Xavier Prou a.k.a. Blek le Rat, is a Parisian born artist who’s been perfecting his unique brand of stencil graffiti for three decades and is considered “The Godfather” of stencil graffiti. To promote a rare American exhibition at San Francisco’s Weinstein Gallery, Blek went throughout San Francisco to contribute art installations and one of his first stops was UC Hastings.
With support from street art curator Brian Greif, who was also responsible for facilitating the campus-facing James Reka a.k.a. RekaOne “Peace Sign” mural in 2013, Blek brought his innovative style of street art to the college. “I've been working with Blek since about 2010, and it's been a while since he's done a North American show,” says Brian, owner and co-founder of 2:32 AM Projects. “When he asked if he could do some paintings on the streets of San Francisco, I thought the first place I would reach out to is UC Hastings.”
According to Brian, the whole idea behind these street murals is to expose people to art every day and Blek’s innovative work is a perfect fit for daily viewing by the UC Hastings community. “Blek is truly innovative as he is the absolute godfather of the stencil movement and on the Mount Rushmore of graffiti and street art,” says Brian. “Blek started off stenciling rats to protest in Paris back in the 1980's and really everything he is about reflects justice and social issues.”
Blek himself recognizes justice as an element to his work, but downplays his impact on society. “Justice is not everywhere, unfortunately,” he says. “I just hope I can give people nice images that they can enjoy.”
The finished piece on the wall of 198 McAllister, which depicts a lute player, is not officially named and was inspired by works from the old masters of the Renaissance period from a museum in Milan, Italy. “I took some photos of the characters from the paintings and recreated them for the street,” says Blek. “I love to do that kind of thing because I really think that we need to give people access art. I see it as a present for the people who live in this neighborhood and who attend the college.”
The installation has already been well received by the neighborhood. “Most walls around here, you see four letter words,” says Roger, a Tenderloin local. “But when you see something like this, it renews something in your spirit. Something good.”
Blek’s artwork is a welcome addition to the UC Hastings campus and City of San Francisco. “Thank you for inviting me here. For me, it's like a consecration to be here at the university and the city,” says Blek. “It's absolutely a big consecration.”