Urban Poetry: The Visual Verses of SP38

Originally from Normandy, France, SP38 has lived and worked as a ‘prisoner of Berlin’ for the past 17 years. His art is unmistakeable, working almost exclusively in four colours, he borrows from a very small collection of symbols; including a blue plane and gold rabbit, and writes with a unique alphabet created by SP38 himself.

SP38 - painting

Photo: www.thomasvonwittich.de


Occupy The Sky, Berlin 2012

How did you come up with the name SP38?
‘S.P’ are my initials. Initially, it was a word play on the ‘P38 Special’, which is a revolver, used a lot in the American police force. I painted really quickly and wanted a name that reflected that well and then it stayed with me. The ‘38’ doesn’t mean anything. It just sounds good.

How and why did you start working with posters?
I started painting directly in the street but it was a little tedious. The poster has an artistic aspect. It is a way to easily diffuse a lot of things but at the same time it remains a work of art because it’s unique. It’s the medium between mass production and something that is exclusively unique. Once it’s made, then it’s easy to go in the street with a roll of paper and a bit of paint. There’s an interesting link between the artist studio and the street.

How do you come up with words like ‘slave’ and ‘escape’? How do you come to use these words?
It’s a bit according to the mood of the moment. I find at this moment it’s ‘escape.’ I started ‘escape’ when I was working with a group of artists on a piece in a small village in South Korea, where 350 years ago a Dutch sailor was imprisoned and then managed to escape. After that I though the word ‘escape’ worked well. At that moment people kept saying that it meant something else, something more. It’s a word everyone understands, we always want to escape or go elsewhere. There are sort of words or slogans that correspond with the ideas of the moment, like ‘slave.’ Two or three years ago during the recession people were slaves to money. It always has to do with am ambiance of the moment.
I try and find things that are more and more short, just one word that manages to touch people quickly and make them react. For example the word ‘escape’ with the image of a gold bunny suggests flight. These are simple words but they are meaningful.

SP38 - Escape - Berlin biennale

Escape- SP38 - MontrealSP38, Montreal

SP38- Biennale Berlin

Escape, Berlin 2012

SP38- Montreal exhibition

Escape, Fresh Paint Gallery, Montreal

Your works are politically charged. Why do you think it’s important to incorporate politics in art?
I don’t know if it’s necessarily political. But I think it’s important to reflect and have something to say. We can’t just make pretty things in art. I think it’s a pretty direct way to say things, touch people and provoke reactions. Especially in regards to street art. I find there are many pieces that are just decoration. My work is a bit a reactions against that. I think the street is somewhere where we can express ourselves and say things.

SP38 - Vive la creiseSP38 - Vive La Crise - Paris 2012

What is you opinion of the legalization of graffiti and street art?
I think it’s pretty stupid to forbid graffiti; because graffiti and street art is such an important movement. It’s not criminal. What’s serious is that people think that all street art is considered a crime. I think there are much worse things that should be illegal. It’s part of the urban landscape of any city. I like seeing graffiti.
We don’t forbid advertisements; sometimes it’s like an attack. There are so many huge and ugly ads that attack people. Unfortunately we’ve educated people to accept these huge and aggressive advertisements while having them think graffiti is a crime.
It becomes a question of money, because advertisers pay for these spaces.
It’s always a question of money and business. What’s funny is that more and more companies are borrowing from street art. They make copies and that’s terrible. I think even if we forbid graffiti it will always exist, there will always be things in the street. It’s also a reaction against. There are a lot more serious things.

To finish, if you had to describe your work in your own words, what would they be?

In my own words… I don’t know… I really like ‘urban poetry.’

Interview by Caroline Cotter, Montreal.