Tell us about your artistic backgrounds, how you met, and how you got into street art.
Js: Neither of us had an academic artistic background when we started doing street art, but in Jana’s family, art has always been considered important. In a way the stencil technique was never really new, as her father is a screenprinter. Jana later studied art history and multimedia art.
Jana: We met in Madrid in 2004, while we were both spending a year in Spain, and at some point we happened to live in the same apartment. Around this time, Js discovered stencils after seeing many in the streets. We realized that it was a very simple and exciting way to create art and immediately show it.
Jana: When Js later came back to Paris he discovered more about street art and the stencil scene in Paris. He met Artiste Ouvrier who shared with him his unique technique and founded the WCA collective. Back in Austria, I also started to cut some stencils on my own.
Detail of Artiste-Ouvrier painting at Rue Buot, Paris’ 13th Arrondissement
Js: We started to work together when Jana came to live in Paris. At that moment we started to develop our actual work, inspired by our photographs and our interest in urban architecture and portraiture.
Rue Jeanne d’Arc, Paris’ 13th Arrondissement
What is it that you like about painting in Paris?
Js: We enjoyed living in Paris. We really love this city. Paris offers so many different environments. It is different to paint in la Butte-aux-Cailles, in rue Jeanne d’arc or in Menilmontant. We like this diversity a lot.
When we’re traveling, it is very exciting to do things in places we don’t know, which we’re discovering at the same time – but painting in Paris is now more about waking up our memories of places we already know, leaving our imprint in streets we used to cross everyday. There is a kind of nostalgia but it is actually a very nice feeling.
Buttes-aux-Cailles, Paris’ 13th Arrondissement
You are part of the stencil artist crew, Working Class Art (WCA), started by Artiste Ouvrier. Tell us how this happened and how being joined to the crew has influenced your work.
Js: When I came back to Paris in 2005, I met Artiste-Ouvrier who invited me to his atelier. He shared with me his technique of cutting and painting stencils, which remain very original. 6lex was also up and coming and after a while Artiste-ouvrier decided to found the collective in late 2005. WCA was enlarged later when Jana joined, along with Marybel and after that in Hamburg with Anne Pfirsich, Dash3ultra, Pihro and Quasikunst and lately in Caen with Adey and Sane2. It was never supposed to be simply a crew, but more of a school, a way for Artiste Ouvrier to transmit his knowledge and for all of us to share one same technique, confront different inspirations and create artworks that don’t really look like everyone’s own work. Nowadays, we do not meet very often as we’re all living far away from each other, but we still share some strong links.
Beyond all technical skills, we learned a lot about the engagement and the philosophy of being an artist. Thinking of what we are doing and why, and also why we are choosing to work on such or such a subject. This helped us to think about what makes sense for us to paint and it still makes us deeply consider our choices.
Rue Barault, Paris
You now live in Salzburg. Tell us how the street art culture in Austria compares to Paris.
Jana: We have been living near Salzburg for almost four years now. It is a very nice and small city but we still feel like street art culture here is quite nonexistent. There are some artists, but no one – not even us, we have to admit – is doing much. The city is very clean with a strong classical music culture and only very few people seem really interested in street art.
It is different in Vienna though. The scene is smaller and younger than in Paris. Today more people are promoting street art or organizing events. Over the past few years, some great artists have painted some quite big walls in Vienna.
How do you choose on which walls to paint? Do you prefer certain contexts over others?
Js: Usually we prefer certain contexts over others, but it always depends on the painting. The wall itself is important – we prefer walls which carry history but we’re especially attentive to the environment: the architecture and the people who are living there. We also like abandoned places very much.
We think it is very important that our work fits to the environment and makes some sense. We are always trying to make links between what we paint and where we paint it, often by introducing some kind of reflection game or mise en abime but also by representing some feeling that the place inspired in us. That is why we like to create images especially for precise places; after spotting a location we like we think about it back in the studio and work on it.
Place Monge, Paris’ 5th Arrondissement
What other surfaces do you like painting on and what has been the most unusual?
Jana: We like to paint on glass or old rusty metal doors. The most unusual for us was probably painting a train in Bratislava. Painting trains was never part of our habits, but we had the opportunity to do it with authorization during a festival and we were very happy with the result.
Rue Mouffetard, Paris’ 5th Arrondissement
Rue Glaciere, Paris
Your paintings often include self portraits, architecture, far-off locations, and are sometimes framed as Polaroid photos. Take us through one of your street works, from idea to realisation.
Js: It always starts with pictures. We both are into photography and we take a lot of pictures in our everyday life and during our journeys; mostly from cities, architectural details, people we’re meeting and ourselves. We can say that photography – pictures but also the act of photographing itself – has a great impact on our work. That is why we started representing ourselves with cameras, and also used the Polaroid format for our paintings.
The way we prefer to work is probably as we said before: finding a place that inspires us and then back home we think about what we could do with it. Either we use a stencil we already have or we look for a good photo or even take some new ones. Then, we print it in the optimal size, cut the stencils and paint them. Sometimes we prepare a poster and then go and paste it.
Why is street art important?
Jana: Street art is important because in some ways it remains a free way of (artistic) expression for everyone and allows us to escape from lots of codes and rules from society and traditional artistic circuit.
What are your plans for 2012?
Jana: We are expecting quite a big change in our life this summer and before that we want to travel and paint a lot.
Check out more work by Jana & Js at their website.