Interview with Sambre

Sambre-Magda-Danysz-Les-Bains-Douches-Photo-by-Espinozr-SAMBRE installation at Les Bains Douches at Arts et Métiers, Paris. Photo: Espinozr.

Thanks to Jeanne-Marie Laurent for her assistance

The first time we met, he pointed me to the ephemeral exhibition due to take place at a secret location on the day of the 2012 French Presidential election, organised by his crew. The twelve strong artists collective had its eyes on infiltrating an old office building on a leafy rue perpendicular to the elegant Napoleonic, Parc de Buttes Chaumont in order to produce the fantastic, Le Musée Imaginaire.

Twelve hours overnight, the crew sneaked in and installed an entire exhibition, only to be caught the next morning by security guards who were left indisposed to do anything other than look on because of the crowds that had arrived already, informed that morning via Facebook of Paris’ latest art squat. The vernissage consisted of cake and juice served by WAGs of the artists in exchange for voluntary donations.

This joie de vivre for which Paris’ graffiti-street art scene is recognised for was reflected in two other extraordinary ephemeral exhibitions more recently, La Tour Paris 13 and Les Bains Douches, both of which also included works by SAMBRE.

SAMBRE-La-Tour-Paris-13-Photo-by-Jeanne-Marie-Laurent SAMBRE installation at the La Tour Paris 13. Photo: Jeanne-Marie Laurent.

Tell us a little about your artistic background and how and why you got into graffiti-street art, and what brought you to creating artwork using wood.

My artistic journey is inspired by and articulated between different lifestyles, so to speak. I was born in the Ardèche countryside where there was wood everywhere around me. My parents are farmers, so from early on, I had contact with the material.

After finishing my general studies, I wasn’t sure what to do, so I told myself I would try to get as far as possible with something that I enjoyed, and settled for carpentry. For a year, I alternated between a school in Grenoble, and working as a carpenter in the Ardèche. It was a good training and I gained a lot of real-life experience.

But I missed a creative part to my work, so I decided to upgrade and study applied arts in Lyon in 2004, which I followed with a Diploma in arts and crafts, and wood sculpture, at the Ecole Boulle in Paris.

In parallel, I started making graffiti in 2000, while still at secondary school. When I arrived in Paris in 2005, I made more and more graffiti, and became more determined.

I quickly met people related to the culture. During my second year at the Ecole Boulle, I did an internship with Jean Faucheur, which allowed me to discover the work in Graff-it magazine. It was ideal because Jean worked as much on painting as he did sculpture. He has a way to create that is very versatile, it suited me well. He had his workshop at La Forge, where I also met the VAO crew, L’Atlas, BabouTancSun7Teurk. They became like my Parisian family.

In 2007, I got my degree and I went to the Czech Republic for three years, starting with a six month Erasmus exchange, during which I developed my sculptural work, with a teacher who became a kind of ‘mentor’. After the restrictions of the Ecole Boulle, he gave me a lot of freedom to work in my own way.

SAMBRE-Le-MUR-xiii-Photo-by-Jeanne-Marie-Laurent.jpg-2SAMBRE – Le MUR XIII. Photo by Jeanne-Marie Laurent.

Interview sambre tumblr_mvsdpusm9v1s60l3po6_1280SAMBRE – Le MUR XIII. Photo by Jeanne-Marie Laurent.

You’re part of the Paris graffiti crew, 1984. What does the name mean and represent? How and when did join the crew? 

Alongside my stay in the Czech Republic, I returned to Paris and I took the opportunity to see the group working at La Forge, particularly Teurk, and met the 1984 crew. After spending a year in Brussels during which I developed my studio work, I returned to Paris in early 2012, and this is when I made it into the crew ‘officially’. From there, we worked on more and more projects together, driven by a common vision.

The name 1984 refers first to the eponymous book by George Orwell, of social control, Big Brother, of constant surveillance. It also speaks of a society where the individual can thwart such a construction and create or re-create spaces of liberty. By my origins, I am less a city-dweller than others in the crew, but upon living in Paris, it made sense. To make the day pleasant and enjoy life is a leitmotif of the 1984 .

