Blek le Rat /   Xavier Prou

France 1952


Blek le Rat
Xavier Prou
March 31, 2016
Alias of Jasmina Sevic, a researcher and author for Widewalls. She graduated from the Faculty of Political Science (Department for Journalism) in Belgrade in 2013.

France’s capital may be the world renowned for the invaluable pieces of art that reside in such museums as the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay, but it is also home to some of the most exciting street art in Europe. One of the first artist who started decorating the streets of the City of Light was legendary graffiti artist Blek le Rat who has inspired generations of graffiti artists across the globe. The true pioneer of street art, he is often cited as a major influence of artists like Banksy, Space Invader, Shepard Fairey, and Icy and Sot. Through his work in his hometown, the artist established a style of urban art that rapidly spread throughout the continent and beyond.

Blek le Rat - Paris, France contact people
Blek le Rat – Paris, France

Blek le Rat & Stencils

The father of stencil graffiti, Xavier Prou was born in Boulogne-Billancourt, a commune in the western suburbs of Paris in 1951. He studied fine art and architecture at the prestigious École Des Beaux Arts in Paris, graduating in 1982. Before his graduation, Prou visited New York and developed a fascination with the city’s street art. Inspired by the NYC graffiti, he returned to France and began his artistic career in 1981 by painting stencils of rats. What he did that no one artist in France had was the utilization of pre-stenciled posters and images allowing the application of paint to be a lot speedier, mostly because he didn’t want to stay a long time on the streets because of the police. His black painted rats which began to appear on the street walls of the city would mark the beginning of the transformation of Paris’s visual landscape and identity. His pseudonym, Blek le Rat, originates from a childhood cartoon “Blek le Roc”, using “rat” as an anagram for “art” because, for him, the rats symbolized both freedom and the spread of art throughout the city as an invasion.

Blek le Rat - Early work
Blek le Rat – Early work

The King of Street Art

In the early 80s, American artist Richard Hambleton came to Paris and brought his work over from the US. By that time, Blek was already making rats, but when he saw Hambleton’s large shadow human figures, he got the idea of making bigger pieces, so he soon began doing larger works, as well as self-portraits. Today, Blek is credited as the first to transform stencil from basic lettering into imagery, and the one to invent the life-sized stencils. He creates most of his stencils by hand, crafting each to perfection to allow for the best detail possible upon application, and works mainly in black and white.

Blek le Rat - Melbourne, Australia, photo credits Until Never
Blek le Rat – Melbourne, Australia, photo credits Until Never

Revealing the Artist’s Identity

Ten years after he made his first piece, Blek le Rat was eventually discovered and caught by the French authorities. He was charged and fined for stenciling his own version of Caravaggio’s Madonna and Child onto a wall in Paris. This image is Blek le Rat’s oldest remaining artwork, and it depicts a woman called Sybille. Blek le Rat had fallen in love with Sybille and decided to proclaim his feelings to her by spray painting her image while interpreting Caravaggio’s notorious piece. Luckily, this love story has a happy ending, as Sybille and Prou are now married and have a son.

Blek le Rats - Ignorance Is Bliss
Blek le Rats – Ignorance Is Bliss

Socially Engaged Artworks

Over the years, it seems that the subject of Blek’s depictions has changed a bit – he is more focused on questions that regard social consciousness, politics, and environmental problems. He creates socially engaged artworks, intended to bring attention to global problems, often depicting marginalized individuals opposed to large oppressive groups. He has also been noted for his series of images of homeless people, begun in 2006, which depict them standing, sitting or laying on sidewalks, in attempts to bring attention to what he views as a global problem, to provoke thoughts, and even actions. Popular opinion believes that Banksy was greatly influenced by the work of Blek le Rat, which shares a similar style.

Blek le Rat’s socially engaged artworks often depict marginalized individuals opposed to
large oppressive groups

French Blek le Rat - NYC, USA
Blek le Rat – New York, USA

Influence of Blek le Rat

With the impressive career that spans over three decades, Blek le Rat continues to influence many street artists and to amaze us all to this day. He remains one of the most referenced artists by other artists, and his contribution to the movement is invaluable. In the past decade Blek’s popularity has become more mainstream and in 2006, Blek showed his works in London’s Leonard Street Gallery. Since then, his oeuvre has been included in numerous individual and collective shows in galleries across the globe. That doesn’t mean he has stopped the street art, his graffiti work has continued to appear throughout the world.

The French artist is represented by Vertical Gallery in London; Ministry of Walls, Cologne; Hang-Up Gallery, London; 44309 Street//art Gallery, Dortmund; Wunderkammern, Rome; Wunderkammern, Milan; Jonathan Levine Gallery, NY; and

Blek le Rat lives and works in Paris.

