ASTRO interview • liz rice mccray
This month we have the pleasure of interviewing the French artist Astro. After many months of following him from mural festival to mural festival we finally completed the interview. Astro is known for his XXL murals that captivate the eye while deforming walls and canvas. Self-taught, he has perfected his signature technique of transforming shapes, curves, and calligraphy into mesmerizing optical illusions on a grand scale.
Let’s start out with where do you call home?
I travel a lot in different countries around the world, but my home is in France.
I grew up and I still live in the North suburb of Paris.
Which brings us to… where are you now?
After many murals projects, I’m back in Paris. I spend my days in my studio. I’m working on my next exhibition, which will take place in February 2017 in Paris.
It appears your interest in art started at a young age. How did you get started in painting?
I have always been creative. I have been drawing since I was a kid. I started graffiti in 2000. I was on holidays in the south of France with some friends who were already members of my future graffiti crew (called ODV crew). One of them gave me a spray can and as soon as I got it in my hand I never stopped painting. I’ve started to do tags in the streets. At that period I chose my artist name “Astro.” I was working on letters and these five letters inspired me. They were interesting to work on and to develop. Furthermore, the meaning of Astro corresponded well to me and my spirit of mind, because I like all things that belong to the planets, the sky and the space.
How would you describe your art to someone unfamiliar with your work?
I paint optical illusions on XXL walls. I open and symbolically deform the walls.
My art is the result of years of painting in the streets. Painting is a way for me to express my emotions and to interact with the world around me. After 10 years of painting letters and graffiti wild-style on walls, I slowly emancipated myself from the letter writing to only keep the shapes. I’ve started to develop an abstract universe with these calligraphic shapes that characterize me. I have created my own world by exploiting the subtlety of shadows and lights, the strength of colors, and the perspective of depths. I really wanted to immerse the viewer in my abstract universe. I wanted to put him physically in the center of my art.
Would you say your large-scale murals are a representation of your current work on canvas?
I would rather say that my work on canvas is the reflection of my work on walls.
But these two ways of creation are always highly connected; only the support, the size and the tools change.
What is the process you use to conceptualize a piece, refine it, “test” it, etc. so you do not get part way through painting and discover, “this is not working”?
For each mural, I first ask for a picture of the wall. Then I start thinking of the illusion that would work best as well as the colors that would be most adapted to that particular environment. Then I create the sketches to visualize the final result and confirm that it will work. I have to be sure before starting work for real on the wall that the illusion will work. However, all the calligraphic shapes and details are totally improvised on the moment.
One element of your painting that affects me greatly is your use of shadows that create these optical illusions. How do you create the perspective of depths in your mind?
I don’t know how to explain because the perspective of depths comes naturally in my mind. I visualize it very easily. I know without thinking of it where I have to put the shadows to create the depths. As soon as I see a wall, I figure out if it will be a good support and I project it in my mind with my style on it.
You are the creator of a new technique called “CelloGraff.” will you please tell us about it?
In 2009, I created with Kanos a new concept called CelloGraff. It is about graffing on cellophane surfaces. This new technique allows us to intervene where graffiti does not have to be, without disturbing the good functioning of the city. However, for the moment, I’m really focused on my big murals and optical illusions.
How many murals did you paint in 2016? Do you have a favorite piece you can tell us about?
I don’t know exactly how many murals I have painted this past year. I would say around 15 big murals and maybe 50 “normal” walls. 2016 is the year I have traveled the most. All trips are good and different. I keep good memories from each. However, if I had to choose my favorite piece for the year 2016, I would tell you about my mural in Loures at Prior Velho. This XXL wall was the perfect size for my optical illusion to be optimal. I would also tell you about the Stade de France in Paris where I’ve painted a giant piece on the ground, which was crazy work and also the first time for me.
How has your painting evolved and are you going in new directions now?
First of all, I really want to keep working on my perspective artwork on murals. I still have lot of ideas to try. However, in the same movement, I’m slowly starting to move towards volumes and installation that will create illusions, always with the help of my calligraphic forms. I’m even thinking, and that would be fantastic, to collaborate with architects in order to act directly on urbanism.
Will you tell us about some of your consistent influences?
I’m inspired by artists such as Mucha, Hartung and more recently Vassarely.
I’m also inspired by architecture and the calligraphy from all over the world.
Do you have any upcoming projects you can share with us?
Yes of course! I’m glad to present my first solo show in Paris at the Gallery “Loft du 34.” It will take place from the 22nd of February to the 19th of March 2017. I will come back to Palm Beach for the Canvas Museum Outdoor Festival and also to Miami. And that is just the beginning… Year 2017 will be full of projects and trips.
Where can people check out your art?
The best place to see my art is to discover the walls in person that I have painted in the different cities I’ve been. However, for a virtual visit, you can follow me on Instagram, @astro_odv_cbs, and check out my website at www.astrograff.com.