More than 25 years after he abandoned street art in favour of screen prints, the work of Xavier Prou – aka Blek le Rat – is now regularly exhibited in galleries around the world. And, on May 24, a sale of his work by the British auction house Sworders is expected to attract international interest.
Born in 1952, Prou spent much of his professional life in anonymity, painting the giant black rats on walls all over Paris that are now widely regarded as having triggered the stencilled street art movement. Banksy is reputed to have said that every time he thought he had created something original, he discovered that Blek le Rat had done the same thing 20 years previously.
Prou adopted his pseudonym, he has said, in part on the basis that the common rat “spreads the plague everywhere, just like street art” (“rat” being an anagram of “art” is another strand to a name that also offers a nod to a popular cartoon, Blek le Roc).
He later moved on from stencilled rats to life-size human portraits, many of them addressing issues such as homelessness and the environment. Then, in 1991, having grown tired of being arrested and fined, he stopped painting walls and turned to screen prints instead.
There are four Blek le Rat screen prints on sale at the auction, including his ironic 2007 self-portrait Man Who Walks Through Walls (estimate £300-£500) and a self-explanatory work named simply Sheep (estimate £250-£350). However, it is the two political works that best capture this artist’s dark satirical sensibility: Shock And Awe (estimate £250-£350), with its soldier, blood-red arrow and petrol pump; and David With Kalashnikov (estimate £300-£500), a macabre pastiche of Michelangelo’s statue.
“Blek le Rat is one of the most influential figures in graffiti art,” says the sale’s curator Shane Xu. “These four prints offer an interesting combination of themes and underline the power of urban art.” The sale will be part of a larger auction, 500 Years of Printmaking (1517-2017).