painting the school. That was our summer holiday.
I wanted the children to bring the maximum of their creativity when working on the school building but I also soon realized that working on a big scale can be very demanding for them and that they need a lot of guidance. So I developed a way how to teach them all my conceptual skills, which I use for creating the vortex, and how to outline the surfaces which we were then painting together. And suddenly the work with the twenty kids gave me a chance to see bigger and we started doing more and more: let´s go around the corner, paint the ground, the roof and more and more details… We had a lot of fun when we used extinguishers filled up with paint to cover the entire roof! It was a great adventure with the kids!
Ecole Recoloriée Paris 13ème by Zdey 2016
Ecole Recoloriée Paris 13ème 2016
Ecole Recoloriée Paris 13ème 2016
– What happened to the building afterwards?
The building was demolished in January and now a new education centre is being built on the site. But in the time in between the house was just standing there like a big toy, big candy attracting everyone. I had the chance to organize an event open to everyone: we had some break dancers, musicians and kids and people just hanging around there.
– Having such a social impact did the school in the 13th trigger further similar projects?
Yes, it did. I really like to work with kids and the project in the 13th gave me a big visibility. So next year in April and March I will be travelling to Nepal to work on a school, which was destroyed in the earthquake in 2015 and recently rebuilt. The necessity to build the school in fast track, so that the kids could return, did not leave much time and space for aesthetics. So the building is completely grey and reminds more of a jail then a place for children. Right now we are gathering sponsors in France and getting them to support the project so we can paint the school together with the local people living in that village. The plan is to do the painting during school vacation and to create a surprise for the kids when they return to school afterwards.
– Do you always engage with the public when you are working outside?
A lot. It is not always possible, but when the conditions allow it I always do. Especially the youngsters. It´s a great thing when you give kids a chance to realize that they can actually be artists. Even if it is just to raise their confidence and belief in themselves. It´s pretty good to see that. It can change their perception of art and their own capability and skills. Graffiti gives you the freedom that maybe some more classic arts don´t have. And it´s a movement which is happening right now – very contemporary and in real time. If you walk down the streets you can make many connections and inspirations. It has this energy to create an instant communication with people.
Besides that I don´t really have issues sharing what I do with people. I think what I do is simple. It´s bold and very visual. I describe it as energy. There are a lot of different ways to do art. There is not one particular way to be an artist. I keep things simple, it’s visually very present and they somehow get in direct touch with people. My character is just two circles with a hat. You can´t try to be appreciated by everyone. It is pointless to try to make everyone happy. I managed to connect with the people I aspired to get connected with and that satisfies me.
– You said you do not know what is Street Art. Why is Graffiti not Street Art?
Street Art is a word which is used today to describe everything that ́s done in that big movement which is currently happening. What does it mean “Street Art”? There is “Street” in the name. All the work that contemporary artists do on canvas is being called Street Art. I don´t get that. A definition of an artist or artists work can only be found in the very culture where it originates. There´s no movement in history of art that was described by the environment where it happened. We do very different stuff on the streets and the definition “Street Art” is actually a very recent thing. I don´t really feel related to it. Graffiti is the culture where I feel at home and in which I grew up. It´s like a real life video game that takes place in the real world. If you have not been in that Graffiti movement you will hardly understand the feeling I am trying to describe. And that´s very specific to Graffiti. Most artists doing paste ups or other forms of art on the street are not rooted in Graffiti and come from a different culture. The idea of doing Graffiti, putting up your tags, doing some train bombing, working up on the highways – it´s a different thing. It’s important that we take time to explain the differences to the public. People now purchase pieces of art at incredible high prices thinking they know everything about street art. I always hear stuff like: “I love graffiti but not the ugly writings in the streets”… Truth is, most of them don’t know shit and don’t even take the time to understand.
Moving forward or backward? / MATRIX: The Pill Situation – Collaboration with Heetch / Paris 2017
– Is Graffiti an addiction?
Yeah totally. It´s difficult to describe what´s the motivation behind it. The speed, dynamics, excitement, danger, the freedom, the fact that it is completely unlinked to money or any kind of recognition… It is almost impossible to stop once you get in it. I never considered what we did in Graffiti as “art”. But I don’t feel that my work today is part of all that. What I do now is bringing colours on all sorts of objects on the street. I prefer being simply referred to as “artist” without any categorisation. I am bringing the energy which I am carrying within myself out there and I share it with people. I am just an artist, as simple as that.
All Photos © by Zdey