My integration into the crew was mainly by human and artistic affinities. However, graffiti is not our only reason for living. Our work is an extension of what we have done in connection with graffiti, be it video installations, painting, sculpture, tattoo, animation. Each member has a specific style of expression. That’s what gives us strength as a group, because there are very different things. We enrich each other while feeding on what others are doing, even if sometimes we question each other’s work.

It is not the visual identity that unites us, sometimes we do things that are opposite to each other, there is no attempt to create a visual school. What we want is to reflect, share questions and attempt to provide answers. The idea is to combine skills to be adaptable and responsive to multiple scenarios, and to constitute a complete universe.

This year, I’m more focused on deepening my own identity, but the two are never completely separated, in the sense that it is like a family. In my discourse, the crew is always present, it is at the centre. Often we have our own opportunities and our own approach and then depending on the project , it is more or less part of the team . But there is always a link and communicate on our respective projects. It is human foremost, there is no established system or rules at this level.

Interview SAMBRE-Le-MUR-xiii-Photo-by-Jeanne-Marie-Laurent.jpg-4Interview SAMBRE-Le-MUR-xiii-Photo-by-Jeanne-Marie-Laurent.jpg-3SAMBRE – Le MUR XIII. Photo by Jeanne-Marie Laurent.

Interview sambre drawings SAMBRE – Le MUR XIII dessin.

SAMBRE-Le-MUR-xiii-Photo-by-Jeanne-Marie-LaurentSAMBRE – Le MUR XIII. Photo by Jeanne-Marie Laurent.

Tell us a little about your artworks. What are your main themes and influences?

I still have trouble talking about my influences because I have no fixed reference. I would have to talk about everything from the perspective of how it affects my life. I like the universe of the surrealists. For me, creation is never completely new, it is more rehashing of what surrounds us.

What also interests me is to react to the present time and place, to the present situation. Without claiming to provide a response to the socio-cultural context, this is not just my identity that is expressed, but it is through my identity that I express what is happening around me. I do not take precise influences, I’m influenced by everything, by everything and nothing.

Your work at LE MUR XIII is made entirely in wood, but you also practice with spraypaint among other media. What differences do you find between working in 2D and working in volume? 

I think the main difference between 2D and 3D work are the technical means and the location in space. A painting with no location in space, may just have visual impact; paint only changes your perception of space while volume physically changes the space. A work in 3D is also much less spontaneous, there needs to be guidelines in place at the start, although I try to leave a margin for improvisation, because I like to be surprised.

For Le MUR XIII, the structure and direction was on the idea of the face that leaves the frame. The question I wanted to ask was how this embodiment relates to man and his role in a mechanised environment, industrialised. Away from its original context it is no longer quite human, but an urban animal. This is a reflection on the notion of confinement and stress, which can also be structuring and become constituent, the ambivalence, the paradox of all that tugs us, and that we must try to reverse.

Commonalities between 2D and 3D could be in the composition, a visual impression of space, even if the understanding of solids and voids is much more important when it is a work in volume. However, in painting there really is a spontaneous emotional release in gestures, the balance of colours on the surface.

I have created installations that mixed installation and painting. For my work at the La Tour 13 exhibition, I used paint, to compose, to draw attention to a particular place. I use paint more as a means of limiting or accentuating parts in my installations.

I’ve been quite detached from using paint in the past year because there were more opportunities to make installations. But it is inevitable at some point I will create a bridge. Sambre-Swiz-French-Kiss-crew-Photo-by-Man-Art-is-LifeBy SAMBRE and SWIZ. Click to view larger image, here. Photo source: Man – Art is Life

What’s your opinion on being called a graffiti artist as opposed to a street artist, and what does this term graffuturism mean?

To me the term ‘street art’ has become a burden, it no longer means anything. Now it has pejorative connotations, it includes all types of stickers, stencils, inscriptions. I think as an expression it is simplistic, it is a term for the general public and it has lost its essence. I can not say that graffiti is street art.

Graffuturism is a term derived from the artist Poesia’s website of the same name, to define a contemporary graffiti style, a form of graffiti that goes to something else, with other materials and other movements that stand out from the letter. According to this definition, it covers a lot of different styles. Personally, I think it is too broad a term. This proves that everything that is a phenomenon is hard to describe, hard to name, especially when there are tons of new styles emerging, coming from all sides, from all backgrounds and from all over the world. But that, I think is positive.

