Blek Le Rat (Xavier Prou) was born in Paris, France in 1951. Frequently called the godfather of modern street art, Blek le Rat inspired hundreds of artists around the world with his stenciled style. He is frequently cited as a major influence of artists like Banksy and Shepard Fairey; and through his work in Paris he established a style of urban art that quickly spread through Europe and the United States.
Blek describes his early work as apolitical, explaining that he just wanted a way to stand out and to free himself from the feeling of anonymity caused by living in a major city. He was the first people to use stencils to make public art on the street using icons instead of writing his name. He started decorating the streets of Paris in 1981 with a rat stencil, hoping to create an invasion of rats - “the only free animal in the city”, while creating a style that would suit Paris and not copy the American style. His street name is said to originate from a childhood cartoon “Blek Le Roc”, also using “rat” as an anagram for “art”.
He studied fine art and architecture at Beaux-Arts in Paris, graduating in 1982. Before his graduation, Prou visited New York City and developed a fascination with the city’s graffiti and street art. “To me, the most interesting aspect of street art is the constant opportunities to be surprised and/or amazed. I lose interest when something becomes routine”.
Blek has created street art around the world, and has had exhibitions in Paris, London, New York, Milan, Melbourne, San Francisco, Munich, and Los Angeles.
British graffiti artist Banksy has acknowledged Blek's influence stating "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." And Shepard Fairey said, “Blek le Rat’s stencils distill the essence of the human struggle into poetically concise images. Blek shows clarity in his work, he makes every stylized mark count, yielding art that is at once personal and universal, economical in gesture, and bountiful in statement.”
Solo show at Vertical Gallery: “Ratical” April 1–29, 2017.