Charles Levalet has been creating art since he was a child. His art teacher father gave him an early insight into the world of creation. Since then he has been conjuring up some of the most fun and iconic works to come from Paris - one of street art's epicentres.
From a child it seemed that Levalet was destined to become an artist or even an art teacher. He has since become both. Working in the arts interested him from a young age, and then following in his father's footsteps at the age of 24, he became an art teacher. That was until three years ago - when he quit, pursuing the full-time life of an artist.
Whether you know his name or not, you've likely seen some of his work around Paris. It's fun in the way it plays with the city's architecture - the lines, curves, window ledges and hedgerows. Yet his deeply expressionistic style, which utilises indian ink and pasted up posters, seems somewhat melancholic. Perhaps it's the inks natural capacity to produce such dark and spidery lines that make them emotionally engaging, or maybe he's just very good at finding a mood?
Leval's education leant heavily towards the theoretical side of art, rather than the practical. His style, something that he has become truly synonymous with, was something he developed during his teacher training. Throughout this time he found himself often busy drawing. He noticed that working with pencil just wasn't fast enough - he needed something that would grant him the freedom to riff off his ideas as fast as they came to him. Breaking the flow was the worst thing that could happen. That's when the ink came about. The natural 'errors' that occur, the imperfections and accidents are something that he is willing to embrace. It is crucial in making his characters retain a depth of humanity.
So who are the characters that we see recurring in his work? Essentially, they are part of a scene. Levalet is almost like a director, working in old black-and-white, creating spontaneous theatrical productions that thrive in the cityscape. Although there is not a story as such behind them, there is certainly a narrative ark that presides over the piece as a whole. The way they are constructed, integrating the city as part of its mise-en-scène, gives him all the scope he wants, as long as his imagination is able to interpret the city.
Interpretation is key in what he is doing. There's a duality this. Firstly, as mentioned, it's about how Levalet can use the city in unique and interesting ways. Besides this, he's also presenting a snapshot to the city - a scene full of motion for us to engage with, in the same way as the characters engage with their own reality. That's the second part - how will we engage with this? What part of the scene will capture our imagination?
It is possible that there is even a third aspect of interpretation for Leval - how he explores the role and relationships within street art. Most pertinently, he ruminates on how the two work together when he tells me that, "I don't want to put art into the streets, I want the street become a part of some artistic intervention." With this we can see that he places no more value over his art or the architecture, or their vibrant interplay. It's a synergistic coexistence where each lends to the other.
Leval's intricate knowledge of the workings of art shines through. His main concern isn't leaving a profound message for people to make sense of, instead he chooses where he'd like the focus of the work to be. For him, he believes that forcing art to become a part of a communication can lessen its impact. Art can be just art. He is somewhat of a purist in this respect, believing in the true power of art, for both the creator and the ones that interact with it.
It's also correct to say that people must feel something. His reputation has been steadily growing in and out of his home country. The scenes he creates have a slapstick quality, similar to the archaic films featuring mimes. There's a tragi-comedy balance on display. Maybe that's what people see - the absurdity of life? If there is a message left behind, Levalet believes that it might be this.
Paris is the city that he began to explore art. It's also a city that he feels offers him a great deal of freedom. In places that are so large, everything begins to feel like public property - owned by the people that spend the most around it. That means the world isn't so much his canvas as it is his stage. He can, after all, only work with what he has. This keeps his work challenging, allowing him to constantly see the world from new perspectives. His carefree approach also rubs off on the audience. Knowing what an imagination like Levalet's is capable of also fires up the engines of our own. That same old hanging basket next to our house needn't be just that any more. It can be a wig, a mask, a torch or a trophy. It can be anything we want it to - the world's our stage.
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