I recently visited the studio of the French artist Shaka who emerged on graffiti style for an interview.
Alternative Paris and My Life on My Bike came to submerse ourselves in the anxious universe of Shaka – a felling that is strongly provoked by his work on canvas, sculptures and graffiti painting, through characters in movements that reveal the emotional work behind the facade of everyday human interactions.
Shaka’s first experience on the streets, in 1995, was influenced by punk and hip hop culture. In the beginning he used to make small stencils against racism and messages about anarchy around Jamaican music. Later Shaka started to observe graffiti on the trains in France, and hip hop songs on TV got him inspired to make graffiti. In the beginning it was only for fun, but later he realized how he could mix graffiti with his painting skills and nowadays his work is a result of all these experiences: “I like to mix it all, in fact it’s just the way hip hop works, mixing elements to make music. I work in the same way.”
He started to do graffiti in the streets of Paris and suburbs seventeen years ago. It was a natural way to continue painting for someone who started doing it on childhood.
“I started to paint with oil on canvas when I was 9 years old, so when I started with graffiti I already had that experience. By the age of 18, my friends and I were students and we didn’t want to stay at home or paint in a studio, we were looking for fun and graffiti was a way of combining both. Graffiti was really expressive for me, I wasn’t judged, I was free! I had a new name, I was excited, it brought me a good vibration and feeling, and that’s how I discovered a new way to paint”.
Continuing his artistic path, Shaka graduated in Fine Art at the Sorbonne, where he also did a Masters in Multimedia Arts.
One artist that influenced him was the Italian painter Caravaggio from the sixteen century (1571 -1610), an aggressive man that had a tumultuous life, including a lot of enemies and a murder story.
Impressive sculptures, some surprisingly on canvas, make Shaka’s work as impressive as his unique technique. His first studio in Paris was in an old factory building: “In this studio I started using all things that I found around me on the floor. I used found objects to build, to put on canvas. In 2007 it was the first time that I used the process to make a sculpture on canvas, it was experimental in that moment.”
I was curious to deeply understand Shaka’s message. During the interview he revealed his interest in human interactions. Observing hooligans and the power of group force, coupled with his own need to have “real life” relationships during the current internet era, makes it clear for him that his art needs to be so strong in order to provoke reflection about human behaviour.
Concerned about how our generation is submersed in a sea of information over the internet, and the virtual relationships that we have, Shaka is interested in bringing people to see his work personally with the intention of having real interactions: “My canvas and sculptures, the strong colors and characters speak about this. I want you to have an exchange with me, you have to go to the gallery or to my studio if you really want to appreciate my work. It is the way to enjoy sculpture. I’m interested in real relationships, all the characters want to exchange energy with people, to cause a reaction in them. Some people say that my work is too violent, too aggressive. For me that’s a compliment, it’s how I want to provoke people.”
A strong reflection is generated after carefully observing Shaka’s work. Behind the violence represented in his paintings and sculptures thru an energetic color palette, there is a message of sensibility. It’s all about human expression, the movement of their bodies representing the struggle for individuality in social power politics. “I like to compare my work with how governments works, with the end of American dynasty for example. One character will fall for sure, and with his selfishness and violence he will take others down with him. I want to provoke a reflection about this selfish human behavior”.
When I ask him to explain why he is particularly inspired by Caravaggio, he says: “ I don’t have enemies like Caravaggio. But there are some connections between his life and mine. I’m not a hooligan, I don’t like football that much, but I like to be in a stadium to see and understand the forces of one group, five thousand guys, crying, beating, fainting. It is really impressive, it’s another world for a moment. You have your normal life, family, friends and work, but at that moment in the stadium, the whole group is a new force, rich and poor people together in the same place for a purpose. At the same time that Caravaggio was painting religion, his painting was really strong and contrasting, so his life was also strong like a hooligan.”
Shaka describes himself as the opposite of all images he creates, as he is a very calm person with good childhood friends. His art is the way that he has to fight, he explained: “I grew up between the suburbs and Paris, between the ghetto and middle class, and it was a positive cultural exchange for me. My first canvases when I arrived in Paris were about how people come from the suburb to Paris on Saturday to party and to have fun, there is a real difference between people from neighborhood and the center. Normally when journalists speak about people from neighborhood on television they talk just about the bad things. I made canvas in the same way that bad journalists report the violence on the suburb. There are a lot of positive things over there but the television never talks about it. My first graffiti crew was from the neighborhood. My confrontation is not a speech, it’s inside my art. You have to fight sometimes, is not my way of thinking, but sometimes if you want to be respected you need to fight.”
For Shaka it is evident that as an artist he has two different disciplines; working in the studio on canvas, and free work as a graffiti artist, alone or with his crew DKP in Paris. “My canvas are big paintings in graffiti style but is not about graffiti. You can make as many “graffitis” in a gallery as you want, but will never be graffiti. Graffiti is on the wall, on the streets and it’s illegal. If I go to the streets I want to have the feeling of graffiti… to be honest I don’t really appreciate doing legal walls on the streets, you have a lot of photographers behind you, it’s not free. Sometimes I like to be on the streets and make interventions during the night, what real graffiti is about.”
To finish the interview I asked Shaka which situations make him behave like his aggressive characters. He confessed that being in the traffic can make him very nervous, so I couldn’t miss the opportunity to ask him: “Why you don’t start biking?” It was a good chance to influence street artists through one of the proposals of My Life on My like, isn’t it?