Featured image: Blek le Rat – portrait, photo credits Artfield Galleries
All images copyright © the artist

YearExhibition TitleMuseum/GallerySolo/Group
2016PropagandaWunderkammern, Milan, ItalySolo
2015Oh, The Places We Have Been: Rediscovering the PastJonathan LeVine Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2015Sleeping BeautyMagda Danysz Gallery, ParisGroup
2014Escaping Paris, Blek Le Rat, Quin Arts programQuin hotel, New York City Solo
2013Ignorance is BlissJonathan LeVine Gallery, New York City, NYSolo
2013 America's Finest (and Others) Belgrave Gallery St Ives, St. Ives, Cornwall, EnglandGroup
2012Blek le Rat Opera Gallery, London, EnglandSolo
2012Graff the Peace! Opera Gallery, ParisGroup
2012Off The Wall: Street Art Contemporary Wing, Washington, DCGroup
2012Art & Toys – Collection Selim Varol me Collectors Room Berlin, BerlinGroup
2012Black´n White Galerie Kasten, MannheimGroup
2012Streets of the World Opera Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2012Look CloserWarrington Museum and Art Gallery, WarringtonGroup
2011Paris Forever 100th exhibition of the gallery Galerie Magda Danysz, ParisGroup
2011Late To Dinner Carmichael Gallery of Contemporary Art, Culver City, CAGroup
2011Outside - Urban Street Group Exhibition 34FineArt, Cape TownGroup
2011Street Art - Contemporary Prints Galerie Kasten, MannheimGroup
2011Urban Art Show 2011 Belgrave Gallery St Ives, St. Ives, Cornwall, EnglandGroup
2011Shadows and reflections Galerie Magda Danysz, ParisGroup
2010Winter Group Show White Walls Gallery, San Francisco, CAGroup
2010Never Judge...? Stolenspace Gallery, London, EnglandGroup
2010Street and Studio - Von Basquiat bis Séripop Kunsthalle Wien (Museumsquartier), ViennaGroup
2010Street Smarts Affirmation Arts, New York City, NYGroup
2010Fourth Element II The Watermill, Aberfeldy, Perthshire, ScotlandGroup
2010Blek le Rat & Above White Walls Gallery, San Francisco, CAGroup
2010Girls, Girls, Girls Signal Gallery, London, EnglandGroup
2010Five Year Anniversary Jonathan LeVine Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2010Wreck the WallsSubliminal Projects, Los AngelesGroup
2010Friends with KnivesCrewest Gallery, Los AngelesGroup
2010Faces in the Mirror by Blek le Rat & Transitions by ABOVEWhite Walls Gallery, San FranciscoGroup
2010Looking EastYves Laroche Galerie d'art, Montreal, QC, CanadaGroup
2009From Style Writing to Art (Part 2 - Shanghai) 18Gallery Shanghai - Bund18, ShanghaiGroup
2009108 Christmas Exhibition - Little Pictures – Great Art 108 Fineart, Harrogate, North Yorkshire, EnglandGroup
2009The Northern Art Fair 108 Fineart, Harrogate, North Yorkshire, EnglandGroup
2009Installation Five Anno Domini, San Jose, CAGroup
2009With You I Want to Live: Gordon Locksley & George T. Shea Collection Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, Fort Lauderdale, FLGroup
2009Blue Print For Space for Art Basel 2009Art Center / South Florida, Miami BeachGroup
2009From style writing to artGalerie Magda Danysz , PARISGroup
2009Scion's Installation 5 National Art TourScion Installation LA Gallery, Culver CityGroup
2009Whole in the WallHelenbeck Gallery New York, New YorkGroup
2009Scion Installation Five - Self: PortraitThe Showroom NYC, New YorkGroup
2008Paris-New York, New York-Paris Jonathan LeVine Gallery, New York City, NYSolo
2008Blek Le Rat // Life Before Banksy... KunstTachometer, Palma de MallorcaSolo
2008Off the Wall – From Vandalism to Urban Art Wilde Gallery, BerlinGroup
2008Apocalyptic colors Galerie Gabriele Senn, ViennaGroup
2008The Cans Festival The Cans Festival, London, EnglandGroup
2008Titanium ExposeFecal Face Dot Gallery, San FranciscoGroup
2008Scion Presents: Installation 5 Art Tour - DetroitCPop Gallery, DetroitGroup
2008Blek Le Rat ExhibitionBlack Rat Gallery, London, UKSolo
2007 The Streets Of Europe Jonathan LeVine Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2007Behind the SeenAd Hoc Art, BrooklynGroup
2006Wooster On Spring11 Spring Street – New York City, New YorkGroup
2002Blek Was HereUrban Art Gallery, BerlinGroup
2002UntitledKokerei, Essen, GermanyGroup
2002Teitschule with Lee Quineones (USA)Bern, SwitzaerlandGroup
2001UntitledFrench institute of Maroco VolubilisGroup
1993France graffiti in the castlePaul Ricard Gallery Group
1992la revue parleeCentre Georges Pompidou, Paris, FranceGroup
1991Blek le rat From Paris to TokyoTakarashi GalleryGroup
1990Paris Permanent exhibition Christophe GalleryGroup
1989Les rencontres de MarrakechFrench Institure of Marrakech, MarocoGroup
1988Graffiti the Christ NYCGroup
1987UntitledGallery Loft, ParisGroup
1986PochoirsAgnes B Gallery, Paris, FranceGroup
1985France Les artistes au telephonePierre Lescot Gallery, ParisGroup