On an otherwise uneventful weekday, I walked into Fabien Castanier Gallery in Studio City and encountered a giant burger made of bubble graffiti letters. As I walked around the gallery taking in all the other giant foods – including a colorful, star-studded hot dog–the sound of skateboard wheels caught my attention. In came TILT, the artists behind these works. Hailing from France, he traveled to Los Angeles for his solo show “All You Can Eat.” Two of the bigger pieces were even destroyed when on their way over, forcing the artist to create new ones, while another lingers in U.S. Customs. Tilt took some time from his busy painting and installing to sit down and talk with me about the show and his artistic roots.
Tell me about your background. What’s the story about how you started?
The long story? I started graffiti in France in ’88 because I am not from Paris but from south of France, a city called Tolouse. That was the beginning of the graffiti stuff in France and at that time I was doing skateboarding… On the skateboards videos from Venice beach or even new York we started to see some tags on skateboard ramps so I did exactly the same. I was sixteen. I did some tags on my skateboard, skateboard ramp then I got introduced to some old-school write from my city and I started to do that and that was, I think, the best thing that happened to me.
I was really into it. I was like ‘ok, this is going to be my obsession. So I drew a lot. I did tag. I did trains. I did lots of illegal painting but also kid of legal painting. I think I am–what can I call it?–the typical graffiti artist form my generation. That means not street art stuff with paste-up stuff.I never thought about doing canvases and living from that but just doing graffiti, graffiti, graffiti. Traveling to do trains everywhere I could think of. Traveling to New York to paint subway because that was the big thing–New York subway cars. History. I tried to meet all the people who started graffiti like SEEN and those guys from NY–the pioneers. So that was, and is still, my life. Now things are different because of street art stuff, art museums, galleries. It’s different. For me, it’s just one part. But the soul and my obsession and what I love it’s in that but it’s just a part. That’s why if you see the catalog–usually when I do a catalog I put lots of outside graffiti and illegal ones and what I did on the street because that’s what I like. I’m not just a studio artist showing his pieces. I don’t really like that.
How did you move from doing illegal pieces to gallery shows?
To be honest, I don’t even know. Because I was just doing my walls and doing my trains and my night time graffiti and–the thing is with classic graffiti usually you paint with two or three people or sometimes even fifteen people. So when you paint you have to think about what the guy next to you is gonna do. If he’s got a piece that is gonna be pinky, yellow, and green you cannot do something blue and red. So you try to match, organize the wall thinking how the wall will look not okay, I want my piece to be the best. So it’s good because you are a part of something, you’re with friends, it’s cool but you cannot do your personal thing one hundred percent. You always have to be careful of what’s happening on your left, on your right. So then comes naturally, I think, the idea of doing canvas or personal painting.
So then from that I did some of them and some people liked them and then I did shows around in New Zealand, Australia, France, Japan. I started to move and back in the days it was more like graffiti writers who invited other graffiti writers to come. It was okay, ‘You take your ticket, you come to my place, we paint.’ Then when a gallery asks you, ‘Okay, you wanna come? I’ll pay for your ticket and we’re gonna show your work,’ I come. And then I’m gonna see the other guys and we’re gonna do the trains. So that was really natural. It was like, ‘Okay let’s follow the wind.’
You talked about how the street art world has changed. What do you think about it? Especially the MOCA show (Art in the Streets)?
The MOCA show was good. I came to see it. Of course some people were missing and some things were, for me, not supposed to be there. But this is LA so they had to put more LA artists which is normal to me. But it’s so hard to do a giant group show like that. So I think except for the Blu problem, I think it was a great show. Because you had old school. It wasn’t for me – and I think that’s what I like – it wasn’t only a street art show. I was so scared it would happen only with ROA, JR, this new generation of people who do different things. So I was scared and I thought ‘Okay, if I see that I’m going to be fucking scared.’ But no there was big New York stuff, old school LA with RISK, with all those guys. The markers, the sketchbooks, all this history and the old school writers like Lee (Quiñones)… so for me that was ok. I was happy to be there. I was like ‘okay cool, I wish I was there’ but that’s a good mix.
So how is it in France? How’s the movement right now?
Exactly the same.
Is it also becoming a big thing?
Yeah, it’s super big and the galleries and museums and auctions and all the things. And then you have the young generation who try to do different things with less rules, more freedom. And less history and less cultural… for me, I think because of street art things became easier, you know? Especially if you’ve got your computer, you do some Illustrator or Photoshop stuff, you print a huge-scale paste-up and you say, ‘I’m a street artist!’ You do Facebook, Twitter, Instragram. Okay. For me, it’s a bit easy. There’s a lack of history, there’s a lack of obsession, there’s a lack of patience but that’s the new way to do it. But, yeah, in France it’s pretty big, I think. I think France is one of the biggest places now.
Tell me about your show. What was your approach starting out?
First when Fabien told me, ‘Yeah, I wanna do a solo show,’ I said ‘Okay, cool.’ I wasn’t thinking about having a theme. I said ‘Okay, I’m gonna do my canvases, I’m gonna show new works.’ And then I started to do my first paintings and I did a hamburger and then I did a hot dog, and then I wanted to play with McDonald’s. Did you see the skull head with the McDonald’s logo? It’s a triptych. You have this one [pointing to work nearby]– do you know L’Origine du Monde? It’s a famous canvas by Gustave Courbet. It’s a pussy. It’s a hairy pussy. So that’s the canvas that people were like, ‘What is that? A close up of a pussy?’ It was, ‘No, that’s not art!’ No, it’s one of the biggest paintings in the world.
