There are already some articles about French urban artists Rero and his “Image Negation” artworks, but recently, he agreed to answer some of my questions about himself, the intention behind his abandoned artworks and about the popularity of clear and simple typography artworks around the world.
To cut a long story short, here is my first interview with one of my current favorite urban artists from Europe…
uac: Although you are relatively unknown for the majority of the people, your urban artworks have become very popular recently. How would you describe yourself? Where are you from? And how would you characterise your work?
Rero: What I really love regarding being an artist, is the fact that you can have a real gap between the image of the artist and his artwork. I am a young artist even if I have few white hairs. I am 26 years old, and my artwork is younger than me. I think my personal image and my artwork are very different when I see the reaction of people I meet after they met my artwork.
I am quite lucky to live and work in Paris. First, I would like to apologize for my pathetic English, even if I made the choice to use this langage in my artworks to communicate beyond borders! I discovered painting in the late 90s with the 100 Rankune Team (SRE). Several pieces, let’s say “typical graffiti”, under the name of Aurer, and few stories with the police who make me change techniques and adapt myself.
Restrictions usually motivate me to change the shape of my expression and techniques. I really like playing with letters and texts, particularly those regarding laws, and adapting my work in function. I think that in society, these texts are supposed to organize relations between people. It’s quite natural that so many graffiti artists turn to painting in internal environments to break free from from restrictions of the social environment and in the same way to improve their graphic researches. Then, I decided to work in indoor spaces and signed my artwork by the name of Rero – nothing very original at this moment!
I tested several materials, media and support devices until I spawned an image overdose. It became impossible for me to create any new images and in the same time I began to miss the outdoors environment. Naturally I began my new project about Image Negation. I started to reverse the rules of classical Illustration and graffiti, and as a result it’s my letter-forms that become the image.
uac: What might be the reason why people around the world like your typography artworks? And do they have a deeper sense?
Rero: To be more precise, it would be better to ask my interlocutors directly, those who read and interpret my texts, and not the one who edits them. But, as you said, if people begin to be interested in them, it’s because they find a sense in them or a direction for it. My work revolves around abstract notions, difficult to catch in our period, as the concept of physical and intellectual property, the notion of image and the acronym WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get).
These concepts are difficult to understand for me, but by presenting them in a simple and minimalist way, it allows to give the first key of understanding to me. It also allows to make own’s one interpretations by the others. I use the universal codes from graffiti culture (as toy’s notion, permission, etc.) and more widely those who govern our life in society.
In a way, my posters function as a poetic and visual aggression which seems to me more violent…
By using this technique, I think it’s easy for everybody to have his or her own interpretation and to re-feel my artwork. I try, when possible, to put myself in the place of the spectator when I perform outdoors. When you are the issuer of a message in the outdoors environment, it seems logical to me to imagine the consequences which this message can have on the receivers and to imagine how this one can be interpreted. If it’s not the case, I think I would stay inside and paint just for myself and my pleasure like an hobby. Context is essential to truly grasp the essence of my work.
uac: A lot of your artworks can only be found in abandoned houses or in old industrial areas. Is this part of your concept or is it due to the criminalization of street art and graffti? Have you ever been in trouble with the police? And in which cities can I see your artworks?
Rero: The artworks I produce outside, the one I like to call Image Negation are articulated on two complementary vectors. First of all, the street, in the public space, I paste up posters on walls. I use Black and White, on one hand for the good value of the print but especially because in the city there is a real saturation of colors, which allows my posters to be more visible and have a stronger impact. This way, the passer-bys are forced to read my messages.
In a way, my posters function as a poetic and visual aggression which seems to me more violent, in 2010, than an advertising on a Billboard or a nice tag. The latter became institutionalized and its publicity is now trivialized. And especially now, we can note that the cleaning service’s remove more quickly a tag, rather than a simple poster. Because of this, the sessions are quieter and your message has a longer visibility over the course of time.
You can find these posters in Paris, London or Berlin at the moment. Putting the posters up in streets allows to me to confront my work to people who absolutely asked for nothing and who see them accidentally; people who did not take the initiative to spend one day in a museum or an evening at an opening in a gallery. The posters I put up are addressed especially to everybody, in the context of daily life, in transit, by bike, by scooter or by foot. What I receive is a reaction, even more, a smile.
