Jack le Black: A Parisian Street Poet

Every Parisian has already heard of, seen, or Instagrammed the work of local street artist Jack le Black. We caught up with Jack for a few questions during his last exhibition.

Can you introduce yourself and your exhibition?

I’m better known under the name Jack le Black, but my first name is Madison and I am a poet, even though that’s never easy to define. I try to express my poetry on all sorts of mediums, whether it’s things I find in the street or old posters. But the goal is always the same: to make people feel. This exposition is like a mini theater. Some pieces of work need my explaining [as he explains his “Jacko” stepladder, referring to Jacob’s ladder, he realizes that someone has stolen his Madeleine]. But it’s always a game: trying to create a connection between the artist and the observer.

Jack le Black, Paris

© Jerome Vivet/HEREYOUARE

Regarde Moi Jack le Black, Paris

© Jerome Vivet/HEREYOUARE

Jack le Black, Paris

© Jerome Vivet/HEREYOUARE

Your universe is simultaneously cinematographic, poetic, musical and street art-esque. Where do you get your inspiration?

I’m not much of a musician, but I try to reflect music in my poetry. I like the street artist Idem, who makes a kind of mural poetry, like Parisian haikus that are sometimes shocking. People can interpret his work however they want, which I like. I try to see the world through the eyes of a poet to make myself feel better. Because of that, I find beauty in everything that life has to offer. I try to see beauty everywhere—without it, I’d be dead. My whole life is chasing after beauty.

You got your start thanks to your t-shirts featuring antagonistic photos and text. Where do you get your gift for words?

When I was a kid I had a big imagination. I was an only child, so I had to develop a sense of creativity to fight off the boredom. But when I got older I got away from all that. I thought I was some kind of big shot. Later on, when I tried to start my life, everything came back to me. I started extracting all the bad feelings inside of me through creation, beginning with words.

That’s what I mean when I say I’m a poet. It’s not an occupation, it’s just that I’m a little crazy

I started rapping, but I was awful, and the producers said to me: “Your words are mesmerizing but your flow is shit!” My final goal is to make films. That way I can put everything in it: dialogue, decoration, smiles, lights. As a poet, it’s the ideal medium. I don’t think that I have a gift, I just have an eye that I’ve trained. That’s what I mean when I say I’m a poet. It’s not an occupation, it’s just that I’m a little crazy. Like Artaud! I need poetry to calm me down.

Exposition Il fait noir au pays des lumières Jack le Black, Paris

© Jerome Vivet/HEREYOUARE

Gang Bang Jack le Black, Paris

© Jerome Vivet/HEREYOUARE

Jack le Black, Paris

© Jerome Vivet/HEREYOUARE

Despite your often hardcore punchlines, love is at the center of your work. What are you in love with?

I’m in love with life! I love it so much. I inhale (he closes his eyes, takes a deep breath and has me do the same) stop: there is nothing else around us. Fuck man, we’re alive, even if everything around us is shit. It’s because I’m sensitive that I have this poetry in me. It’s a way to cope. Life is magic!
Light: the sun that reflects on a window: I see this reflection, I approach the window, and inside there will be a book whose title peaks my interest, and so I go to open it—but if the sun had never reflected off the window, I would have never approached. All my life is made up of moments like that. I’ve searched for signs my entire life. Now, I don’t search for them anymore, I explain them.

You’ve a culture entirely your own. What made you want to do this?

Art allowed me to come to terms with a big heartbreak I had when I was twenty years old. The person in question didn’t want to see me the way I truly was. But in our world, you’ve got to turn pain like that into action. Imagination is great and all, but if you don’t do something with it, no one will see it. The problem is that you always need someone to see your work if you want to progress; without others we are nothing. I wanted to transform my troubles into cultural research, to make the idle productive.

I wrote down my thoughts on some t-shirts to be independent, to be my own boss and to begin my life anew with my own thoughts in this capitalist world

So I started working in my room, listening to Brel, Gainsbourg, Brassens, reading everything I could. For two or three years, I was holed up, doing nothing but that. I absorbed everything I could to create this character: Jack le Black, an artistic and creative rebirth. Without this heartbreak, my life would have turned out completely different. I would never have thrown myself into the process of writing. I used Jack le Black to get a few ideas. I wrote them down on some t-shirts to be independent, to be my own boss and to begin my life anew with my own thoughts in this capitalist world. A type of message through t-shirts. Today, how are you supposed to spread a message? We used to talk about love: love is Christ, but all the churches are empty.

Jack le Black, Paris

© Jerome Vivet/HEREYOUARE

Jack le Black, Paris

© Jerome Vivet/HEREYOUARE

Lord of Art Jack le Black, Paris

© Jerome Vivet/HEREYOUARE

What do you think about Paris in 2017?

Well, I was born here and grew up in the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis and today it’s become miraculous. Sometimes I wonder if Paris will soon look like New York City did at the end of the 1970s. The period before the Juliani era, before Walt Disney was in Times Square.

You make T-Shirts—so how would you describe your style?

My T-shirts are a work of art that you can wear and clean for 30 euros. I was also making jackets with logos in my studio, but I got overwhelmed and I realized that the t-shirts were really working, so I decided I had to focus my time on one thing. Once I did that it allowed me to solidify my message, to create a universe that people can follow. Every six to twelve months my universe would be changing, like an evolution. And even though I was making a little bit of money with my shirts, I’ve taken pretty much all of them off my website.

Clothes allow you to express yourself through the material, the colors, the meaning, the swaying, the movement. It’s a poetry all on its own

I’m trying to focus on other things now. When people become interested in my work I don’t really want them to stumble upon some t-shirts that anyone can make. I want to be avant-garde: I try to listen to what Cocteau once said: “You’ve always got to run faster than the avant-garde.” That being said, I love clothes, and I would love to have a fashion line at some point. Clothes allow you to express yourself through the material, the colors, the meaning, the swaying, the movement. It’s a poetry all on its own. I really like Castelbajac for example. As for me, my look is pretty simple, I wear Levi’s jeans, a pair of converse and a small jacket—always black.

Jack le Black, Paris

© Jerome Vivet/HEREYOUARE

Exposition Il fait noir au pays des lumières Jack le Black, Paris

© Jerome Vivet/HEREYOUARE

What are your favorite spots in Paris?

I like to have a pre-dinner drink at Le Saint Denis (21 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis). Then for eating, I’m a regular at Chez Bob de Tunis (5 rue Richer). I used to really love going to this couscous place near Republique, but it’s closed down now. I must have different taste than most people!

What are your current projects?

The exposition is running until the 18th of May. I have a Youtube channel where you can see clips of my poetry, as well as on iTunes, where you can purchase some poems. On Vimeo, you can find some short films that I’ve done. After that, I’m showing my next short in Spain and I’ve got another exposition planned for November at the Renaissance hotel.

Exhibition “Il fait noir au pays des Lumières” Through 18 May
www.atelierjackleblack.com

“Il fait noir au pays des Lumières”

5 Rue Notre Dame de Nazareth, 75003 Paris, France

learn more

This article has been edited for clarity and conciseness

Julien Giacalone As far as Julien can remember he always wanted to be a gangster. Unlike Henry Hill, he mostly became a writer. But a strong part of him is still anti-establishment. Which part? Only the good half.
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