French artist Charles Leval aka Levalet stages his characters drawing with Indian ink in public spaces playing with the visual and the semantic dialogue with the environment. Producing site-specific artworks his characters interact directly with the architecture creating optical illusions and mise en abîme. His poetic and ephemeral works play on visual ambiguity surprising the passerby who become both actors and spectators of street scenes they are stumbling upon.
In this interview we recount the artist’s journey, learn more about his work and talk about his upcoming projects.
Julie: What was your first introduction to art and when did you decide that it was what you wanted to do?
Levalet: I started as a graffiti writer when I was a teenager, a practice that I rapidly stopped doing when I started studying fine arts at age of 17. Following my degree, I started arts studies at university, which quickly confirmed me in the idea that this is what I wanted to do with my life.
J: Could you tell me a bit more about your artistic background and when your journey as an artist began? Do you have any other artistic skills on top of collage and painting?
L: Indeed, I did not immediately devoted myself to drawing since I began my artistic journey through music and dance as a child and still as a teenager. Later on in high school I explored all kind of techniques, from painting to photography, to animation and video installation while conducting studies and theatrical practice. It was only when I arrived in Paris back in 2011 that my experience with video installations gradually shifted to drawings and this is when I really started my street work.
J: How would you describe your work today and how it has evolved since you put up your first street work?
L: For a few years now my work is diversifying more than it really changed, and I try to experiment to the full different ways to integrate my artwork with the urban space. I try more and more to ensure that the narrative flowing from my staging echoes with the place I took over. My work also allows me to diversify my practice and my art pieces are more and more shifting from a drawing to a sculptural form.
J: You have your very own style working with India ink on paste up, could you tell me more about this choice of medium and explain your technique?
L: Working with ink allows me to have both a black and white drawing and contrast, relatively quick and precise to produce while remaining graphic. The choice of collage is mostly due to the technical constraints imposed by working on the streets. I have to put up my work very quickly only because I always worked illegally, which means that I do not have much time to paint and stay on site all day.
J: You always work on different themes and mise-en-scène that fit perfectly well with the location, I am thinking about ‘La Nausée’ for example. Where do you find your inspirations from and can you talk me through your process?
L: My ideas of staging my work often always come from the place that I occupy. I strive to reveal in places the different elements that are potentially narrative and then I create my stories from the analysis that I have made. The rest of my inspiration comes references these narrative elements infuse in me.
J: You are very prolific artist and it is always a joy to discover your latest work in many districts of Paris. How do you decide where you will put up your next piece, is there some scouting done?
L: For several years I have been collecting a number of pictures of places I passed by in Paris and that I found interesting but most of these places remain untapped. I pick the places where I’m going to put up my work on an impulse and I always prepare my interventions at the very last moment.
J: Some of your productions include objects, I am thinking about ‘Service Apres Ventes’ or ‘Les Chiffoniers’ pieces in particular. How did you come up with this idea?
L: The use of objects is something that has been recurrent in my practice, even before I start doing wheat pasting on the streets. Just as when I am using the real space to give more reality to my characters. Objects are adding to the confusion about the message of the image that I produce, I almost always use objects in the creation of the artworks that I present in galleries.
J: You have showcased your work in many galleries and produced indoor installations for festivals. This approach is different from the spontaneity of creating a piece of street art. I was wondering how you prepare for this.
L: Indeed the approach is quite different because it is often about performing in places that do not really have a specificity, but as I said I can use objects that give context or simply refocus the interest of the work onto the internal narration of my drawings.
J: Do you have a preference in working on the streets?
L: I often enjoy more street works because I find them more spontaneous and often more interesting. That said, I also take great pleasure in working on my works for galleries because the technical challenge is more important. It allows me to experiment other mediums, other combinations.
J: When you find the perfect spot would you mostly work at night or in broad daylight? Could you share any challenging situations you may have encountered?
L: I always work in daylight because it is more discreet. During the day people are under the impression that I am performing a commissioned work by the building owner. When working at night people automatically assume you are a vandal. I never had any problems with the owners nor the police, it actually happened that the police took pictures in front of my work while I was working.
J: You art is intended to be seen by everyone, what do you want the audience reaction to be when they stumble upon your work?
L: I aim at surprising people of the city and make them see places differently, that they probably never noticed before. With the photo-realism aspect of my work I am also looking at generating an illusion effect, first to attract attention and then to provoke a thought, a reflection.
J: Street Art is now mainstream, how do you think the street art scene has evolved since you first started?
L: I am not sure if the scene has evolved because I’m still a young artist but I see it diversifying every day and shaping in a way that is increasingly close to what we can see in the contemporary art world. The new generation of artists really break with the image that we have about street art and constantly invent new forms.
J: Any projects you are currently working on these days and that you can share with us?
L: Right now I am busy preparing my works that I will present for my solo show at the Montana Gallery in December. In terms of my street work, I still have several ideas in mind but I do not know which ones I will materialise next.
All photos courtesy of ©Levalet