1951 saw the birth of Xavier Prou, the man who would become one of the first graffiti artists in Paris and the originator of stencil graffiti art. His pseudonym, Blek Le Rat, originates from a childhood cartoon "Blek le Roc", using "rat" as an anagram for "art".
He describes the rat as an ideal subject, “because they create fear, they are synonymous with invasion and they are the only wild animals (apart from) pigeons that live in the city.” Blek Le Rat began spreading his message in 1981, painting stencils of rats on the streets of Paris.
Blek's identity was revealed to French authorities in 1991 while stencilling a replica of Caravaggio's Madonna and Child. The police put two and two together which equalled the arrest of Blek. From that moment on, his main body of work has been carried out using pre-stencilled posters for speedier application to walls lessening the likelihood of being caught in the act. Blek is particularly famous for his full scale human character stencils and many consider him the inventor of stencils in street art.
Although Blek created street art before Banksy, he has not had the same mainstream success as Banksy. Indeed there has been talk within the art world of a rivalry between the two and Banksy has been accused by some of outright plagiarism. Blek is quoted as saying, “I don’t care about Banksy….you should ask Banksy what he thinks about me.”
Blek’s illegal work has continued to appear throughout new cities.
“I love to work in places I don’t know because these locations allow me to get in touch with a new atmosphere, new lights, and new people.”
In the past decade Blek’s popularity has become more mainstream and in 2006 he started showing his work in galleries throughout the world. That doesn’t mean he has stopped the street art, he regularly hits the streets for a bout of tagging before exhibitions.