French graffiti artist Wa Roox and the new team behind Street Art Dubai tell Peter Feely about their first venture.
Using stencils, markers and spray paint, exciting new artist, Frenchman Wa Roox’s style of street art can be so intense it borders on mania. Known for his body paintings as much as his frescos, the 25-year-old is in Dubai following a commission from one half of the brand new collective Street Art Dubai, Stephane Valici. Looking for a huge artwork to fill a 7m-high wall in his apartment, Valici thought of his son’s friend from Paris. Six months later, Wa Roox was invited by Valici to deliver the piece in person, which formed the basis for this exhibition organised by Valici and his partner Thomas Perreaux, which is showing at the Artissima Gallery in Al Quoz.
One of the highlights of the show is an installation piece that saw a local Sheikh donate a large Chevrolet pick-up from the ’70s for Wa Roox to use as a canvas. ‘Last time Wa Roox drew on a dokha pipe and we offered one to the Sheikh. He called within an hour. He said: “My brother took the dokha – make a new one for me.” So we brought him the second one,’ recalls Valici.
Wa Roox was raised on the French island of Réunion. Due to its proximity to South Africa, he grew up immersed in hip-hop, graffiti and street culture. From the age of 13, he was heavily involved in the graffiti scene until he finished school. ‘When I graduated [from school] I moved to Australia for three years and then I studied graphic design and it [art] started to become quite serious. I started to think that maybe I could be an artist instead of a graphic designer – I started to organise exhibitions. When I was doing graffiti it was only for artists on the streets. When I moved out into the art scene to exhibit in galleries, I began to interest more people – a lot of people don’t pay attention to graffiti on the street.’
A prolific experimenter, it is only in the past few years that Wa Roox has discovered his distinctive colourful and detailed style with logos. His previous experiments will be appearing alongside his later creations as part of the exhibition.
According to Valici, the precocious Wa Roox initially painted in a style we call “vandalism” – where you don’t respect the work of other people and you paint over it.’ It was only when Wa Roox moved to canvas did he truly start developing the more mature style that is now so distinctive.
The Frenchman likes to carry a sketch book wherever he goes, drawing his icons and scribbling short sentences of ideas. Yet, this doesn’t go as far as planning his compositions. ‘I have an idea in my head but it’s always the same idea – I don’t know how to explain it – it’s to do with a confidence in what I’m doing. I don’t really have to pay attention.’
Incredibly self-assured, Wa Roox is apparently never embarrassed by any of his pieces, although he will admit to painting over something he’s not happy with. He’s equally matter-of-fact when it comes to the conflict between the authenticity of street art in the context of a commercial marketplace. ‘Hip-hop and street culture is far from graffiti. It used to be about a freedom movement, where you could paint on a train but it was always illegal.
Now money is in it so of course it’s different. It’s not about bad or good – it’s just now it’s a serious art form. I want to keep my freedom. If people say “don’t do this or that,” I move away.’
As for Valici and Perreaux, they are both hoping that this first exhibition is just the start of monthly Street Art Dubai events, which will see them bring street artists to work across the city. If their other artists are as interesting as Wa Roox, we certainly think they’re in with a decent shout.
For upcoming events visit www.streetartdubai.ae.
Exhibition: Wa Roox – Line-Up runs until January 10 at Artissima Gallery, 8th Street, Al Quoz 1 (04 380 6479).
Artist: Wa Roox
Prices: On request