We got in touch with French artist John Kviar to get some insight into the processes and inspiration behind his work. Kviar who is known for his signature invisible characters talks to us about his first throw-up, founding an artist collective and his admiration of René Magritte.
Hi John, tell us about yourself, where are you from and what is it that you do?
I’m John Kviar a French artist born in the Paris region. I currently live and work in Toulon- a city based in the south east of France. I have been doing graffiti since 2002 and in 2009 I also started to work on canvas. My art is often characterised by the staging of invisible characters that I place in urban settings.
How did you get into art & graffiti?
As far as I can remember I always liked to draw. To this day it has always allowed me to express and free myself from all that surrounds me. Whenever I start to draw I find myself in this small bubble that helps me to switch off and get creative.
Graffiti appeared in my life in the early 2000s. It was around that time when I did my first tags. While I haven’t been much of a vandal, I’ve always been intrigued by those big, colourful blocks I saw on walls and trains in my area. These illegal works, filled with characters and stylised letters vitalised the whole area for me, I really loved that. I eventually tried to contribute to the enrichment of areas by starting to paint my first throw-ups with my buddy Frais, whom I met in high school.
Most of the time we painted on vacant lots and abandoned factories in the Paris region and around various spots in France. I have always liked the specific environments that one tends to find oneself working in. By keeping the space in mind it regularly leads to interesting and sometimes astonishing results, creating work within the limitations of the space.
Then in 2009 Frais, Simer, Cheipa and I founded the artist collective ‘La Thérapicturale’ with whom I did my first exhibition. Back then I first started to do paintings of invisible characters on canvas. The collective is very much active and since then has grown with artists Gezit and Raler who joined shortly after its founding.
In 2011 I moved to the south of France and I joined the collective GH, continuing my work on canvas and participating in artistic projects all over France.
Is art your profession? How is your work process?
Currently, I don’t solely live from my painted artwork. Yet I live from my artistic skills. Alongside doing paintings I work as an industrial designer in Atelier 360. I’m very passionate about designing as it helps me to improve my artistic visions. Both the design and painting work keep influencing and improving each other. Recently my painting work takes up more and more time in my daily life, which is great. Lately I locked myself in for a few months to work on my exhibition at Backside Gallery in Marseille.
Usually I tend to paint at night because I like how peaceful it is, making it easier for me to concentrate. To me painting is a way to relax; although I have to work urgently sometimes to respond to requests or finish canvases on time. I guess you can’t have one without the other here.
What inspires you?
My job as a designer allows me to discover many new areas, that are sometimes great sources and inspirations for my paintings. In my day-job, I tend to draw a lot of objects, ranging from race bikes to cable cars and oceanographic cages that descend more than 1000m under the ocean surface. Working on these extraordinary things really helps me to keep an open mind and exposes me to a tonne of new ideas for future paintings.
Additionally, I also draw my inspiration from daily life. During the day I tend to take a lot of photos of people in the streets. These photographs of frozen scenes eventually tend to spark a lot of ideas for paintings, that I usually enrich with an urban art /graffiti aspect. This is an element that has been very important and present in my life.
Generally, I would say, that everything can be a source of inspiration, though. Things such as an old poster that unfolds on a wall, a badly parked pickup truck, road workers collecting leaves, a light that crosses the street at night. Anything that could awaken my curiosity for a moment could be an inspiration, if I remain sensitive to my surroundings.
Are there any artists you admire?
One of the artists I admire the most is René Magritte. I remember one of his works that I recently saw in Venice. The artwork called The Empire of Lights really struck me. The unreal contrast between the blue sky and the nocturnal landscape is treated with great simplicity that makes the whole piece almost real.
I also really like the paintings of Lucian Freud and the drawings of Egon Schiele.
In contemporary painting and graffiti, BomK is undoubtedly one of the artists who impresses me the most by his use of elements and his technique. On the opposite direction of BomK concerning style, I also love the clean, bright and almost graphic design paintings of Kaws. Other artists I like are Robert Proch, Guillaume Bresson, Jean Pierre Roy and many more.
To return to my activity, I often end up painting with my dear friend Frais, who I really admire. We have worked together for many years already, doing walls in collaboration and often even just free-styling them.
Why did you start to extract the people from your paintings?
I created these characters with Frais a few years ago but I hadn’t immediately included them in paintings back then. Today I try to develop them as major elements in my paintings.
I made them invisible because it allows my characters to exist within the worlds that I create while also protecting their anonymity. While partly inspired by my past idea to stay anonymous myself, the nature of having figures that leave behind a mystery ended up becoming a little signature element of my work.
Being invisible is not only a reference to the graffiti writers that only exist by their work on the streets, while trying to stay invisible to the police, but also anonymity can allow the viewer to identify with them. When someone looks at one of my paintings he can project himself through my clothes silhouettes, one can imagine who is hiding inside. I try to open a door to the viewer’s projection into the canvas.
How do people react to your artwork? Do you talk with people about their reaction to your murals?
Painting in the streets or in public places allows you to confront what people think when they discover your work. They are usually astonished to see the progress of a painting in general. I find the process from mere sketched lines to the finished painting full of detail magical myself, so I understand the fascination of it.
I’m regularly asked why my characters are invisible. I like that people get involved with my works and that they engage with the artwork. Some like that my characters are invisible and can project themselves in my paintings, others find it agonising. But it is often what I seek, to create astonishment. Whether positive or negative, it creates a moment of awakened curiosity that might end up make the viewer think about it.
After all, when you paint in the streets or expose your work in a gallery, it is always also to make people react to your work, to create an emotional connection to the artwork.
What’s planned for the future?
I am currently preparing a new series of more personal canvases. The artwork draws inspiration from various places I have visited, from important people around me and graffiti. It progresses little by little but I can’t wait to present this new series.
Next to that, I’m doing various mural projects. One of the latest walls I did was for the Fraternity show organised by the Juxtapoz workshop in Marseille. I was able to create a painting in the city centre of about twenty meters, which I called “Day of Mistral”. It was a great experience that I’d love to repeat soon!
Tell us some more about work from your exhibition – What was the topic?
I had the chance to make my first solo exhibition at the Backside Gallery in Marseille at the end of last year. I have known the gallery for many years through its excellent exhibitions with artists Gris1, 1010,Sozyone, Dems and many more. It was a huge opportunity for me to present my work in such a gallery.
For the exhibition, entitled “Invisible” I presented a series of 15 paintings with different drawings and serigraphs (screen prints). I tried to approach the theme of the absence of identity represented by invisible characters with surrealist, dreamlike expressions and emphasised by graphic tints.
This lack of identity is reminiscent of the secret identity of the graffiti sprayers who can be anyone but who merely exist through their signatures. Thanks to graffiti I experienced a lot of things I wouldn’t want to miss such as the discovery of places, crazy encounters, travelling, fears and anguishes.
Regarding graffiti, I put in to images personal moments that I have experienced thanks to the graffiti.The discovery of places, encounters, the travels, not forgetting the fears and moments of pride. All these experiences end up in the paintings, so if you look closely you might see one or another in them ;).
Where can people get your work?
I continue to work with Backside Gallery in Marseille – so if you are interested in purchasing my artwork, I’d love to encourage you to contact the gallery or directly message me through my website or my Facebook page. There’s a lot of behind the scenes material I post on my FB page, so I’m looking forward to seeing you there!
Thank you for your time! We can’t wait to see more of your work!
Thank you too! It was great talking to you!
Interview by Nuno Wr
Images courtesy of John Kviar