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Art Attack with Blek Le Rat King of Parisian Streets

Art Attack with Blek Le Rat! an Interview with Saira Viola

Posted December 3, 2015



Hailed as the godfather of the Graffiti Art Scene, Blek le Rat has been stenciling the Parisian streets since the early 80’s. Gonzo Today honours an artistic pioneer and proud French activist as he celebrates his 30 year anniversaire.

A graduate of the esteemed École des Beaux Arts in Paris, Blek Le Rat’s inspiration for street art came during a trip to NYC in the late 70’s. On his return he brought the bounce and brio of the Big Apple to the arrondissements of the French capital. The Graffiti Poet was born, and Xavier Prou (Blek Le Rat) has shown that pyretic polemical commentary can blossom and burn from humble spray paint and heartfelt poetics.

Saira Viola: As a student of the Beaux Arts in Paris, did you ever envisage that you would become the founding father of guerrilla street art?

Blek Le Rat: No, I did not envisage this idea at that time, although a fortune teller told me when I was 20 years old that I will become famous all over the world as an architect. She said, “I see you working in the city and you have a message to say to the world” … it’s unbelievable but it’s true.

On the other hand, I remember having been really impressed with the graffiti that I saw in NYC during the summer of 1971. It was kept somewhere in my mind for 10 years before I started to make graffiti.

SV: The Dada movement and Surrealists of Paris gave birth to some of the most exciting art of the 20th century during a time of war and political unrest. Can you explain the Manifesto of Stenicilism and who influenced you in its creation?

BlR: I was influenced by the Surrealists, the Situationists, and, of course, like many young people of my generation, by the British and American culture of the 70’s 80’s. I read André Breton’s Manifesto of Surrealism, and I found that the Graffiti art movement would need someone to write a text about the movement. I did it, but I think my text would need to be rewritten now, because I wrote it in 2003/4 and the movement of street art evolved and changed a lot since that time.
SV: We are experiencing a tumultuous period in world history with mass poverty, violent extremism, and unprecedented human suffering on a global scale. Much of your work highlights the plight of those affected by these issues and the growing homeless population. In London, they recently installed steel thorns in subways and bus shelters to stop the homeless from sleeping there; moreover, the growth of centralist city planning has imposed a sterile uniformity on city landscapes. Why do you think it’s important to express these social concerns through agitational art?

BlR: Art is one of multiple medias that makes a statement to the people. Although, in my opinion, political and social statement in art is also something dangerous to explode. Many so-called artists use this way of working only in search of vanity. I am sorry to see artists making and selling on the art market prints or pieces of art just few days after a tragedy like what happened in Paris in November. There is a large audience for this kind of art, but there is something wrong with this behavior.

SV: As the originator of stenciled graffiti, you have been acknowledged by British street artist ‘Banksy’ as a pivotal influence on his works. When you recognise your ‘signature’ in his work do you find it flattering or offensive?

blek_sprayBlR: Banksy is the best illustrator of our time. He uses my style to express his own ideas, and I feel very flattered with it but we don’t play in the same courtyard—or to put it another way, we go to the same restaurant, but we don’t eat from the same menu.

SV: In the cushioned luxury of a high end gallery, do you miss the kinetic energy of spraying the streets with pow wow painted philosophies?

BlR: I love cushioned luxury of galleries. 🙂 And I love the energy coming from the street.

SV: And lastly: If you had to choose three people to have a tête-à-tête with, whom would you choose and why?

BlR: I don’t know, I don’t see many people, perhaps the French writer, Louis Ferdinand Céline, but he died long time ago; Picasso, Praxiteles, but they are all dead people.

Doll On 54th


By Saira Viola

Nikki was a five and dime hustler. She had a fake-bake glow, red fish lips, and the kind of hips that can straddle a 6 foot mobster on ice. Her dreams stapled with 20 dollar bills and those cheap throwaway thrills a man gets when he feels lonely.

‘So what’s it gonna be?’

‘I don’t know, I’ve never done this before.’

’20 buys you a blow job and $100 takes you to heaven’s door.’