The second part of my work, which is complementary to my posters on streets, is exclusively realized in abandoned places, as you said. It is very important for me that these places evolve in parallel to the city. These existing places are left to develop by themselves. This part of my work comes along with a more aesthetic approach. This artwork is more intended for urban explorers who have the initiative to visit certain places – contrary to the passers-by on streets who are forced to read my posters on the way to their work places. I always use the same Verdana typography, but in this case, the text is integrated into the architecture of the place.
There is no white background – the typography is stenciled straight on the wall. It’s just because I have a real respect for this kind of places, even bigger than for the constructions that are more institutionalized like the Eiffel Tower for example. This vector of my work represents a transition between the internal and outside environment. In fact, the spectator receives the message by his implication to visit the place or simply by looking at the photography of the intervention. It is also due to the fact that because nowadays it has become difficult to see and feel an urban artwork directly on the street, you can usually only see the pictures of the intervention.
…nowadays it has become difficult to see and feel an urban artwork directly on the street, you can usually only see the pictures of the intervention.
To finish answering this question, there is also an internal approach in my work, which seems to me also very important but which is necessary to know how to have a real approach. Inside, each piece that I present, was thought of only for the internal environment. These kind of pieces would have no sense outdoors and conversely a piece thought for the outside has not the same impact once captured inside.
I do not try to imprison or to retranscribe the emotion which I experiment with outside. My concepts remain the same, but here, It belongs to the visitor to approach the work to discover the message, this one does not come to him as opposed to in the street. The text is not quite obvious to the Spectator.
Inside, there is no visual aggression, it is even the opposite which I try to express. For some pieces, I use the technique of embossing on white fine art paper, heightened by a simple white thread to express the negation You can find this on the streets. For my unique pieces, I crush banking accounts and I make paper pulp as new support for my texts and negations. For the rest of my inside’s artwork, be curious and book a plane to Paris to visit my studio!
uac: There are some other street artists on the world, like Bronco from Berlin, who work also with simple typo and striking slogans. Is there any connection between you and these other artists and what do you think is the intention for you and the other artists to create art in the way you do?
Rero: Yes! I really like the work of Bronco! We met each other in Berlin last January for a 4 hands project that we’re planning in Paris! It’s him who made me discover the work of Jenny Holzer, a very important reference for our work. Also, I really like the urban interventions from Tania Mouraud, Filippo Minelli and Peter Fuss.
We use the same Tools and develop some similar skills, but we don’t express the same messages. We are all the children of the situationists. For example, I have the feeling that Bronco’s artwork is more personal than my work. His slogans are more in relation to his life than my texts are to my way of life. My sentences or my words are more general. In my approach, the wall is not a way to express myself but more to express some concepts in general. At the opposite of Jerm IX’ artwork, the wall is not my personal diary.
We all use simple typography to express different things ; but to have your idea you should read the new book from Gestalten Urban Interventions in wich there is a very specific selection of great projects. Otherwise, I admire the artists coming from a theater background such as the company Komplex Kapharnaum which is well known in France. They are trying to make the public space vibrate in a deeper way than the majority of urban artists. The theater, is a direction or a dynamics which I would like to impulse into my work.
uac: I read on your portfolio that you did a lot of other projects in addition to your “Image Negation”. For example, you built spray can fossils or created screen-printing collages. What has influenced you and what is your artistic background?
Rero: As I said before, I used to love to experiment with several techniques, and usually I consider that it’s important to find support and/or media in relation of the concept I try to develop. I tested several materials, media and techniques until I spawned an image overdose but still the energy and necessity to develop few concepts. I was studying graphic design at the London College of Communication and Social Economy at the University in France. The result is my Image Negation, a personal approach between graphic and social economy.
uac: What are your plans for the future? What am I able to look forward to? Are their any planned exhibitions, other street art projects or will you visit some other cities to paste-up your minimalistic typography?
Rero: Yes! I plan to come in Berlin soon to visit my girlfriend first, Beelitz after and few others abandoned places…but I can’t give you the name here, sorry…I plan to edit, at the end of this year a personal book to present my global approach about Image Negation. Also, I will try to be more implied in theatre and happenings to develop new feelings. We plan to organise a 4 hands exhibition with Bronco in Paris…but for the moment nothing really sure…
uac: Thanks for the nice answers! I hope your plans will go smoothly and you’ll have a nice time in Berlin.
For more info about Rero, visit reroart.com.