Jef Aerosol /   Jean-François Perroy

France 1957

Urban Art, Street Art, Stencil

Jef Aerosol
Jean-François Perroy
March 19, 2014
Jean is researcher and author for Widewalls.

From pioneering street art to achieving a status of the legend, Jean-François Perroy, better known as Jef Aérosol, is without a doubt one of the most famous artists in the contemporary world. Slowly honing the skills and building up his reputation, this master of stencil inspired generations of youngsters who ventured into the wilderness of the city jungles, following the footsteps of their hero, hoping to leave their own mark, just as Aérosol did. Many cities around the globe have been blessed with his pieces, and countless portraits of both famous people and the ordinary ones, immortalized by the artist, now greet anyone that walks by. Black, white, and gray dominate his art, usually accompanied by the red arrow, the artist’s trademark, and a powerful graphic element on its own.

Jef Aerosol - The Blues Brothers, 2013 (Left) - Robert Mapplethorpe & Patti Smith, 2013 (Right), france, group, lille, french, jef, english, privacy
Jef Aérosol – The Blues Brothers, 2013 (Left) / Robert Mapplethorpe & Patti Smith, 2013 (Right)

A Biography of the True Street Artist

The sevens marked his early life. He was born in 1957, along with the rock. The hippie movement formed a decade later. In 1977, the punk wave was strong and engulfing. These three dates describe an effervescent era, marked by the pop revolution in the musical sense, as well as in artistic. Aérosol grew up in Nantes, surrounded by the labor culture of his parents. Constantly seeking to escape the seriousness of the adult world and to somehow bridge the enormous generation gap, he sought everything that came from places like New York or London, embracing the incredible dream which accompanied the phenomenon such as Beatles. His artistic career began through copy-art, which stands for using photocopiers to create artworks. It was the ‘thing’ in the late 70’s, and the fact that he was using a tool whose purpose wasn’t for creating art made it even more interesting. The artist thinks the copy-art didn’t have a particularly strong influence on his stencil, as they are completely different techniques, except for the speedy aspect.

Aérosol emphasizes the significance of the night when he created his first stencil – it was 1982, in Tours, and the moment he painted over the prepared pattern was the moment he got hooked. Naturally, the feeling has changed and evolved over years, but he still feels excited every time he works on a piece. At the time, the stencil was new, and was directly connected to his young age, but also to the period of the early 80’s and those are essentially the reasons he was so attracted to it. But even with the passing of time and change in sensations, ideas, context, feelings, Aérosol still finds working in the streets enjoyable and fulfilling.

Unaware of their work when he began his own, Aérosol eventually saw the pieces made by Blek le Rat and Speedy Graphito and was partially inspired by them. Especially le Rat’s choice of black and white and the size of his pieces. Today, the three of them are thought of as pioneers of stencil art, and one would expect that there is some sort of associated pressure or expectations. Aérosol denies the presence of pressure, but also declines any special status followed by the titles. As he states, the fame and hierarchy do not interest him. There is no other choice as long as he follows his own road and feels deep within himself that he still has to do what he does. This kind of thinking and acting turned Aérosol into an icon, who is now himself an inspiration to other urban artists, like the omnipresent Banksy or another French street art legend, C215.

The artist’s new works evoke feelings similar to his early ones

Jef Aerosol - Gainsbourg & Birkin, 2013, lille, group, french
Jef Aérosol – Gainsbourg & Birkin, 2013

The Anonymous and Celebrities

Aérosol’s most notable feature is certainly his portraits. It comes as no big surprise since he’s always been interested in them and in the representation of man generally. The idea of showing that each and every one of us is just a face in the crowd has prevailed throughout his career. Depicting his life-size figures, dominantly black and white (there are exceptions of course) as a freeze frame of the film of life, the artist is able to perfectly capture the single moment in the never-ending flow of the city crowd. The choice of color emphasizes the reference to cinema and equally affirms the desire not to fall into a trompe-l’oeil. These characters are living shadows, Aérosol claims, acting as a mirror for those who see them. More so, the viewers have a tendency to identify with images. For example, his Sitting kid speaks to anyone, from kids themselves, adults thinking about their own children, to older people, reviving some distant memories.

