"Every time I think I've painted something slightly original, I find out that Blek le Rat has done it as well. Only twenty years earlier." - Banksy
Blek le Rat (Xavier Prou) was born in Paris in 1951. He is a grand master of street art and considered by many to be the originator of stencil graffiti. Blek has been adorning the streets of Paris with his hugely original and intelligent artwork since the early eighties and he has been a massive influence on today’s graffiti and guerrilla art movements.
He started decorating the streets of Paris in 1981 with a rat stencil, hoping to create an invasion of rats in the city. He was inspired to create this stencil after seeing the graffiti of New York in the 70’s, but he didn’t just want to copy the American style. Instead he wanted to create a style that suited Paris and so he chose the stencil as he saw this as something very Latin.
After the rats he moved onto using life sizes portraits. The first of these was an old man wearing glasses and screaming. Blek has now painted on walls all over the world and has influenced a whole generation of street artists. He was a pioneer of stencil graffiti and one of the first artists to move to using a symbol rather than his name as his tag.
Blek le Rat created his name from a cartoon strip he used to read as a child ‘Blek le Rock’. He changed the ‘le Rock’ to ‘le Rat’ because his first stencil was a rat and because you can find art in rat.
He no longer paints on walls after in 1991 he was tried for ten years worth of graffiti and had to pay substantial fines, with the prospect of facing jail if caught again. He continues to produce work but now it is in the form of posters rather than painting directly on walls. Blek le Rat lives in an abandoned 10th Century castle somewhere in France with his wife and teenage son.