Before Banksy, French graffiti artist Blek le Rat daubed the world’s walls

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Blek le Rat: Getting
Through the Walls

(Thames & Hudson)
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Blek le Rat

With Bristolian graffiti artist Banksy fetching a whopping £322,900 at Sotheby’s in 2007 for his work The Rude Lord, it’s worth noting that before Banksy, there was Xavier Prou (aka Blek le Rat), dubbed the “the godfather… of politically conscious graffiti” by The Independent. He’s been stencilling for a damn sight longer than the elusive Banksy, starting his career in 1981.

Blek le Rat, whose name is derived from a childhood cartoon-strip character Blek le Roc, was born in Paris in 1952 to well-heeled parents. He first began daubing the walls of France with large images of rats — an apparent symbol of freedom — before exposing Germany, Spain, Italy, England and the USA to his unique brand of urban art.

He’s been so successful at disseminating his work that Banksy reportedly said, “Every time I think I’ve painted something slightly original, I find out that Blek le Rat has done it as well. Only 20 years earlier…” His art, like Banksy’s, is playful, political and often provocative. In fact, Blek le Rat is the archetypal enfant terrible, undermining the establishment with his risqué imagery.

‘Every time I think I’ve painted something slightly original, I find out that Blek le Rat has done it as well’ – Banksy

Controversy was sparked with David With The Machine Gun, Blek le Rat’s statement of support for Israel, according to a fecalface.com interview.

Such headline-grabbing declarations only drives up Blek le Rat’s stock, as interest in urban art gathers momentum. Not since the days of Jean-Michel Basquiat has there been such hullabaloo over well-crafted graffiti.

Black Rat Press director Mike Snelle, who represents Blek le Rat, said in the Financial Times that “the fuss about Banksy has been important in making people aware of the street art market’s existence”.

That can only mean one thing: the price tag of graffiti tagged by Blek le Rat will escalate. Who would’ve thought that subversion could be so lucrative?

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King Adz’s 2006 documentary about Blek le Rat