Meeting Popay

The street artist tells his creative journey off the beaten path: a victorious and constantly evolving urban movement. Artistik Rezo takes us to meet him.

Popay, can you introduce yourself and your background?

Born in Barcelona, I lived in the suburbs of Paris since I was 2 years old, then in Paris at 10 years old. Around 15 years old, I was attracted by graffiti, while I was already sensitive to painting and comics. After my high school diploma, I failed the entrance exam to the Beaux-Arts and Arts Déco. I continued to practice graffiti intensively until I was 23. Then, I started an internship in a special effects company where I had a revelation for the digital tool. In 1993, I had the chance to be trained on the film City of Lost Children, which was decisive for my sensitivity to digital. In spite of that I stopped after one year because of social incompatibility with this environment and I started to frequent the techno and squat scene. I started to socialize again a little before the birth of my son when I bought my first Mac with a graphic palette.
After my separation with my son’s mother, I went back to the squatters’ family by living at the Miroiterie for 3 years. I was able to extract myself from there and immediately took an apartment in Montreuil where I lived for 10 years while working on my painting in an adjacent squat, Woodstock. When the latter closed, I moved to St-Maur-des-Fossés where I live and work today.
Since 2011, I had also reconnected with the art market that I had previously disowned, supporting myself by working in illustration and graphic design for the underground music scene.
Since 2018, I started a reconquest of the wall, monumental this time, by transforming and adapting my production to paint more walls than I had painted during my entire career as a graffiti artist, accounting for about 2000m2 between Ukraine, Spain, Belgium and France.

© Popay – spray on the wall of the music room of Kunheim in Alsace, at the request of the museum MAUSA Vauban, arround 16 x 7 m

Your creation varies in the supports: walls, canvases, posters, record sleeves… How would you describe your style?

A style is difficult to describe other than in images, I will leave this difficult task to the literary ones. Roughly speaking, I think I’ve always tried to blur the lines, investing myself where I felt the attraction, with the particular concern of giving the least importance to coherence, even actively claiming the incoherence of my choices. Probably in reaction to the uniformity of the marketing approach of most art movements since, I can’t say how long, but maybe it goes back to Leonardo!

Today, we are living a renaissance, unhoped-for technical means have appeared for a good thirty years now; we have had a learning period. The danger was to think of modernity in the appearance of new tools, which is a mistake in my opinion, as futurism praised the advances of the industrial era. However, it was necessary to appropriate these new technological tools to impregnate them with a spirit and not to be simply in the technical demonstration as the realism sometimes can be sufficient to be. The learning of the bomb had already been an impulse towards new tools, which even had, at the time, a futuristic connotation, even assimilated to the Jedaï’s lightsaber. It’s a bit like the appearance of paint tubes at the end of the 19th century that would allow the Impressionists to explore the terrain, thus transforming the theme and the execution, or as Rimbaud did in poetry, closer to the action and the description of the state of mind. Also, I tried to adopt, with the most enthusiasm and sincerity possible, all the domains which seemed to me to be a source of renewal or creativity, within the limit of my competences, of course. I would actually have loved to be a 3D modeler, which I consider to be the real heritage of the Renaissance, or to work in coding, which I fantasize as a poetry linking the sensibility of man to the soul of the machine, which is nothing else but a reflection of himself. But I continued painting, also by opportunism, when the market was in a more favorable context than in the 2000s when the art scene was completely cursed, as were the poets of the movement that came from the inspiration initiated by the Count of Lautréamont, with the difference of being legally criminalized.

You paint frescoes, subjects drawn from a wonderful world. Is there a cultural heritage of your Spanish origins that is reflected in your productions?

I don’t think that the influence of goblins and other fairy tales are specific to my Hispanic background, “betrayed” by the consonances of my name, since I feel no less Flemish than Vosges by blood and Parisian by culture. On the other hand, supernatural subjects have been evoked by many cultures concerned with making visible the spirits of the invisible world.

What makes you different from the Parisian graffiti scene ?

I don’t know if it’s for me to say, again, and I obviously can’t be the most direct result of it. But maybe you refer to this multitude of influences and almost schizophrenic inspirations assumed and claimed?

What is your technique, your favorite universe ?

Supposedly open-minded, I wouldn’t want to limit myself to this or that technique, even if I have had episodes with a particular interest, not to say obsession, for a tool, which conditions the fact of claiming to master it. But I must admit that I have had some magical moments using the spray can, the digital pen or the airbrush that have a particular resonance in me.

Who are the humans you represent?

Either in an exercise of dexterity I try to translate and make visible the spirit of a person in a portrait, or sometimes I try to bring out the animal aspect of the human or the humanity of the beast, thus concentrating on bringing a reflection of the living experience as much as possible. I try to avoid reproducing a supposedly realistic image, believing that there is more realism in expressiveness than in photographic likeness. I am more attracted by the evocation of an expression, perhaps influenced by the spirit of the comic strip which marked me so much in my youth.

L’attribut alt de cette image est vide, son nom de fichier est popay_figure.jpg.
© Popay  – Xalami, A4 India ink illustration sold as part of Saato’s “Containment” project.

How do you think urban art has evolved in Paris since the 80s?

Even if a certain purity of approach in terms of motivation, technique and interest in style has been flouted, I think that even if more and more opportunities have presented themselves in terms of both surface and commercial interest, this movement remains a victory for all those who have supported it during decades of hard times and legal persecution.

What is a project you would like to do?

I would like to earn enough money to be able to devote more time to digital experimentation while continuing to deploy my imagination soaked in my life experiences on unexpected surfaces.
I would like to settle down near the place which was in France the origin of the tapestry technique which precisely allowed the deployment of a fantastic fairy tale and magic imagination, namely the Unicorn Woman in the Creuse. This would allow me to benefit from a more favourable and adapted environment to the exercise of my practice. I remain attentive to the opportunities that will allow me to access this new dream world.

You can find Popay’s work on his website.

Interview by Eleftheria Kasoura