Speaking of icons, Joe Strummer, Johnny Cash, Sid Vicious, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Brigitte Bardot, Curt Cobain, John Lennon, Patti Smith, Mick Jagger, Elves Presley, Gandhi, James Dean, Keith Harington, Jean-Michael Basquiat, Jackson Pollock, Marcel Duchamp, Bob Dylan, Jane Birkin, Robert Smith, Robert Plant, and many more, all of them painted in human-scale, exactly the same as his anonymous figures, reversing their status to the level of the ordinary people. Every single portrait, every single face represents Aérosol’s hero, be it a movie star, musician, or a fellow artist. Even the anonymous characters carry a specific meaning for Aérosol. Considering this, his collaboration with Lee Jeffries came almost naturally. The artistic chemistry was sparked between the two masters, one photographer, the other a street artist, when they met in London in 2014. Jeffries’ portrait of the homeless people had a powerful impact on Aérosol, who proposed a collaboration that culminated in the Synergy, an exhibition held at Mathgoth gallery in March 2015. The joint exhibition shows and further explores their mutual affection for creating portraits, combining their respective talents, and forging a strong relationship between stencil art and photography.

The viewers have a tendency to identify with images

Jef Aerosol - Marcel Duchamp & Jackson Pollock, 2013 (Left) - Keth Haring & J-M Basquiat, 2013 (Center) - James Dean & Marilyn Monroe, 2013 (Right)
Jef Aérosol – Marcel Duchamp & Jackson Pollock, 2013 (Left) / Keth Haring & J-M Basquiat, 2013 (Center) / James Dean & Marilyn Monroe, 2013 (Right)

Red Arrow and the Perfect Location

The famous Red Arrow came a little by chance in the 80’s and has since become a trademark, Aérosol’s second signature. It’s a very urban symbol, a recognizable sign of the international urban signage. Its geometric shape made of lines and angles contrasts with the curves of his human figures, and the redness points to a detail or to the entire piece, attracting the eye toward his black and white silhouettes. Many have tried to unearth a different explanation, but there is none, the artist claims.

Speaking of the perfect location for a new artwork, Aérosol doesn’t have a strict set of rules, which he then universally applies. It’s more about the traveling itself, letting go of all the preconceptions, walking the streets, seeing with your own eyes. There is, however, one peculiar rule the artist always abides – whenever he paints without explicit permission, it’s always with great respect for the context, the places, and people. For example, when he worked in places with major historical and cultural significance, like Venice or the Great Wall of China, he did all he could do to avoid being seen as profane or even provocative. In truth, it’s the exact opposite for him. There was no way he could disrespect the history of the old stones, so the artist painted on the paper tablecloth, which is light and fragile material. The properties of the paper allow its bonding with the stone, providing a perfect illusion of a piece painted on the wall. Over the years, murals have become another trademark of his, whether he’s doing them alone or is collaborating with others. Comparing the sense of belonging of such a piece with the one he painted himself, Aérosol says there is no difference at all. It’s the same with the type of work – live-scale street stencil, an enormous mural, or the gallery piece, it’s all the same to him. It’s all his.

The Red Arrow has become a trademark and his second signature

Jef Aerosol - Sitting Kid, Paris 2006
Jef Aérosol – Sitting Kid, Paris 2006

A Busy Man

After working hard and fruitfully for an almost a decade, he slowed down in 1992. Due to the teaching responsibilities, making music, buying a house, and being a father, Aérosol made fewer stencils on the streets. In 2002, he returned to the streets with a clear perspective and human size pieces, now thought of as his usual. In 1986, he wrote the very first book on the subject of street art – Fait, Bien Fait, or Done Quickly, Done Well in English. Nowadays, he’s busier than ever, with schedule booked until the end of the year, like it was in 2014 and 2015. There’s simply no time for everything he wants to do – he stopped playing music, gave up teaching as well. All of his creativity and strength is poured into his art, and as long he’s able to produce, he’ll be doing so.

He is represented by Galerie Zimmerling & Jungfleisch in Saarbrücken, Germany, Wunderkammern in Milan, Wunderkammern in Rome, Galerie Martine Ehmer in Bruxelles, David Pluskwa Art Contemporain in Marseille, The French Art Studio in London and Galerie Laurent Strouk in Paris.

Jef Aérosol lives and works in Lille.

