Jef Aérosol Q&A

Jef Aérosol Q&A

Written by Asia London Palomba

Sometimes referred to as the “French Banksy,” self-taught French street artist Jean-François Perroy, better know as Jef Aérosol, has painted all over the world, in cities like Rome, Beijing, Brussels, Tokyo, and Boston, stencilling a unique blend of cultural icons and ordinary people mixed with music and pop culture across walls and buildings. His most notable work in Boston, painted in 2015, can be found splashed across the walls of Northeastern University, decorating the campus’ niches and crannies with some of his signature stencils and other works of art which pay homage to the city and the university’s history. Aérosol’s Northeastern works include the large scale mural of a smiling young man mid leap on the outside of Cargill Hall, a portrait of Edgar Allan Poe, and others hidden around campus.

Artistry Magazine spoke with Aérosol via email to discuss what first lead him to stencil, what inspires his work, and what it was like to paint on Northeastern’s campus back in 2015.

Artistry Magazine: What inspired you to spray your first stencil series?

Jef Aérosol: That was way back in 1982, when I was 25 years old. I had just moved from my native town to a new place, the city of Tours [in] central France for professional reasons. The fact of being away from “home,” with nobody to judge or misjudge me, the will to show I was there were the main reasons why I decided to cut and spray my first stencil. There was also that post-punk atmosphere in the air and the aesthetics and imagery I was into. The only stencils I had seen were on the shirts and leather jackets of Strummer, Jones, Simonon, and Headon [members of the band The Clash]. There was nothing on the walls at the time. A year or so earlier, I had attended a concert of The Clash in Paris An American guy called Futura 2000 was spray painting a huge canvas at the back of the stage. That was the very first time I saw a spray can being used for artistic purposes.

AM: What do you draw inspiration from for your art and why?

JA: So many different things. Some themes and topics are obviously very present in my works: music, rock & pop culture, children, etc. I tend to mix famous and ordinary people. I sometimes create encounters of an unusual type between stars and anonymous street guys.

Photo by Jef Aérosol

AM:  Which piece of yours is your favorite and here in the world can the piece be found?

JA: I like them all; I refuse to make differences. But I have to confess that a lot of people do make differences and the piece that seems to be my best-known one certainly is my huge self-portrait in Paris, near the Pompidou Center.

AM: What was it like to work on Northeastern’s campus back in 2015? How did you like it?

JA: I loved it. I was very warmly welcomed and everything was organized to make my stay easy, nice, and pleasant. I enjoyed meeting different people, I had lots of fun with my assistants, [and] I spent great times in Boston, visiting, going to gigs, painting. I found the atmosphere at Northeastern extremely cool and relaxing, a village-like sensation. I appreciated the fact that I was given total freedom to paint wherever I wished to on the campus and, above all, the possibility of spraying my life size stencils. As a matter of fact, painting human size characters is something important to me, it makes my art more human, more true to life, more integrated in the context. I like big murals too but, when given the choice, I often tend to favour my lifesize images.

AM: What was your inspiration for the pieces you did around Northeastern’s campus?

JA: Well, I brought some of my iconic stencils: the sittin’ kid, the sittin’ teenager, the lil’ guy throwing butterflies, the “stencil boy.” I wanted to paint musicians, so I selected a life size Jimi Hendrix, as if he happened to be there, sitting in the street, in front of the music hall , mixing with the local musicians and the Berklee music school students. I also painted a true Bostonian, Edgar Allan Poe, with a raven on his shoulder, but I represented him having a nice cup of tea with John Lee Hooker, who was much more used to bourbon, scotch, and beer. That anachronism was a kind of wink in reference to the famous Boston Tea Party. And there’s the larger mural on the former School of Law. It shows your archetypal Northeastern student, wearing the university sweater, hanging from a bar, surrounded by butterflies and expressing how lively, dynamic, and pleasant life at Northeastern can be.

AM: Many of your works, including the majority of the ones you stenciled across Northeastern, feature butterflies. What do these butterflies symbolize, and why do you choose to incorporate them into your art?

JA: The butterfly, apart from its essential beauty, is a very delicate and fragile animal. It doesn’t’ live long and, for me, it’s a symbol of delicacy, subtlety, poetry [and] dream[s]. The fact it has a very short life is also a way of saying: enjoy life…[it] is so short and fragile we shouldn’t spend so much time and energy on fighting against each other for stupid reasons.

Photo by Jef Aérosol

AM: Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?

JA: Be yourself!

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