Born in the Lorraine region of East France, 27-year-old Levalet takes advantage of Paris’ architecture, combining his knowledge of theatre and painting especially, with a keen eye for topography, to produce site-specific scenes painted with Indian ink. Here, he talks about what makes his work possible, his artistic background, the legality of making street art in Paris, and places he likes putting up work.
Tell us about your works, what are your main themes and influences?
I don’t know if we can talk about any main themes in my works, I work on staging each piece uniquely. My influences are numerous: theatre, film, plastic arts, comics. Afterwards, I contextualise it with the environment which affects the iconography of my scenes. Most of the time I rely on situations inspired by everyday life, and always a bit out of sync with reality.
Levalet pastes up in Paris’ ancient Latin Quarter in the 5th Arrondissement.
Where and when did you put up your first street piece?
I started painting on walls when I was thirteen or fourteen, in Guadeloupe, but it was more for fun and the for rush of adrenalin than for an artistic goal. When I was 17, I moved to Strasbourg, and there the walls are so clean and so historic that almost nobody wants to work on them, but I was working on video installations, and I was able to experiment with projections in urban places. But it was when I arrived in Paris in 2012 that I truly started to work as a street artist, inspired by the architecture and this feeling of freedom you can feel in the capital here.
What prompts you to paint work in the street?
The street is a place where I can work freely, I don’t have financial or time pressures. And this is mostly about besieging public places, everyday places, and being able to put up work that creates a dialogue with the real world. I like the idea of trying to combine several realities, using the world as a medium, and as a guide for representation, positioning the artistic image, in a place that was not meant for it in the first place.
How important is the architecture to your work?
Topography is very important for me, this is why I always check a place out before I work on it. I try to mix the world of representation with the real world by playing on the physical cohesion of the situations I put up. Architecture supports my work. Then I work on staging the artwork with photographs. Photography allows me to play with the point of view and to intensify the “window-dressing” dimension of my work. Photography also allows me to create a dramatisation within the dramatisation by a including passer-by or other elements.
Tell us a little about your artistic background and how and why you got into street art?
I started studying plastic arts when I was 17 and tried different media, paint, photography, video, sculpture, and today I am an art teacher, but as I said earlier, I have numerous influences and for example, acting influenced my work a lot. We can say that I came to street art more by transposing an installation practice than by a “classical” way, such as starting with graffiti and later getting involving graphic design.
An onlooker enjoys Levalet’s street art performance which even the police tend not to mind, he says. Levalet tirelessly brushes out air bubbles and wrinkles from his pasted paper artwork.
You live in 13th Arrondissement, what do you like about putting work up locally?
I sometimes work in my neighbourhood, not often but regularly. I sometimes like being able to follow a work’s life, how it is transformed, how other artists can change it or destroy it. It is also more convenient for me as it is the only neighbourhood in Paris where I can put up my works legally without having them cleaned off, thanks to the town hall and its policy of including urban arts in the neighbourhood’s identity.
What factors do you consider when deciding on a location?
I’m relatively attentive to places whenever I’m outside, and when chance puts me in front of an interesting place, I take a picture and I measure it. Everything is potentially interesting, a spot on a concrete bloc, a crack, a recess, a piece of urban furniture. Whether I use a place I spotted or not depends on the projects I create day-by-day. There are some places I’ve spotted that will probably never be used, and sometimes one year can pass between the moment I spotted a place (I write it in my notebook) and the moment I use it. When I willingly look for a place, meaning when I walk by neighbourhoods only for that purpose, I first go to the small alleys, the hidden places, the unusual neighbourhood, and I avoid the big boulevards.
Can you describe a route you’ve taken in the past, or an everyday route, and describe the details.
I think what I like most is walking by the different rivers in Paris, “les quais de Seine”, “canal Saint Martin”, “Canal de l’Ourcq”. Rivers always offer architecture and spaces that seem completely different from a big city such as Paris. I like these places because they inspire surrealist ideas in me easily. Being close to a river, in one way, gives me the illusion that I am still connected with the rest of the world.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced putting up a piece on the streets?
Two months ago, I put up a sketch on La Comédie Française. There were ten policemen twenty metres away. They did not see me that time, but every time I’ve been caught, I’ve always been let off, and sometimes they’re amused. I can’t complain. I don’t really feel the police as a challenge. A bigger challenge is for me to start a project in which I try new things, because before the end, I am never one hundred per cent certain of the result. Half of the time I need to change my projects because I realise that, for example, the sketch is too big for the wall or an object can’t be fixed with nails.
What are your plans for 2015?
I have a few group exhibitions planned in Paris, an exhibition and two festivals in Italy and mostly I want to do unpredictable things. I have a few indoors installation projects planned, but for now nothing is really decided.
Detail from Levalet’s latest scene in the Latin Quarter.
Photos of Levalet’s previous installations:15 minutes of fame. Photo by Charles Levalet, 2014. Rhizomes exhibition, Home street home, Montpellier. Photo by Charles Levalet, 2014.Iconoclasme. Photo by Charles Levalet, 2013. La machine infernale. Photo by Charles Levalet, 2014.
Une bouffée d’air frais. Photo by Charles Levalet, 2013.
Comédie française. Photo by Charles Levalet, 2014.
Envolée sauvage. Photo by Charles Levalet, 2014.
Visit Levalet’s Facebook page, here.