Feature image: Jef Aérosol – portrait, photo credits Stéphane Missier
All other images courtesy of the artist

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2014Jef Aerosol - one anotherThe French Art Studio, London (England)Solo
2013Get your KICKSMAC  (House of Arts and Culture) ,Créteil, FranceSolo
2013Paredes Recoletta Museum, Buenos Aires, ArgentinaSolo
2013Offsets Gallery Caplain-Matignon, Paris, FranceSolo
2013The Perfect PairDavid Pluskwa gallery, Marseille, FranceGroup
2013Deep EyesPavilion M, Marseille, FranceGroup
2013Vanities  Gallery David Pluskwa, Marseille, FranceGroup
2013Urban Art Biennale Museum Völklingen Ironworks, Völklinger, GermanyGroup
2013Street Kube Kube Hotel, Paris, FranceGroup
2013The many faces of David Bowie Opera Gallery, London, UKGroup
2013Crimes of Minds Workshops Capuchin, Brest, FranceGroup
2013Keep Smiling …Maison Folie The Colosseum (Lambeth, France)Group
2013Urban Renewal Gallery Martine Ehmer (Brussels, Belgium)Group
2013Urban Feeling Rasson Gallery (Tournai, Belgium)Group
2013Beyond street art Postal Museum (Paris, France)Group
2013Opus Crimes Show Espace Pierre Cardin (Paris, France)Group
2013Ernest Pignon-Ernest Art to Be gallery (Lille, France)Group
2013Sex & EroticismLasécu (Lille, France)Group
201230 years of stencil Collegiate Church of St Peter Puellier  (Orleans, France)Solo
2012Rock 'n'wall  XinArt Gallery (La Rochelle, France)Solo
2012Jef goes underground Galerie du Levant (Porto Vecchio, Corsica )Solo
2012Paint it Green Gallery Colosseum (Lens, France)Solo
2012Jef explodes Musée en Herbe (Paris, France)Solo
2012Veni Vidi Vichy Gallery 8 (Vichy, France)Solo
2012Hot Spot Southern Gallery (St Denis, Reunion)Solo
2012Door to doorRoom Courmont (Lille, F rance)Group
2012Graff the peace Opera Gallery (Paris, France)Group
2012Group show Southern gallery (St Denis, Reunion)Group
2012Urban BarrierNo Format Gallery (London, UK)Group
2012Paris Street Art The French Art Studio (London, UK)Group
2012View Walls Museum Etching (La Louviere, Belgium)Group
2012Babel Palace of Fine Arts (Lille, France)Group
2012Aerosol, Boucq, Dufour Galerie Raison d'Art (Lille, France)Group
2012Public Provocations Carhartt Gallery (Weil am Rhein, Germany)Group
2012Tubize Urban II Cultural Centre of Tubize (Tubize, Belgium)Group
201244Artfiler Gallery (Brussels)Group
2012Fifty Fifty Mathgoth Gallery (Paris, France)Group
2012Dead Rock Stars Spoke Gallery (Oakland, USA)Group
2012Dirty Works 30 works gallery (Cologne, Germany)Group
2012World Street Galerie Raison d'Art (Lille, France)Group
2011Jef Aerosol is a box Avelines Museum (Saint-Cloud, France)Solo
2011Snap Xin Art Gallery (La Rochelle, France)Solo
2011Walking Shadows The 106 (Rouen, France)Solo
2011Deck on Street Art Celal Gallery (Paris, France)Group
2011Same Fight Moretti & Moretti Gallery (Paris, France)Group
2011Paris Forever Galerie Magda Danysz (Paris, France)Group
2011Urban Activity Jean Cocteau Space (Les Lilas, France)Group
2011Artists Against Aggression Halles Saint Gery (Brussels, Belgium)Group
2011The Unexpected Sainte Savine (Troyes, France)Group
201140 years of Graffiti Gallery "Nine" (org Gallery Mathgoth) (Nancy, France)Group
2011The APART London Summer Show Apart gallery (London, UK)Group
2011Artists on Artists Signal Gallery (London, UK)Group
2011Shadows & ReflectionsMagda Danysz Gallery (Paris, France)Group
2011Hanging collective XinArt Gallery (La Rochelle, France)Group