So I wanted to do a version of this painting but it goes with a sculpture which is Ronald McDonald’s face with some of this white thing dripping here. And then comes the skull head with the McDonald’s logo. So then I realized, ‘You’re only painting stuff close to food.’ So I said, ‘Okay, let’s do something with food,’ so then I was thinking of having the cliché of American food–junk, bad food. Not talking about the critique, ‘YYeah, American food is bad, people are fat,’ just because its iconic to me for real. It’s not ‘Look how you’re bad.’ It’s more like, ‘Fuck, look how you’re good in a commercial,’ bad way. You know, everyone loves fries, and Coke and ice cream, and everybody knows it’s bad. American people they did it so nice—even the packaging. I’m here, I’m eating Fatburger every day. It’s not about the critique of the food. But then I was thinking, ‘Ok, if the show is going to be about food, everything needs to be related to food.” And even those kind of abstract paintings, they’re a repetition of one of my letters that I always do that is called ‘throw-up,’ so that’s related to food.
Like a graffiti throw-up?
Yeah. It goes with the video. You will see if you come to the show there is a video. I am doing a black throw-up on white so much that the wall becomes white and then I am doing a white throw-up so that it comes back to white and again and again… so then I did it my style because my style is talking figurative images with lettersbecause I really want to keep the letters in the center of my work because I don’t want to get rid of them. I think I need to, to be one of the last or rare artists wanting to keep letters. And sometimes I have bad critique about that like, ‘Eh, your work is too close to letters. It looks too much graffiti.’ And I say ‘Okay, that’s exactly what I want. That’s the point.’ If you think I use too much letters, that means you don’t like graffiti but you only like ‘street art.’ I won’t do Marilyn Monroe with spray paint saying, ‘Fuck Hollywood,’ you know. That’s not how I work… I want to try to be one of those artists that when you see the work you can say, ‘Oh it’s related with graffiti history and not maybe street art stuff.’ So then I wrote. I wrote a lot. I did all the pieces that you are gonna see in the show.
I was wondering how you lay out the letters. You can read some parts of them.
It depends. Usually how I work–I draw the basic lines of the character, figure or object and then usually I start writing something that’s related to the subject. But then it can go everywhere. What happened if I had a fight with my girlfriend, what I want to eat… I think about choosing letters not to communicate but choosing letters like an abstract thing. The problem with graffiti, not this one with graffiti sually they say ‘I don’t like it because I don’t understand. It’s not for me. It’s not my language. Okay Do you speak birds? They go like… (TILT whistles) do you understand what they say? You don’t understand what they say but you like it. I’m French. Eighty percent of French people, they don’t understand English. They love Lady Gaga. They love The Beatles. So, do you need to understand? You don’t need to. My idea behind that is ‘Okay, you know, it’s a hot dog but then you don’t understand the hot dog.’ The more the subject is famous… the more it works. People that are in front of Marilyn Monroe… they’ll be like, ‘Fuck, what does it mean?’ They think, ‘That’s Marilyn. But I don’t understand.’ They get lost in something they know, like French fries. I like this idea that you don’t need to understand and you can. As a writer, I like to write, not to talk or communicate but for the pleasure of writing letters.
Do you like painting bigger?
I love love it. To me, all that [indicating canvases]–except for this one–feels small. I have to change my technique, I have to think about–I have to use markers instead of only spray can. All the colors are spray can but the outlines, I have to do markers… the thing with my work is also, there is an ide aof pleasure of the movement. There’s no lines. There’s nothing like spiky. It’s always the idea of throw-up. If you know throw-up, graffiti throw-up, this is something when you do it I’m not gonna say you’re dancing– because it’s a fucking stupid cliché–but your body moves, you know? When I do my throw-up… I go like this [demonstrates on wall]. When you work like that [smaller]… Sometimes I feel like I’m at school. But that’s okay because I like it. But my aim would be to only do big-scale…but it’s hard because your work becomes expensive, really hard to frame, really hard to ship, really hard to sell. People sometimes have money but not giant walls in their house. If you buy a painting like that, maybe you’re gonna have to take out maybe three other paintings you like. But yeah, that’s why I do big walls.
What are you hoping people are going to take away from the show? Maybe someone that’s never really seen graffiti.
I hope they’re gonna have this thing that relates that work to graffiti, like I said. Being like, ‘Oh, okay that’s interesting. These are letters. And this guy is playing with letters instead of playing with characters or classic drawings’… I love to be the kind of painter that says,‘Okay, that’s the guy that draws letters,’ and letters to me is graffiti, New York, history. And I love for people to come and to see something that is not boring. That’s why I decided to have–I hope it’s gonna come because it’s going through customs–a sculpture that is a giant, gold crunched apple which is like New York. A little bit like the financial crisis of New York. I have the video. This room is gonna be full of studies–the sketch before the big canvas with color. We’re gonna have drawing, sculpture, video, canvas. I went to some shows and even if I like the artists–and I feel this one will be like that–because it’s one or two series, it’s a bit of repetition. Just the color, size, and subject is changing, but it’s not like a retrospective so you can’t have ten series. I tried to have a show where people come out and say, ‘Oh yeah we saw that,’ and people that don’t like the color maybe they’re gonna love the black and white abstract. People that don’t care about that, maybe they’ll like the sculpture, the drawings or the video. Something not boring.
Top: American DreamFabien Castanier Gallery
12196 Ventura Blvd.
Studio City, CA 91604
“All You Can Eat” opens Saturday, January 19 from 7 – 10 PM. TILT will be in attendance.