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Street Artist Fred le Chevalier Animates the Street of Paris with Endless Creativity
“Vous dormez c’est la nuit, nous parlons poésie”
“L’on m’échappe au bas que par le haut”
“Nous caressions l’instant comme un trésor improbable”
– Fred le Chevalier
Walk the streets of the Marais and you will most likely but bump into Fred le Chevalier, his wall illustrations that is. You may not know his name but his drawings are instantly recognizable to any Parisian or seasoned right bank Francophile. His black and white drawings marked by pops of red and green depict flat and graphic world filled with quirky characters outlined and block shadowed in black. Playing out stories of love, sadness, innocence and black humor, Fred’s meticulously drawn characters recall the feline eyes of a Picasso woman rendered proportional and convey a cute morbidity and old fashioned feel that Surrealistically begs the viewer to concoct their own story.
Fred le Chevalier’s objective is simple, to express himself and share his work with the outside world, hoping that his drawings will slow down the hurried steps of passers by and share with them a moment of amusement, warmth, or inspire a flash of the imagination. But the impact of his illustrations were far greater reaching than he could have imagined. Fred le Chevalier has brought creativity and art to his city, and has created a familiar presence and a beloved group of characters that make the steely streets of Paris a little less grey.
“I think that it’s one of its most beautiful aspects of street art: you put up something and you don’t know whether it will be there for five minutes or one year. It’s part of the game to know that they might disappear and it’s a part of the beauty to know that they will disappear, it is a paradox.”– Fred le Chevalier
CM: Who are you?
I am a forty year old man living in Paris. I started drawing seven years ago, and since four years, I have put my characters on street walls, mainly in Paris but also when I travel.
CM: How did you start your career?
I drew a lot when I was young, then I stopped for the most part until the age of 33, when I felt I needed to improve my life and go back to things I loved. I decided to take up drawing again and after a few years it started to play a big role in my life. I wanted to share them with people and had a positive reaction, so I drew more and more and I decided to put them up on walls because it was a way to share them with everybody without having to ask anyone. It was just a free way to express myself. And that is really what I’m looking for; a way to express feelings, to tell stories or let people make up their own stories around my characters.
CM: What was your previous occupation?
Nothing artistic. I just had a zine about punk art war music years ago. It was 15, maybe 20 years ago now, but I had no other activities that were connected to art.
CM: How did your style evolve?
I use the same techniques I did at the age of eleven. I bought large pens in different colors and went to a local park and sat against a tree and tried to create. What I drew was very naive and perhaps a bit ugly. I didn’t want to learn, I just wanted to find a way to express myself. I was inspired by a very naive style of drawing, and this is the path I chose to follow. At the time I was just trying to find my own style, and I ended up gravitating towards black and white because I like the old feeling the black and what creates and because it was more elegant and easy to do. I don’t really use color anymore. At the beginning I mainly drew a character who was a kind of self-portrait and for three years I always did the same character, and then gradually, I added some monsters, women, flowers, some love stories, some friends and it has evolved in this way over time.
CM: Tell us more about the character in your illustrations.
Mainly, it’s supposed to be a little man but for some people it is a woman and for others it is a man, but it doesn’t matter for me. When I first started to put my characters on street walls, a blogger wrote that I was clearly a young lesbian. Sometimes when I try to draw a girl some people think it is a boy, but it doesn’t make a difference to me. It is not a child or a man, it is a mix of everything, of male and female.
The character was my alter-ego, but it has evolved in that I can tell other stories in addition to my own, but at the beginning it was just my feelings, my love stories, my despair, my search, my quest.
CM: Is it dangerous to be a graffiti artist in Paris?
It is not really dangerous. At the beginning I thought it was, so I went out in the night, and I thought I had to hide and was being very discrete at first. And then I met some police officers and they were fine with it. One of them knew my drawings and loved them, and he even complimented me on what I was doing and went away saying “have a good evening!” After that I choose to go during the day because during the day it’s just like taking a walk, and it is peaceful and you have people that come up to you and say they like what you are doing and it’s like receiving a gift. If you use paint or spray paint, like many graffiti artists do, then it becomes a problem. I have had a few bad experiences but those are very rare.
CM: What do you want to communicate with your work?
At the beginning I wasn’t expecting anything, I was just doing my pastime in front of the house of somebody that I used to love, and then it started to become a passion. I wasn’t expecting anything other than expressing myself and then people started to make their own stories around my characters and am more interested by people inventing their stories than giving an answer to a question. When people write me and say something like “I saw my grandfather in your work” or “I have seen my mother because your character is wearing a dress my mother had when I was a kid,” stories like these are touching and people who write to me about my drawings are all very different–there are some young people, some very old people, some gays, some straight people, and I enjoy this diversity quite a lot.