‘Well I guess that’s the closest I’ll get to heaven’s door.’

They left the curb and Nikki sat in the passenger seat flicking her blonde fringe and blowing gum bubbles at the same time.

‘Hey mister can I ask why you’re out here so late?’

‘Sure you can ask .’ His voice was blunt and frigid .

Guys like these scared Nikki the most. They were closed and out of control. She’d been lucky so far, nothing serious, just a few bruises and a busted mouth.

‘Just sayin’ it’s pretty late is all. I was about to head home.’

‘Yeah well, I’m paying for your time. You’re mine while the clock’s ticking on my dime.’His lips parted into a savage little smile then he leant closer staring at her thighs and her awkward blue stilettos. They were a little large for her and she had stuffed them with paper towels . It didn’t show but her feet were hammered raw.

‘You wanna smoke?’

‘No I’m good.’

He lit up a cigarette and drew in deep his eyes fixed on her blouse. It was tight and stressed the curve of her breasts, leaving a nipple imprint on the surface , which turned him on.

‘We’ll pull up after the next lights.’


Nikki could feel him undressing her – it made her wanna spill her guts out and puke . She reached down and fiddled with the strap of her shoe, revealing the tattoo on the nape of her neck, a rose with the petals trailing her shoulders. She looked up. They were in a deserted mall.

‘I come here sometimes when I need to be alone. I work over there.’ He pointed to the depressing grey building .

Great, just what she needed, a fucking mall clerk.

She nodded hesitantly feigning interest.

He stared at her with a dead lust, the kind that feeds evil.

‘Take off your shirt – do it slowly.’


Nikki unbuttoned her blouse, trailing her open lips with her fingers, faking a smile. She was play-bunny cute going through the same old mechanical routine.Just as she was about to reveal her breasts, he leant forward and kissed her hard on the neck. It made her shudder. He tasted good so good, Nikki felt bad. He pulled her by the hair and lifted her face to his, inches away, then locked his lips on hers spreading her legs wide with his hand. She gasped, the heat was intense. As they lay wrapped in orbit for what seemed like an age, Nikki opened her eyes to find the man had vanished and in his place was a hybrid with hooves and a male torso. She screamed and tried to kick him away:

“Jesus Christ – what is this – who are you? Get off of me, get off me now.” Terrified, she struck him in the face and tried to pull away. He looked at her and leant back in his seat.

‘You’re only tripping, you’ll forget all about this in ten minutes flat.’

‘What, so now you talk, what are you, I mean Jesus Christ.’

‘I’m just your imagination I’m the rock star who injected you with meth the boy next door who left you for dead and your best friend’s lover you found in bed.’

Nikki was freaking. The car door was open, she got out frantically clipping the car park, her heels scraping the ground with a noisy clack. She dug her phone out of her purse and tried dialing 911 but the keys got jammed. She could still feel him the taste of rotten food spiking her mouth .

Got to get out of here, Jesus was I tripping! I don’t know, like I did take some blow earlier.

She checked her watch: it was almost five a.m. Ari her pimp would be calling soon.

Maybe I should just wait until Ari calls. The car’s still there and no one’s come after me.

Then it started, a creeping asphyxiating fire that swallowed her whole , tugging at her soul.

‘I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.’ Her mottled sobs turning the pavements red with fear. She staggered to the ground, her head falling to one side and her body limp.

That night it rained for five hours straight, but the morning brought a freshness to the town -dew drop new. A little girl and her mother were shopping for groceries. While loading the SUV the child spied a plastic doll on the tarmac.

‘Stop mommy, look – see it’s a doll, mommy, a doll without a home.’In her hand a macabre looking toy with bright red lips and yellow hair. It wore mini blue heeled shoes and a short tight skirt , and on its Barbie style body, a rose tattoo intricately stenciled across its shoulders.

‘Oh Catherine, it’s cute but it’s not ours. She doesn’t belong to us.’

‘Please mom please, can I take her home?’

‘I don’t know sweetie, she looks awful messed up, and those clothes and that strange tattoo. . . .’

