Text by Fernanda Hinke
French graffiti artist, Shaka, real name, Marchal Mithouard, based in Montreuil in the east of Paris – an establishing hub for professional artists – explains here about his staggering paintings and sculptures.
How did you begin making art and what first made you produce in the street?
I started to do oil painting when I was nine years old. When I came to graffiti, I already had an oeuvre of canvases at home. By the time I was eighteen, my friends and I were students and we did not want to stay at home or paint in a studio. We were looking for fun and graffiti was a way of combining both. Graffiti was really expressive for me. I was not being judged, I was free, I had a new name, I was excited, with good feelings and vibrations. That’s how I discovered a new way to paint.
What were your influences?
I was influenced by subculture and alternative culture, punk and Jamaican music. At the beginning, I did a lot of small stencils against racism and messages about anarchy, around Jamaican music. Later, when I was at school, starting to see graffiti on trains in France and hip hop music on TV, I started to make graffiti. It was a confrontation between hip hop and the punk movement.
When I started to do graffiti it was just for fun. Only later, I realised how I could mix graffiti and more traditional painting. Nowadays, my work is a result of all these experiences. I like to mix all of this, in fact it’s the way hip hop exists, mixing things to make music. I work in the same way on canvas, making sculptures, and doing graffiti.
Large-scale fresque in Brazil
What inspired you to experiment with making sculptures onto canvas?
My first studio in Paris used to be an old factory building. There I started to use all things that I found on the floor. I used things to build, to put on canvas. In 2007, it was the first time that I used this process to make sculpture on canvas, it was experimental in that moment. I’m really concerned how our generation is submersed in a lot of information through the internet, and the virtual relationships that we have. I like to bring people to see my work personally with a proposal of a real interaction.
I want the public to have an exchange with me. You need to go to the gallery or go to my studio if you really want to appreciate my work. It’s a way of enjoying sculpture. I’m interested in exchanging, real relationships. All the characters want to exchange with people to get them to have a reaction. Some people say that my work is too violent, too aggressive. Its like a compliment, it’s the way that I want to provoke people.
Who are your personages and what do you
I have sixteen personages, they are all my family and friends. Behind the violence and my energetic colour palette, there is a message of sensibility. It’s all about human expression, the movement of their bodies representing the struggle for individuality in social power politics.
I like to compare my paintings with how governments work. With the end of the American dynasty for example. One personage will fall for sure, but because of it’s selfishness and violence, it will push others to fall down with it. I want to provoke a reflection about this selfishness in human behavior.
Caravaggio is one artist that influences you. In his personal life he used to be an aggressive man, he used to have a lot of enemies, he had a tumultuous life and he also killed a man. Tell me about his influence in your work.
I have no enemies like Caravaggio. But there are some connections with his life and mine. I’m not a hooligan, I don’t like football that much, but I like to be in a stadium to see and understand the forces of one group, five thousand guys, screaming, crying, fainting. It’s really impressive, it is another world for a moment. You have your normal life, family, friends and work, but at this moment in the stadium, all the group is a new force. I like to understand this human behaviour with the compression of the society, rich and poor people in this place for one thing. The same way that Caravaggio was painting religion, his painting was really strong, contrasting, so his life was also strong like a hooligan.
Billboard at ArromanchesSelf portrait in 3D.
Do you connect yourself with the images that you create?
I am the opposite of all the anxiety that I present in my work. I am a very calm person, except when I am in traffic. I have a group of friends since my childhood, my relationship with my family is very positive. My way to fight is through my art.
Why do you want to fight?
I grew up between the suburbs and Paris, between the ghetto and middle class guys, it was a positive cultural exchange for me. My first canvases when I arrived in Paris were about how a lot of guys from the suburbs come to Paris on a Saturday to party and to have fun. There is a real difference between people from the suburbs and downtown. Normally when journalists speak about people from suburbs on television they talk just about the bad things. I made canvasses in the same way that bad journalist reports explore the violence of the suburbs. There are a lot of positive things there but the television never reports on it. My first graffiti crew was from my neighbourhood. My confrontation is not a speaking confrontation, it’s inside my art. You have to fight some times – it is not my way of thinking, but sometimes if you want to be respected, you need to fight.
Do you have a balance when it comes to working on the streets and for galleries? What is the difference for you?
My canvases are big paintings in a graffiti style, but is not about graffiti. You can make as many graffiti canvases for a gallery as you want, but it will never be graffiti. Graffiti is on a wall, on the street, and illegal. If I go to streets, I want to have the feeling of what graffiti is. To be honest, I don’t really appreciate doing legal walls on the streets, you have a lot of photographers behind you, there’s no freedom.
If I have time, I like to go out in the streets to make interventions during the night, alone or with my crew, DKP, in the real way that graffiti is about.
Le M.U.R. in Oberkampf, Paris
Visit Shaka’s website, here.