Lek : an urban storyteller review

 LEK 

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Last Friday 5th May, i had the chance to visit the latest exhibition of LEK, french street artist and urban storyteller, at David Bloch gallery in Marrakech. I got to discover his mesmerizing universe full of borderline chaos, fragments, invisible ropes and fierce rebellion against rigidity and sterness. Some artists, like Frédéric Malek, have that power to instantly captivate you with their vision and create breaches in the continuum of time and space. Because most Urban arts such as Graffiti or Street Art are characterized by existing in the public space, they have been labeled as vandalism and destruction of private property for many decades but are slowly gaining status as an independent Art form. Created on the street, at night, often in inaccessible places, graffiti writings are in a way one of the most controversial artistic performances. If Pop artists respond to the shiny new consumer culture that emerged after World War II, graffiti artists respond to its decay, reflecting disillusionment and broken promises. This underbelly of consumerism, and an undefinable desire to question the fundamental essence of society is exactly what first captivated me in the work of Lek.

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Lek used mixed techniques for the « Fractal » exposition, such as adhesive tapes that give a third lecture and allows to feel each canvas as a sky view on angular city streets lined with decaying, textured buildings and bedecked with never ending electric signage. Lek’s personal view of street art aesthetics and architectural reflexions raises the question: What happens to street art when it is no longer in the street ? It certainly loses some of its shock value. But this time it’s different, Lek’s art involves a peculiar combination of understanding and misunderstanding. He doesn’t try to bring the streets into the gallery like most artists do but the complete opposite : open the narrow gallery space on the constantly changing and mutating outdoors. He thinks that as an artist, one of the most important things is to know when to step outside the safe harbor; « I like to be exactly where i’m expected the least », he says. This reflexion is what “Fractal” was all about, a subtle immersive experience where we are asked to see beyond the obvious and allow our pathos to feel the frequencies each of his composition conveys. Almost coming directly from Lek’s personal maze in which we are caught from the get go, the vibrant color palette he used turn into the noise, the light, the quintessence of the vibrant urban jungles we live in. Each line forces us to re-think how we view abstraction in relation to the city. In the end, this exposition isn’t just about showcasing street art but about recovering in some way the essence of an underground art form that slowly imposes itself in the Artistic market.

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Frédéric Malek, also known as Lek, comes from a Parisian neighborhood in which different cultures, spheres and universes collide. He spent the 90s emancipating himself from the traditional canons of the already established Graffiti culture, infusing his work with architectural and abstract influences. As he begin to explore abandoned industrial wastelands, Lek becomes one of the pioneers of what is now known as Urbex or Urban Exploration, perpetually crisscrossing the Parisian suburbs in search of new play ground. In 2009, he co-wrote with Yko the book “Nothing but letters” (Editions Alternatives, 2009), a visual collection gathering 20 years of graphic experiments and urban installations. In 2010, Lek meets another talented street artist named Sowat during a collective exhibition organized by the magazine Graffiti Art. Sharing a common taste for urban culture and the necessity of bringing art into abandoned areas, they decide to team up.

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Pushing the limits of traditional Graffiti, Lek and Sowat are at the origin of the project ‘Mausoleum‘, wild artistic residence realized in an abandoned supermarket in Aubervilliers where they invite for almost a year more than 40 talented artists. From this extremely bold and iconic project, kept secret until 2012 will result a book, a must see film and a collective exhibition. The « Mausoleum » project shuns a bright definition of street art in favor of independent public art. The supermarket, turned into an artspace now represents the urban museum by excellence and is viewed by many as the Paris Mecca of Graffiti.

At the invitation of Jean de Loisy, Lek & Sowat then invest the basements of the Palais de Tokyo for over a year initiating alongside exhibition curator Hugo Vitrani what will become the “Lasco Project”. Thus illustrating the evanescent nature of graffiti and its ability to infiltrate everywhere, the two companions and each of their guests have, in all discretion, colonized the darkest alleys of the art center. It resulted in an unconventional inspiring book called “Underground doesn’t exist anymore”. The philosophy of Lek as an artist may have started as a symbol of the disaffection felt among young people, but it slowly became an attempt to reclaim space from systemic neglect and turn each corner into a living art form with its own story to tell. Since the Lasco Projet, Lek and Sowat have collaborated with artists from various backgrounds: John Giorno, Agnès B and Jean Charles de Castelbajac ; but also with the pioneers of Graffiti Futura, Mode2, Jonone, Jacques Villeglé… It is with this last that they realized the Project « Tracés Directs », first work of graffiti to enter the permanent collection of Center Pompidou, Paris.

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A close encounter between the past (Lascaux caves, Egyptian Temples, Graffiti’s Old School) and the present (Subway Hatches, Industrial wastelands), where the four artists’ paintings resonate through the architecture, the secret, the sound and fury of the storm escaping from this ventilation shaft, giving a new breath to the Palais de Tokyo. – Hugo Vitriani

Getting to know Lek allowed me to discover an extremely detail oriented and sharp eyed artist who exudes a feeling of freedom and audacity. Somehow, he decided to turn his entire life into an urban playground in which every move happens at exactly the right time, a little like layers of paint. His artistic approach comes from a very experimental perception of the world, a desire to set foot in undiscovered lands and seas instead of following the beaten track. As he tells me about his work and passion, his eyes shine so bright half the answer resides there : the fierce desire to create, to destroy, to embrace. One of the things that really grip you in his latest exhibition is the close correlation between mental, cognitive and urban architecture. Either street art compels to you or not, there is no doubt that Lek’s work will not leave you indifferent. He inspires us to challenge the urban atmosphere, question the notion of space and embrace the fragility and ephemere side of youth spirit, but also within ourselves as the Urban scene is nothing more than a reflection of our inner architecture. The intemporality of Lek’s universe gives each of his pieces a fourth dimension in which each stroke, each like, each color and each angle redefines both aesthetics and rules. If you’re in Marrakech, “Fractal” exposition at David Bloch Gallery lasts until the end of May 2017.

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Peace out.

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