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Kidult: With Rhyme and Reason
“We’ve got to stop these brands from dictating a culture that belongs to us.” Love him or hate him, Kidult has certainly made waves with his bold tags that have graced the front doors of some of the most well known and iconic luxury brands. Driven by a self-professed desire to reclaim the art of graffiti that he believes has been bastardized and over commercialized, Kidult has been tagging since the age of 13. Offering a glimpse into pre-tagging rituals, his thoughts on Nike and Jordan as well as politics and art, Kidult recently granted HYPEBEAST a rare interview in which we were able to tap into the mind behind the graffiti.
Do you have any pre-tagging rituals you follow?
Not really, I always act in a very spontaneous way. I just check the location beforehand for any surveillance cameras, the neighborhood and the police. I choose the color. I prepare the material and make sure to have selected the right keyword to write in order to be fast when it comes to do it. You also have to wait for the D Day. Even if you are prepared, you still feel the rush of adrenaline brought on by graffiti.
How do you choose which storefronts to vandalize?
There are some infamous brands which are known for using graffiti without taking care of the culture. The news also inspires me a lot. If a brand that I did not have my eyes on releases a product which strikes me (like Kenzo) or if we are in a certain time of the year where special events occur (like the fashion week), I feel very inspired too. At some point, all these shops have used graffiti or street culture as a commercial image, riding the trend without being a part of it to say the least, and for which the only purpose is to make some cash. All I say to them is “hello;” if these brands really like graffiti, I’m only giving them what they like, so what if it’s beautiful or ugly.
We’ve got to stop these brands from dictating a culture that belongs to us.
What was the first storefront you ever vandalized?
I’ve been tagging for over 13 years so it’s not the first time that I’ve vandalized storefronts. I’ve been doing it for a very long time. What may be newer, is the message behind any one of my actions. The first target of “Kidult” was JCDC. This character has been exploiting graffiti for the longest time and even until this day, he writes on the walls with a piece of chalk and calls it “graffiti.” But when he is the victim of real graffiti, his best answer is to file a lawsuit for damages while he claims that he is the one who did it to his own store. This is pure nonsense.
Some of our readers brought up the fact that, in your “Illegal World” videos, you were wearing Jordans. Do you feel that Nike and Jordan brand are an exception to the realm of corporate and luxury labels that you believe extort urban culture and art?
My focus was on luxury brands because they represent the opposite of the graffiti culture and the reality of this world, they don’t play by the same rules. The irony is that they use more and more street art and graffiti for their collections but they were the first people to denigrate it and call it a subculture. It’s sad to see they have never been doing that good since the recession. It’s insane especially when you look at the state of the societies we live in. As far as the other targets you mentioned, I just can tell you that it may happen sooner than you thought.
As far as Nike and Jordan are concerned, this is the opposite reasoning of the one I just gave you. Sneakers were originally worn by and for the streets. These are the luxury labels which have recently decided to bring them into their own collections to the point where they are considered as a luxury product. Symbolically, it remains a product of the hip-hop culture.
Would you say that Kidult is strictly a reactionary response to the degradation and exploitation you see within street art or do you have any long-term goals you hope to accomplish through your graffiti?
I’ve got in my sights some other institutions — not only brands, but also banks, galleries and government institutions. Graffiti is an art which can be found everywhere, even where we do not expect to see it. The main interest in graffiti is the fact that it is subversive, disturbing, and has a shock value attached to it. I think it is difficult to not have a reactionary response when you take a look at the society we live in and everything which is at stake whether it is political or financially speaking. I aspire to wake the people up way beyond the artistic concerns. This is what I do with my videos.
What’s the difference between graffiti & vandalism? Is your work simply trying to bring attention?
Graffiti is vandalism. Graffiti (singular: graffito) is writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place. If graffiti becomes legal, I’ll stop. Efficiency is one of the most important traits in a graffiti artist’s skills. It starts from a concern that I have and I send a message to everybody by intellectualizing my reasoning and finding the best spot to be the most efficient. I try to give an unexpected subject to each person who finds himself face-to-face with what I’ve done. Question, shock, wake people up where they don’t expect it. If it brings greater attention it is great because it will touch even more people, but attention is not the main objective. The main goal is to make the person who is confronted with my work react. Graffiti is political before anything. That’s a visual dictator love it or hate it!
What is the intersection of politics and art?
Graffiti is a tool of expression. It allows you to say out loud what other people are thinking. Politics is the opposite: we tell the people what they want to hear in order to control them. Graffiti is the first form of revolt whether it is with inscriptions or drawings during war, riots or revolutions. One should never underestimate the political and social power of graffiti. Graffiti became an egocentric tool much later in history.
Which high profile artists do you think are having a negative effect on art? What about positive people?
I don’t judge or have any opinion on these artists, but if they start selling their soul, that’s a whole other story. When artists are perfectly aware of this distinction, I respect their choices. It’s up to them to do what they want. My only fear would be to see their art matching the trickery of this world. Besides that I really enjoy the work of Josep Renau Berenguer, Raoul Hausmann, John Heartfield, and BNE or Skki nowadays….
Does the thought of getting arrested/incarcerated scare you?
All graffiti artist have the fear of being caught. If they don’t have it, they are not doing graffiti. Graffiti is illegal and savage before anything else. I try to protect myself to the maximum by being organized, rigorous, and have my eyes everywhere and on every detail. These are the same rules for graffiti all over the world. I am aware of the risks. Graffiti is illegal so any person who is a graffiti artist fears being caught up. Today, it is considered a crime and you can go in jail for it. It increases the fear but I have learned to live with it. Graffiti is a game, either you win or you lose – some cheat, others don’t.
Is it contradictory to target retail establishments for their capitalistic agendas, only to go around and sell T-shirts based on this?
This is a very good question. I call it A-A-A (Anti Advertising Agency). All these luxury brands pillage graffiti of its image to make more money and attract new customers. I do the same thing by taking their images or logos illegally. It is important to mention that the tees that I sell allow me to fund my actions like when I gave away shirts in Paris or in London. It goes full circle and the notion of capitalism is never a reason for my actions. There is nothing contradictory. We can read a lot of things on the internet but believe only the things that you see.
Photography: Renaud Morin