Ha – only joking. While Banksy is a relative newcomer to the graffiti scene, Blek le Rat has been stencilling, pasting and daubing his way around the world for nearly thirty years. But the perception of Banksy as the pioneer of street art is certainly the one favoured by the media and the art world. As a result, Banksy’s artistic reputation – no doubt helped by his anonymity – has been elevated to near mythical status. While Blek’s reputation, at least beyond the world of street art, is far less well known, a new book of his work looks certain to bring his art to a wider audience and throw up a few more questions on just how influential he’s been.
Apparently, when Blek was pasting up an image in a London street last year, he was asked by an inquisitive passerby: “are you Banksy?” Such is the notable similarity between the two graffiti artist’s work. But Blek, a Frenchman, has been working on ironic self-portraits, stencilled socio-political commentary and, interestingly – rats – since 1981.
In Blek le Rat (published by Thames & Hudson) Sybille Prou – who is also Mrs Blek le Rat – and filmmaker King Adz have done a fine job in bringing Blek’s story across, collecting together a range of images of his iconic street art.
Coincidentally, Banksy’s very first “unofficial biography” is also published next month. And here, the reference to Blek’s potential influence is brief, but nonetheless revealing: “Every time I think I’ve painted something original, I find out that Blek le Rat has done it as well, only twenty years earlier.”
We suggest checking out Blek’s book for some of those original ideas.
Blek le Rat is published by Thames & Hudson on May 12 (£11.95). A Blek le Rat exhibition also opens at the Thru Cargo Garden, Arch 461, 83 Rivington Street, London on May 9.
Banksy’s Bristol: Home Sweet Home by Steve Wright is published by Tangent Books (£12).