Strategically dotted all across France and metropolises like London or New York, his urban appropriations or ‘affichages’ reclaim privately owned message space as his canvas to provide him – and like-minded souls – with the opportunity to display individual creativity. Although his art is comprised of simple geometric shapes – exact lines and black outlines – and vibrant colors, these are anything but random. In our interview, OX reveals his sources of inspiration, intentions and some future projects.
A former student of Paris’ l’École des Arts Décoratifs, he started working on urban billboards in 1984 as part of the seven-artist collective Les Frères Ripolin. “Back in the day,” he recalls, “we didn’t have a gallery to show our works, but wanted to reach a wider audience. These outdoor artworks were a great way to get visibility. Initially, I used the medium without paying attention to the surroundings. Now, it’s different: I choose a location based upon the final and overall visual result.”
Today, the artist works on his own to continue his ongoing ‘affichages’ project. “Confronting advertising images led me to produce art with a strong visual impact, using straightforward colors and shapes combined with thick black outlines. I have to consider the sheer scale of the surroundings to make my work visible from afar. Throughout the years, I have focused on stripping down my graphical language to create an even stronger visual effect.”
This combination of bold design and strategic placement allow his pieces to blend in with their natural surroundings. “I love working with colors and observing what kind of emotions they trigger. Sometimes, I am intrigued by a location, but it might take me years to find the right matching image. In Paris, it is getting very hard to find the right spot; there has been a sort of advertising deforestation and there are fewer and fewer billboards around.”
Over time, OX started to visit other major cities and began to install similar artworks in Brooklyn, London, and dozens of other locations. “I don’t really have a favorite city,” the French citizen declares, “a place simply has to inspire me. Every location deserves some attention. I like my interventions to be temporary and fitting, not overwhelming.”
Unlike many of his contemporaries, OX has never gotten into trouble for his work. “My art is simply about replacing an advertising image with one of my artworks. For the brand’s advertising, this means losing one or two billboards per month out of thousands of posters per campaign. My pieces are unique and disappear within a few days when they are covered by the next advertisement.”
Besides his carefully orchestrated outdoor invasions, the Frenchman also likes to paint and has been showing his work in galleries like the New Square Gallery in Paris. Such exhibitions allow him to spread the word and experiment with more detailed, permanent pieces. “I see the billboards as ephemeral pieces. I try to create a particular moment in time that is about to vanish. I want to create a sort of tension between the space I hijack and my piece. The pictures serve to witness this moment and draw attention to urban landscapes that are ignored all too often.”
Inspired by 20th century guerilla art as well as the Dadaists and street art movements, OX cites social activist and former friend Keith Haring as well as popular culture as his main influences. Comic books, schoolbooks, commercial and scientific imagery, or pop art are just a few examples of what fuels his every-busy imagination.
By placing these subversive pieces, OX also challenges the legitimacy of the advertising industry. Along the way, his thought-provoking art sparks plenty of conversation and controversy about how we want our cities, towns, or landscape to appear. Currently, OX is busy working on further outdoor projects scattered around France as well as upcoming expos in France and Birmingham. To keep an eye on the sheer wealth of his visually striking output, check out his blog.
Text by Franca Rainer
All images, incl. the header image “Heartbeat, Paris La Villette, 2013”, by OX