André, 21st century fox.
Lisa Rovner: André, you are many things to many people. How would you describe what you do?
André Saraiva: I write my name on walls and I create places for people to go.
How about "Specialist in troubles of all kinds?" One of my favorite artists, Ed Ruscha, once had business cards printed to aid in the pronunciation of his name: "Ed-werd Rew-shay" they read. Do you have a business card?
My business cards are the walls in the street.
Let's start at the beginning. Before becoming the multi-disciplinary entrepreneur you are today, you were a kid in Paris doing graffiti. The first known example of "modern style" graffiti survives in the ancient Greek city of Ephesus (located in modern-day Turkey). Local guides say it is an advertisement for prostitution. The graffiti shows a handprint that vaguely resembles a heart, along with a footprint and a number. This is believed to indicate that a brothel was nearby, with the handprint symbolizing payment. What was the first graffiti you remember seeing?
The ones in Brassai's pictures.
Brassai, the French photographer started documenting the graffiti in Paris in the 1930s. He called it the "language of the walls”. His graffiti photographs were exhibited at the Museum of Modern art in New York in 1957. You are currently in a show at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles entitled “Art in the streets.” Did you ever imagine that Mr. A would haunt the walls of the MOCA as he does now?
I didn't imagine there would be such a big one, but a little one on the door of the bathroom, why not?
What is your favorite piece in that show and why?
Keith Haring's car because I would love to drive it.
How do you feel about the entrance of graffiti onto museum walls?
Graffiti is not vandalism, it’s a beautiful crime.
What about mainstream pop culture?
You have the answer in the question.
How old were you when you started writing graffiti?
What drew you to graffiti?
You are known all around the world for your signature top-hatted, grinning winking stick-figure tag, Mr. A. How did this character come about?
Everybody was writing a name or a word. I wanted to do something different so I created Mr. A, a simple and easily recognizable stick man.
Can you tell us about your project “love, graffiti”. A gallerist in Paris was connecting you with people who commissioned you to write their lovers names in the streets. I read that you started tagging your girlfriend’s name to avoid the police, is that how it all started?
Yes. I was writing her name instead of mine all over the place, so much so that people thought she was the artist doing it. Edouard Merino thought it would be great to have people commission me to do them with the name of their loved ones, kind of like a modern day Cyrano. Then we had a show at his gallery (Air de Paris) with the pictures of all the ones I had done.
Other than Cyrano de Bergerac, who used words as effectively as weapons, who are the artists that inspire you? And in which way do you think that they have an impact on your work?
Gordon Matta Clark makes me want to do holes in buildings.
You are the man behind the best nightclubs in Paris, (the legendary Baron, Chez Moune, le Montana), New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo, what’s your recipe for making a good club?
Getting people drunk...
You’ve also ventured in restaurants, and hotels, what’s next for you?
Great answer. You have recently taken over the reins at the French magazine, l’Officiel Hommes.
I always dreamed to take care of a magazine. It was the opportunity that came around to put together all the people I've admired for years: writers, artists, photographers and friends.
In your opinion what makes a magazine good?
I don't know what makes a magazine good but I am just trying to do something close to my beliefs and that I'd love to read.
You just made your first short film. What is it about the medium that excites you?
Telling stories and filming the girl I love, Annabelle.
If you could have any actor play you in the story of your life, who would you choose?
I can’t really define happiness but I believe that love is the closest to happiness.
How romantic. You just turned 40. What is your current state of mind? Any words of advice for the rest of us?
My state of mind is still the same as it was 20 years ago...Free.