My work was also encapsulated under the term graffuturism following exposure last year at galerie OpenSpace’s show of the same name. You could say that graffuturism is work in a graffiti style that has “matured”, which has evolved into something else, with other materials, a different direction, a different approach.

Explain what it was like to work as well as live at Les Bains Douches, the abandoned space in central Paris where you created the incredible wooden globe.

The project took place from January to April. Les Bains Douches was a place in transition, a term to which I attach great importance, because in these places, the material takes the form of temporary release, it reasserts itself. It was a period during which I had no apartment, so being able to take residence within the space suited me very well. I stayed there for three months, and it worked out well as the place that spoke to me most, where I created my work, was on the same floor as my living space. What inspired me was the form of this sphere. The big advantage of this place was that it was official, no one could come to disturb me. There were just some limitations explained to me by the architect regarding certain things that shouldn’t be removed for the building to continue to standing. There was electricity and construction workers on hand to lend me equipment. The conditions were ideal, in a place in transition, with a real stamp. I could do whatever I wanted.

For me, it is not frustrating that my work will not be seen by the public. In a way, it’s a shame because we always want as many people as possible see our work. But at the same time, it is an introspective experience. There is this kind of paradox to work for your self, mixed with a desire for others to see it too. For me it was really a time of meditation, it was ritualistic going there every day. I was often alone, though I was helped by my friend Martin – otherwise I would never have been able to finish in time.

Thanks to graffiti, what I do is about the ephemeral and invisible, it is sometimes only through photography or video that my work be viewed by the public. It creates a mystical context, an environment where we do not know very well what is real and what is not . It is poetic, vaporous.

La Tour Paris 13 is a similar concept to Les Bains Douches. How do the two projects compare?

It was quite different, firstly because I only stayed a week at La Tour 13. You had to be effective because of the time constraint. For Les Bains Douches, I spent at least two months in the space continuously working.

When I arrived, the tower was already busy with other artists working, and I felt as though I’d arrived last. It was not the same atmosphere, it was summer, while Les Bains Douches was through the winter. The place consisted of small flats. It was not the same project, except that they were both places in transition, where we had a lot of creative freedom. The nature of the projects is the same, but the circumstances were completely different.

With La Tour 13, I did not immediately have a vision of what I wanted to do. It worried me more than Les Bains Douches. And, then I saw the doors in the hallway, and knew I’d found my material. I began to cut them without knowing what I was going to do, I just needed wanted to cut. I was guided by spontaneous intuitions and gradually it took shape. It was more about the experience, possibly my particular response to that space, with the unique conditions of the moment.

I arrived at the tower through Sowat, who put me in touch with gallerist, Medhi. I did not really have a choice of the room. There were many artists spending their time painting and Medhi wanted there to be more works using space, a little more interactive.

What are your plans for the coming year? Do you have any more projects ahead such as Les Bains Douches and La Tour 13?

There are no plans for these types of projects. I’ll work in more unusual places. I’ll probably make a presentation at Haute Ecole de Commerce on a piece of the barracks they were reluctant to destroy.

And, another project for a college in June 2014 in Orléans, through the Magda Danysz Gallery, an 800m² deconsecrated church dedicated to ephemeral art exhibitions. What is interesting is that it is not a mere exhibition in a gallery, I’ll have to spend time to install and create on the spot. It will be a total experience again. I’ve done the scouting phase and now I need to formally determine what I’ll do. Given the scale of the project, it’ll involve partnerships, there’ll be a budget, and people handling the administrative side, which will make my work easier. Especially because I may set the bar a little high.

You were involved in Lek & Sowat’s Mausolee project which was unveiled last year, as well as creating in the abandoned factory in Siberia. What draws you to create in these sorts of spaces?

It’s always interesting to see why these projects are emerging, interests, expectations. To me, these are also good opportunities to realise my creative vision. At the moment, I do not expose in galleries because I have nothing to explain. I work more in places where there is a context for what I mean by creation. I do not feel like selling my soul. For now, I will focus on the terms, places and people with which I agree.

For now, there is no urgency, because for me the creation is not just a source of income, an object for sale, although I’m starting to live from what I do. I prefer not to rush.

interview sambre le mur 13 paris graffiti wall tumblr_mvsdpusm9v1s60l3po10_1280


Visit SAMBRE’s site, here.