On the occasion of CRYPTOGRAMS, the exhibition of the street artist L’Atlas at the Wunderkammern Gallery in Milan, we had the opportunity to ask him some questions about his art.
We asked him how his path has evolved, what are his sources of inspiration and how his approach changes when the surface on which he works changes.
You were born as a street artist in the streets of Paris, why did you feel the need to change and dedicate yourself to calligraphy? What interests you about letters?
The energy of calligraphy and the energy of graffiti are very different, one is meditative and introspective while the other is instinctual and explosive. I felt the need of the both of them to find an inner balance.
My interest for letters is linked to a passion for the meaning and etymology of the words. An arabic proverb says “The letter reaches the sense”, and this perfectly reflects what I aim to express in my work.
I also love to express the link existing between the trace and the sign, between the conscience of our presence and its pictorial expression. The Tuaregs traced signs in the sand to communicate among caravans – it’s the birth of the letter, the passage from trace to sign. This evokes the Nomadism of the sense. Nommer and Nomade have the same etymology. Therefore there is, in the act of naming things, a notion of displacement of sense over time and civilizations.
My two grandfathers were editors and philosophers (Gérard Granel and Pierre Dedet), and so for me the semantic force of the words is very important, and their effect on thought, which I try to transpose in my pictorial universe: form reached by meaning, and vice versa.
To create your own personal style, you studied Chinese and Arabic calligraphy. What did you keep of the two and what did you eliminate?
From Chinese calligraphy I was permeated by the visual impact of ideograms, by the manner in which characters could be deformed into a geometric form – round, squared or rectangular.
From Arabic calligraphy I took the codes of geometric Kufi to reinject them into latin alphabet.
And from the two I felt the importance of sign, the power of fascination that the cryptogram can hold.
Also I deform the phonemes into ideograms, hoping to create a universal writing between the letter and the ideogram, between the meaning and the form, between meditation and action.
What is your approach when you work on the street and how does it change when you work on a canvas?
A wall, such as a canvas, is a geometric space. I thus see and understand them in the same way.
It is only the scale of the artwork and the distance from which the observer looks at it that influence it.
How do you create your own site specific grounds? In which square you haven’t been before you’d like to work?
The Atlas is the geographic map, but also the titan from Greek mythology.
I have an archeological approach of my work to the ground, it’s geography, similar to that of Nazca but with my own graphic universe.
It’s an art of the ground to be seen by the sky.
We can find in that the notion of the labyrinth even if it’s not this. The English language makes the difference between LABYRINTH and MAZE, whose form is not labyrinthine.
Writing L’Atlas on the floor of the Atlas (earth) is a sort of visual tautology, a written duplication of the man’s conscience of being here and of indicating it with a monumental cryptogram, in the image of his spirit. A plastic existentialism of some kind… St Marco square in Venice frequently comes to my mind!
This is your second exhibition in collaboration with the Wunderkammern gallery. After Rome, in fact, you will be in Milan with Cryptograms from 23 November to 21 December. What do you think about the urban art – galleries combination?
Yes we have done an exhibition in 2014 with Wunderkammern in Rome which was called Transversal, with pieces of different series, which had a good feedback from the public. I also painted a permanent wall in the gallery neighborhood to make a resonance of the show in the outside space.
I think all history movements need the support of galleries and that of institutions to enter in art history, and this is exactly what we are doing in this moment!