‘I’ll fix up her dress when I get back and make her pretty again.’

‘Well okay, but no tattoos and short skirts for you, Catherine.Nothing good ever comes out of short skirts and tattoos!’untitled

Clive Stafford Smith: The Gonzo Today Interview


by Saira Viola 

art by Joey Feldman

Clive Stafford Smith OBE is one of the leading lights of the legal profession, a recipient of numerous awards for services to the law, including the Gandhi International Peace Prize and shortlisted twice for the prestigious Orwell Book of Fiction award. A tireless defender of human rights and justice, Gonzo celebrates the ultimate legal rock star.

Saira Viola: Lawyers are generally perceived as leeching piranhas, who shamelessly profit from other peoples’ misery, but you have successfully bucked this trend and are very much seen as the pinup of peoples’ justice. Who or what influenced you to become a lawyer?

Clive Stafford Smith: In my view there is only really one purpose to any professional qualification, and that is how it may facilitate assisting those who are less fortunate. My own preference is to look around the world and see who is most hated, and then get between them and the ones doing the hating. In that sense, having a law degree is a helpful tool as it gives one the power to do some good.

S.V. As someone who is passionate  about the Rule of Law and the legal process, ostensibly working within the system to change the system, the founder of the non-profit legal charity Reprieve, a staunch death row activist, and someone who has championed the rights of the disenfranchised and wrongly incarcerated for over three decades, can you explain what it feels like to witness a state execution when you hold an unequivocal  gut belief that the person you are representing should in fact be freed and the system has  crucially failed ?

C.S.S. I don’t care whether they should be released from prison or not. But whenever anyone is executed that is a failure of the system. Witnessing an execution in the 21st Century, where we sacrifice a human being to the mythological notion that it makes the world a better place, is (I imagine) rather like going back to the 17th Century and watching a witch being burned at the stake.

S.V. Moreover, was it your belief in the system that allegedly prompted you to pen a 50 page brief in defence of Saddam Hussein, allegedly contending that he should be tried in the U.S. under U.S. criminal law?

C.S.S. That is nonsense, as I never penned such a brief. I don’t see why he should be tried in the U.S. at all, as the U.S. has no right to try him. I did, however, write a brief detailing how he might be defended from the grisly fate that awaited him, based on the fact that the U.S. was meddling in the Iraqi justice system in ways that were reprehensible.

S.V. Can you sum up in simple terms what has been the effect of the WAR ON TERROR?

C.S.S. It’s not the War on Terror, it’s the War of Terror. The U.S. and its allies have visited more chaos and terror on the world than Bin Laden ever did, though obviously 9/11 was a dreadful and deranged act. The effect of the WOT has been to make the world a vastly more dangerous place, though not for those who are most afraid (the Americans and the West) but rather for the people who actually suffer in it everyday across the Middle East and elsewhere. In the words of Michael Franti, you can bomb the world to pieces, but you can’t bomb it into peace.

S.V. You are probably most well-known for representing detainees of Guantanamo Bay. And this year, after years of wrongful imprisonment, Shaker Ameer was finally freed. We are now witnessing grassroots activism and public anger at the way prisoners and alleged enemy combatants are treated, and you have successfully saved over 300 death row inmates from state execution and defended over 80 detainees from Guantanamo Bay. Former detainees of  GITMO have highlighted the barbaric treatment they were subject to culminating in calls for reform .But we are also witness to police brutality on the streets, civil unrest and extra judicial killings of black citizens in America. There is a strong wave of public outrage at what some commentators see as the ethnic cleansing of the black community in the U.S. Quentin Tarantino, the film director, has spoken out against these killings and he has suffered an unprecedented backlash from police federations. There is a general mood of discomfort and anger about the erosion of citizens’ rights and what appear to be the systemic racially motivated killings of black citizens in the U.S. What are your thoughts?

C.S.S  That  violence has been there for all my life in the U.S., and long before it. Only now people are finally seeing how terrible it is.

S.V. Finally, as someone who is at the forefront of the civil liberties debate who or what do you think is the deadliest threat to our civil liberties today?

C.S.S. Secrecy. If power can do terrible things and claim that they should be secret, we are in grave danger.

3 Poems from Saira Viola



Clock Work Porn (song)

She was a rubber love doll with a fake bake glow

And blow -fish lips

Her leather zipped hips

Straddled the night with a P A Y -ME -Now

Viper slut scowl

She had grunge hot hair and a kitten whipped stare

That lured them in

A black lust bin of promises and

Cheap forever afters

She lived on recycled smiles

And white ride highs

Where dreams were stapled with 20 dollar bills

And play and lay thrills

Butchering her Soul

With slussy pride

Crimson Thumbs Juicing her inside

A dirty buck and ball

Made her beg

Made her crawl

She stayed on the game

Her eyes bleeding with shame

Too broken for hope

She rocked blue -blue on dope

Watching the rain -wash away the pain of a 50 buck squeeze

With pimp daddy ease.

  •   *   *   *   *   *   *

Cerebral Contusion

You catch the A train lipstick on leopard shoes

Mascara magic lines your eyes

And you flip strut easy to your desk

You read about Ri Ri Nigella and Miley

Bullets bore black skies with drones

And Bratz babes pop up in your inbox

It’s a Niqab of veiled ignorance

Which pusses the cellar of your mind

Down three shots – Giggle-Jock time

Tabloid ravens and the crescent of ‘fear’

Wing you to excess

Stoned by hate

Your world yellow green and red.

  •  *   *   *   *   *   *

Vegetarian Beef Girl

Lizard stilettos pleather the pleated folds of your conscience

Carbon crystals crust the precious sparkle of your diamante
You have a pet Chihuahua and carry him in a faux leopard sac
You eat Kobe Beef  steak grass fed beer happy
And chomp on Quinoa  cake
Scream blue murder for the Lemurs  and Dolphins
Spread your thighs for Peta
And Kiss Buddha’s Gold
Still the foot prints of orphans
And the loin mustard of oiled beggary
Echo through the walls
It’s an unholy mess
Time to orbit
To Arcadia .

Saira Viola

Dave Parsons of Sham 69: The Gonzo Today Interview

by Bronwen Griffiths

by Saira Viola
illustration by Bronwen Griffiths

Gonzo Today salutes one of the founding fathers of Punk nobility: Dave Parsons — proudly anti establishment and a global icon of rebellion — the original co-lyricist with Jim Pursey and guitarist for Sham 69. Dave sheds light on his gritty way to the top and discusses the anarchic spirit that gave birth to Sham 69 and the music industry today. Get his latest solo album UNSTABLE now fromwww.daveparsons.co.uk

Sham 2015

Saira Viola: The cultural explosion that gave birth to Punk and Sham 69 was born from civil conflict, youth unemployment, recession and racial tension — a time when guitar bluesman Eric Clapton made an inebriated endorsement of support for racist politician Enoch Powell, infamous for his ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. A bizarre declaration of support from Clapton who has notably built his entire career upon the influences of black music and in particular his rendition of: “I Shot the Sheriff” from the late great Bob Marley. Britain was at a breaking point and music became the rallying cry for disaffected youth. Rock Against Racism, a grassroots offensive by musicians to combat racism in the music business and society, was set up and you were at the forefront of this initiative. For newer fans of your music could you describe a little of how you and Sham 69 got to be at the vanguard of the punk revolution?

Dave Parsons: I didn’t know that about Clapton! Surprising really considering as you say his allegiance to black music. With Sham 69’s rise I think it was because we had a platform to vent how we felt about things and a lot of kids our age were able to relate to us and what we were saying when perhaps there was no one else that fitted that criteria. It was an age when a lot of people are affected by peer pressure, so there were all these kids running around whose elder brothers or cousins (for example) were being taken in by the national front and BNP and they felt that to be accepted they had to follow suit to be part of the clubs so to speak. When we came along and made it clear we were anti racist and brought in Black reggae bands to support us etc. it gave them the chance to think for themselves and maybe join a different club. It was also of course the lyrics to the songs that they could relate to, it’s very flattering when years later people come up to me and say for example ‘Thank’s so much for the That’s Life album, it virtually saved my life, I was on the edge, alone and felt I was the only one feeling this frustration and anger, that album was like turning on the light again’.

SV: How if at all, decades later  have things really changed in the music industry and society, and do you think the conditions are ripe for Sham 69 the next chapter ?

DP: The music industry has changed beyond all recognition for bands like Sham 69 that came out of that era, but we’re very fortunate to have a strong and loyal fan base that sets us free from the confines of companies and managers etc. it’s fantastic that at my age (56) I can still go out and headline festivals and concerts all over the place, when I started out I imagined I’d have a four year run at the most, so I feel very fortunate to be still playing and maybe in some small way making a difference. In some ways it’s a double edged sword, it would be nice if conditions had changed so much that there was no need for a band like Sham 69, but sometimes it seems that nothing has actually changed on the larger scale and therefore the lyrics to our songs are still as relevant today as when we began.

SV: Are we being led in one direction with the globalization of mass produced pop muzik ?

DP: Well it certainly looks like it to me, we’ve always had manufactured bands and in their place that was fine, but it seems to me that these so called Svengali’s have become a sort of music mafia creating their own monopoly in the business. I saw a funny quote the other day ‘Music was much better when ugly people were allowed to make music’, with the emphasis on Allowed, that kind of speaks volumes really, do we really need to get our teeth fixed, our breasts enlarged etc. before anyone will take us seriously?

SV: Do you think  Simon Cowell sometimes generously referred to as the ‘Svengali’ of Pop Music and the growth of talent shows and reality tv ‘rock’ competitions have bastardized the music industry? We’ve had over a decade of Cowell’s musical choices. When do you think the backlash will come against this kind of manufactured pop?

electric 2012 DP 01DP: I don’t know, hopefully soon. The trouble is that the youth of today are almost being programmed to like certain things and seen to behave in a certain way, much more so than when I was growing up, the music has almost become secondary, a background for the games they play or the products they buy. The backlash will only come from an underground scene like it did in Punk and then with luck given the space to take on it’s own quantum leap. One thing that really pisses me off is the way music is being produced now, it’s a forum for producers, not the musicians that make the music anymore, once they’ve found a face to sing the song the producers just drench the music in effects and so highly compress it that you can hardly here any individual instruments any more, they’re just trying to make some pretty sounding wash of a sound to go behind the vocal, gone are the days of listening to what the bass player was doing or picking out some great guitar lick in the background.

SV: The potent lyricism of some of your greatest tracks call for insurrection and defiance against the  establishment. What ‘s your opinion of feather lite lyrics that dominate the charts right now an example is ‘”Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift where she sings:
I stay out too late
Got nothing in my brain
That’s what people say, mmm-mmm
That’s what people say, mmm-mmm

DP: I’ve got nothing against throw away pop music, but in its place, not like I said before when it starts to monopolise the whole scene.

SV: If you had to describe Dave Parsons in 5  lines how would you do it?

DP: Ha ha that’s not easy, it’s always easier for someone else to describe. I guess life is a great big learning process, we’ve all done things in life we’re not proud of, and the whole point of these things is not to beat yourself up over them but to make sure we learn from our mistakes and become better people with more compassion and understanding for our fellow human beings, after all we’re all playing the same game – life.

SV: One of the traits of any successful Punk band are the fermenting tensions behind the scenes and like lots of punk groups you’ve suffered the rollercoaster ride of fame, infamy and renaissance. Any regrets at all?

DP: No I don’t think so, there’s always things that happen that are out of your control and you can’t do much about that. Actually I was thinking the other day, the one regret I have was around 1979 when I had a brief Pete Townsend moment, I had this beautiful 60s Gibson SG and at the end of this particular gig we spontaneously smashed up up our gear, back in the dressing room with my guitar in about three pieces it hit home what I’d just done, especially as today SG’s are my favourite choice of guitar, oh well, as I said you live and learn.