2011Paint BAL Postal Museum (Paris, France)Group
2011ACG and associatedFirm lawyers (Reims, France)Group
2010In the eyes Bailly Contemporary Gallery (Paris, France)Solo
2010Chinese Tribulations Gallery Lipao-Huang (Paris, France)Solo
2010Girls Girls Girls Signal Gallery (London, England)Solo
2010All Shook Up Ad Hoc Art Gallery (Brooklyn, New York, USA)Solo
2010From The Gallery Vertikall (Lille, France)Group
2010Cinémaniaque Line 13 Gallery (Paris, France)Group
2010The MUR celebrates 3 ​​years Espace des Blancs Coats (Paris, France)Group
2010Self-portraits and portraits of masters Line 13 Gallery (Paris, France)Group
2010Long live the urban art Uni-Ver Gallery (Paris, France)Group
2010Hanging collective Reason Art Gallery (Lille, France)Group
2010From the museum to the street Museum of Fine Arts (Orleans, France)Group
2010Reaper & friends Abbey Ronceray / org. Y. Suty (Angers, France)Group
2010Love or Sex Gallery-Brugier Rigail (Paris, France)Group
2010Select Pavilion of Art and Design / Cortambert Area (Paris, France)Group
2010Pop & Street Art Cortambert Space (Paris, France)Group
2009solo showGallery Raison d'Art  (Lille, France)Solo
2009solo showZozimus gallery  (Dublin, Ireland)Solo
2009PropeaceMaison Folie Wazemmes (Lille, France)Group
2009Sap AG - International Schulungzentrum  Walldorf, GermanyGroup
2009Mix-Art The Grand Palais (Paris, France)Group
2009No Man's LandEmbassy of France (Tokyo, Japan)Group
2009Lock Up Eddie Lock (London, UK)Group
2008solo showBlind Angle Gallery   (London, UK)Solo
2008solo showIslington Arts Factory (London, UK)Solo
2008StencilArt Whino, National Harbor, MDGroup
2008LilleRaison d'Art, NYC  Group
2008Outside/InsideCarmichael Gallery of Contemporary Art, Culver City, CAGroup
2008The feast of HumaParis, FranceGroup
200812 days of Xmas  Bristol, UKGroup
2008Lille Art FairLille , FranceGroup
2007Expo  with Jérôme MesnagerHighCo, ParisGroup
2006TELL 33Espace des Blancs Coats (Paris)Group
2006From the Batignolles RififiParis, FranceGroup
2006Performance Lézarts BièvreParis, FranceGroup
2005SECTION URBAN PerformanceEspace des Blancs Coats (Paris)Group
2004WINDOWS THAT SPEAKHellemmes Lille-Lille-Fives & Wazemmes, Lille, FranceGroup
2004WORDS FOR SHARINGHouse District Wazemmes, LilleGroup
2004Neighbors Next DoorRue Ste Catherine, LilleGroup
1998RED ARROW WOOD WHITESpace Gear, Wood-White, LilleSolo
1997JAVA to RAOULTHE SPLENDID Theatre, LilleGroup
1997Air Expo" FLY THE ARTS (kite artist)Dam Malo, DunkirkGroup
1996MEETINGSFuture concert hall BIG MIX, TourcoingGroup
1994Birthday EMMAÜSArchives World Labour RoubaixGroup
1993ROCK THE INK ECLIDDouvrin (Pas-de-Calais)Group
1993JEF AND AIRPLANEThe Biplane, LilleGroup
1992JEF AEROSOL IN BULK TO FRACFonds Régional d'Art Contemporain, LilleSolo
1991THE OTHER FACE RIMBAUDTheatre of La Louviere (Belgium)Group
1990THAT SAYS MOSTMaster Rogeon, Drouot, ParisGroup
1989STENCIL IN ACTIONGalleries Lüpke, Draier VerlagGroup
1988FASHION ARTBourse du Commerce, ParisGroup
1987ART IN THE BATHBains-Douches, ParisGroup
1987STORIES OF ROCKERSMaison de la Villette, ParisGroup
1986JEF AEROSOL IS THE BOMB IN ROCKET LAUNCHERRestaurant Rocket Launcher, ParisSolo
1986PRICE OF PAINTING YOUNGOstend (Belgium)Group
1984DAYS OF IMAGESt Jean de la Ruelle, OrléansGroup
1984COPY-ARTRank Xerox, BourgesSolo
1983ROCK PANIKBordeauxGroup
1982 DIN 21 x 297 Gallery Tanners ToursGroup