This Polynesian-influenced artist graffs faces and animals that are alternately grotesque and tortured on Parisian walls… Interview and video of Nosbé in action
FC : Who is Nosbé - Where does your name come from and how long have you been drawing?
Nosbé : I’m from the southern suburbs of Paris, I’ve had this name for about thirty years, since a friend gave it to me in high school. I’m a substitute teacher in middle and high schools in Ile-de-France for creative/visual arts, which allows me to earn a living and keep one foot in the creative domain at the same time. I’ve been drawing since I was little. Living in Tahiti I discovered the Oceanian arts and tribal tattoos that represent their gods through very stylized faces.
In the beginning, I copied these faces often then bit by bit I personalized them until I found my current style. In 1992, after returning to France, I discovered the graffiti world by seeing the graffiti along the RER’s iron train tracks. I really liked these letters and colors that were, for me, in a new context. This encouraged me to do my first graff on a friend’s gate…a very well-known plant leaf that shall remain nameless(!). This “bombing” tool at first surprised me and I didn’t really like it that much. After this was a long period of about ten years where I drew a lot without really picking up a can, despite a few successful and even encouraging attempts. But, during this whole time I still paid a lot of attention to the different tags, graffs, and other urban interventions.
FC : What about the creation of the PPA Crew?
In 2003 I met Shaka at creative arts school. He took me out into the field a couple times and that’s where I did my first paintings and also when I started to appreciate the aerosol can. So we painted side by side for a while and as we went along, mixing our two styles came naturally given their compatibility. This fusion brought us to our first “featuring” painting in 2005 and this marks the “official” birth of the PPA Crew (Petites Peintures entre Amis [Small Paintings among Friends]), of which we’re the only two members. We kept on with that from 2006 to 2008, painting frescos when we could (about one per month). Now our schedules are more difficult to coordinate…
FC : Tell us about how you work…
I prefer to work in calmer places because I like to take my time and it’s also good for freestyle. Because of this, I haven't really experienced the rush of being a vandal, although I think that remains an essential aspect of graffiti and I’m always interested in that part.
I tend to improvise directly on the wall and to favor spontaneity as opposed to copying a drawing. In general I start with one eye, then the other, then I construct the face in a sort of random way balancing the whole according to my outlines. I like working in color as much as I like working in black and white, but I have a preference for black and white and also contrasts between intense colors.
So basically I imagine the wall as a big piece of paper; spray paint replaces a ballpoint pen as well as a feather, a felt-tip pen, an eraser, or a black pencil. I have good creative vibes with buddies like Shaka or Piz, we let improvisation run free through “exquisite corpse” (a term invented by Surrealists to describe a process where multiple collaborators work on a collage of images or words, relying on randomness and the unknown to create a whole).
FC : On average, how many times per week do you paint? Are you addicted to painting like a lot of graffers?
I paint pretty regularly, one to two times per week depending on my schedule and my spray paint stock. Even if I can satisfy my passion on paper or canvas, painting on a wall is still the best (and my only sport)!
FC : Do you have any regular stomping grounds or are you more of an explorer, looking for untouched walls?
Let’s just say I’m not really an “adventurer” and on top of that I’m lucky to have a pretty cool place next to my house…but the few times exploring wastelands that I’ve experienced have each been pure moments for me where all the walls grab your eye and you think about how you’re going to integrate your piece into the setting. Virgin walls are a challenge.
FC : Some artists or styles that you admire?
On the classic side: Picasso, Dubuffet, Giacometti, Hieronymus Bosch (see The Garden of Earthly Delights) and tribal arts. Comics (Belgian comics, the French magazine Fluide Glacial…) all rock/metal/punk imagery (the album sleeves of Iron Maiden or Bérurier Noir drawn by LauL were a big part of my childhood). On the side of graffers, the latest productions that I really liked were those of GF (Ghetto Farceurs), ONOFF, MONSIEUR QUI, BLU… I’m also a fan of the illustrations that are in the magazine Juxtapoz.
FC : What do you think about the current enthusiasm the public has for urban arts?
I think it’s pretty good that there’s an interest in artists that have a less classical training than those that come out of art schools or reputed studios. However, I deplore the speculative bubble that has come to surround this movement where people are more motivated by the name on the canvas rather than pulled in by a true reaction to the artist’s work. Personally, I’m happy if people appreciate my work and are willing to invest to acquire it, but I don’t have a commercial soul. I do only as much self-promotion as needed to sell things from my studio during collective exhibitions or auctions.
FC : For you, what is the importance of teaching creative/visual arts in middle school?
It’s essential to give students a different perspective of the world and to encourage them to express themselves in ways other than just with words. The pleasure, the experimentation with various tools/supports, imagination, and creativity all allow adolescents to open their minds to new horizons. I think this frees them from their inhibitions and from norms that are instilled in them from an early age. It’s always a challenge to stimulate a student’s mind while it is being suffocated at the same time by the parasites that are television shows and consumerist culture.
FC : In parallel with your job, do you have any plans to further develop your artistic activity?
Of course if I could spend much more time painting and drawing why not try new techniques (engraving, sculpture) and maybe even one day I’ll do an exhibition! To live your dreams is not a chance given to everyone – although for me at the moment it’s still just a dream.
FC : To finish, do you have a story to tell us about your adventures in graffiti?
One time when Shaka was stepping backwards, he put his foot in ten liters of paint...I laughed quite hard…
FC : Dedications?
DKP, ADM, Shaka, Jorge, Pesa, Howie, Ksam, Ironik Crew, Piz, the St. Charles Team, Toulé, Sava, and everyone who knows I appreciate them!
Original French text and photos: Chrixel (except *Nosbé)
Nosbé was filmed by Lolam at Molitor Pool in Paris. We would like to once again thank the Compagnie des Maitres Nageurs for this opportunity and for hosting us there before the beginning of construction that will transform this abandoned pool into a luxury hotel… We will always have fond memories of this mythical place!
See more of Nosbé and PPA Crew: