Blek le Rat
A pioneer of graffiti writers in Europe, Blek le Rat was one of the first people to use stencils to make public art on the street using icons instead of writing his name.
He was first exposed to graffiti in 1971 in New York, but didn’t start making his own until ten years later in Paris. Inspired by a stenciled portrait he saw of Mussolini amongst some WWII ruins during a trip to Italy, he created a stencil of a life size silhouette of a rat running along the streets. He stenciled the rat for two years and quickly became recognized around Paris. This change marked a monumental break from the dominance of New York’s graffiti style. His method of creating street art changed the face of graffiti and still continues to greatly influence artists around the world; from Shepard Fairey and Banksy, to JayBadbc and Oseas Duarte to the young artist wheat pasting work around town.
His work has since evolved beyond the rat icon and taken on a more serious context. He now uses his art to serve a social cause, to evoke reaction and inspire change. Most recently, he pasted hundreds of posters around Paris of Florence Aubenas, a French journalist who was kidnapped in Iraq, hoping to provoke a reaction from politicians and journalists and aid in her release. This project gained Blek incredible public support, and has encouraged him to continue to use his Street Art as a voice for the less fortunate. (Johathan LeVine Gallery)