CM: Tell us about the quotes you include in your work.
They are just sentences I create, but it is a game. I put them in quotations with false names of authors as if they were written by another, but it always comes from me. I like to see that as a kind of poetry. Paris is a very aggressive town, it is very grey, people are unhappy, they run more than they walk, so I try to put up sweet things. So if people start to walk instead of running when they pass by my drawings, that’s wonderful.
CM: Can your style be defined as surreal or naive?
Both terms are true, a naivety but I don’t think my drawings are always sweet or always talking about love. They also show death and pain, and they have a link to childhood and childhood isn’t always peaceful. So yes, it’s naive but with the voice of an adult rather than someone who always says the sky is so blue and we’re all so happy. I think that to go on in life, we have to find support in sweet and positive things.
CM: How do you deal with the ethereal side of street art?
I think that it’s one of its most beautiful aspects; you put up something and you don’t know whether it will be there for five minutes or one year. Some have stayed two years, and I’m very happy that it stays that long, but it’s part of the game to know that they might disappear and it’s a part of the beauty to know that they will disappear, it is a paradox. We like the ethereal aspect but we would all like them to stay as long as possible.
CM: Tell us about your products?
I started to make products to make my characters fly. At first I was giving my drawings to people, some I didn’t know. Somebody would write to me saying that they liked the drawing, so I sent it to them, and soon my drawings were getting shipped to Spain and the USA, but I was only able to make one at a time, so I started to print posters, stickers and T-shirts. It was another opportunity to share them, and people started taking pictures of my work, and it was funny to see them everywhere. I am interested in sharing my drawings and making them travel and telling stories, but my main goal is to make books. I have already published three books but only with drawings and no stories yet, so in the future I would like to add little stories, more for adults than children. Each time I create something, I am happy just to see them go off with people.
“I don’t think you necessarily have to use a very extravagant technique, just try to do, and when you do a lot, you will improve. Don’t be obsessed by technique and just try to find what you like to do.” –Fred le Chevalier
CM: What would be your dream collaboration?
I am actually collaborating on an animated movie. I am interested in doing books but doing an animation movie with my characters would also be very beautiful. If everything goes as planned, we will be doing that within one year. We have already written a storyline with an author who writes for theatre and novels and an American man who will be taking care of the animation.
CM: Where does your inspiration come from?
I find inspiration from my own life and feelings. When I sit down, I start with a feeling. Sometimes I want to do something sad, sometimes I want to draw about love. I just start to draw while listening to some music, and I usually start with a character but sometimes that characters tells me to do something different. I start with a character who is supposed to be sad but I end up with a lot of white space so I fill it in with a woman and they start to dance. It turns into something different and my mood changes too. Most of the time I do not know what I will draw. I just did my first exhibition in Paris last year and it was a big surprise. I was a bit afraid of the idea of showing my drawings and there were maybe 300 or 400 people who showed up, which is a lot, so I had tears in my eyes for days. It was wonderful and horrible at the same time, it was like a surprise birthday party with 400 people. In February, I will have an exhibition in Italy.
CM: Tell us about your drawing tools?
It is very simple and very basic. I just use very thin pens like .5 or 1, and thats all I need and then I scan the draws and print them on large scale and add colors and cut them out. And putting them up on the wall is very basic as well, just like you would with wall paper.
CM: Tell us about your collages work?
It’s very basic process as well, you just need ordinary glue, like wall paper glue, ordinary tools that you can buy in any store. Most of the time I’m disgusting as my clothes are always covered in glue. It’s a problem. It’s funny because some people will smile because they think you are a work man and others are disgusted by you because they think you are a work man, they look at your hands and say ugh!
CM: Any tips for aspiring illustrators?
I would say just try and find your own style try to express your stories, and not necessarily copy from others. I don’t think you necessarily have to use a very extravagant technique, just try to do, and when you do a lot, you will improve. I am not able to do very elaborate things, but I think it works for me–people can relate to what I do. Don’t be obsessed by technique and try to find what you like to do.
CM: How can Creative Mapping help you?
I would like to collaborate more with others. It brings new ideas. When I did a few collaborations with an illustrator friend, it brought a new kind of energy. I have collaborated on projects that have turned out great in the end, and which I could not have done alone. For example, Japanese musicians used my drawings for an album sleeve, and they did something totally different than what I was expecting and it was great. They had only chosen a part of my drawings and with it created a beautiful work that I could not have done alone, so I should keep my eyes more open to collaboration.
Photography copyright: Fred le Chevalier, Jo varin, Chaunhi N’Guyen, Hervé Mazzocu, Angela di Paolo.