Interview with Stencil Godfather Blek Le Rat on his Tour of Middle America, 2019

The “God Father” of the stencil movement, Blek Le Rat, recently visited four cities in the United States of America. The cities on tour were not the usual cities people normally think of when an internationally known street artist comes to the United States of America, like Los Angeles, New York or San Francisco. Instead Blek Le Rat painted a series of life-sized murals in places such as Nashville Tennessee and Waco Texas.

The tour of Tennessee and Texas drew large crowds and appreciation from people who may have only seen “street art” through social media. The driving tour of four cities inspired Blek le Rat that much, he now wants to visit more cities in the United States to leave his stencil mark.

GraffitiStreet

When you visited Nashville you spent a week painting at the school, Montgomery Bell Academy. What was that experience like?

Blek Le Rat

I was really amazed by how engaged and serious the students were and how well educated they were. All of these things are rare virtues in our time. The students were very interested in Street Art and my stencils. They seemed a little surprised that a 67 years old man is involved in Street Art and painting on walls. I wanted to do something at the school that connected the students to European culture. I painted famous authors, philosophers and artists at the school. Picasso, Victor Hugo, Socrates. I spent several days in the classroom with the students teaching them the art of stenciling. That was very rewarding. They were very attentive and had many questions about my technique.

GraffitiStreet

How did the students of Montgomery Bell Academy respond to watching you stencil / paint?

Blek Le Rat

They were very engaged! We had many students, teachers and parents at each mural watching me paint. They had many questions about my technique, the street art movement and my 40-year career. The response from the students, teachers and parents was very rewarding.

GraffitiStreet

You worked with art classes at the school, teaching them the basics of stencilling. Did you enjoy being the teacher and working with students in the classroom?

Blek Le Rat

Yes of course , I like to talk to young people about my experience of street artist. I have been working in the streets since 1981. This was a very rewarding way to connect with young people and pass along my knowledge and hopefully inspire the next generation of stencil artists. Many students stopped me on campus to tell me the murals and classes inspired them. I heard from many parents and teachers saying their students were now very engaged and much more interested in art.

GraffitiStreet

After visiting Nashville you painted murals in Waco, Austin and Houston, Texas. Why did you choose these cities for your American tour?

Blek Le Rat

Everything started during a conversation with Brian Greif from 2:32 AM Projects. I was working with Brian on a gallery exhibit in San Francisco last year. I told him I wanted to leave my mark across the US for many personal reasons. A few weeks later, Brian had arranged a “tour” of Tennessee and Texas. I loved the idea of visiting cities like Waco, that are new to Street Art. It was a marvellous experience. In cities like Nashville and Waco, we had large crowds watching me paint. The people were very gracious and excited to bring art to the streets of their cities.

GraffitiStreet

Most artists focus on major cities like New York and Los Angeles when they visit America. What was the local reaction to your stencil art in cities like Waco Texas, where street art is a new experience?

Blek Le Rat

I love painting in the bigger cities, but in places like NY and LA there is a lot of street art. The amazing part of our tour of Tennessee and Texas was the response from the public. There were crowds at every mural location. The people asked questions, they were very appreciative and engaged. It’s more interesting and important now for a street artist to try to reach people who don’t have access to the contemporary culture. Today most of street artists post on FB or Instagram and they touch hundreds of thousand people. I think its time now to go back to the real sources of street art by painting real walls in real cities and not just the major cities around the world. We need to touch people by painting walls in cities that have not experienced this movement.

GraffitiStreet

Now you have finished your tour of these cities, would you like to tour other smaller cities in the USA?

Blek Le Rat

If I could leave my mark in every city in the US that would be a dream realised! We have discussed another tour with Brian Greif at 2:32 AM Projects. We would love to come paint in cities like Omaha, Kansas City, Albuquerque, Columbus, St Louis, or any other city that would invite us. My dream is to visit and paint in as many cities in the US as possible.

Thank you to Blek Le Rat. We hope he enjoyed his tour as much as the new cities enjoy their new pieces of street art!

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