“I was not the first, but I was part of the initial graffiti movement in Paris, and Europe. There weren’t any books about graffiti; there were no radio stations or magazines about our culture. We had a few photos of friends who went to New York.”
He was one of the first European graffiters to furtively paint in Paris in the 1980s. Thanks to the rather unusual Mr. A, a “naïve” flea-like character that always wears a top hat and which became his trademark, he has been arrested dozens of times and is banned from painting in the streets of both Paris and New York. However, this does not stop his art from continuing to spread throughout the world. André manages to combine the look of a rebellious and provocative artist, while nurturing his pop star aura and demonstrating his ability in the field of public relations and business. He owns the exclusive Le Baron club, which, in addition to being located in an old brothel and a popular haunt of fashion designers, models, musicians and artists, also hosts exclusive parties during Paris’ fashion weeks. However, his empire does not stop there. He is the owner of “Hotel Amour”, the restaurant “La Fidelité”, the “Le Montana” Lounge and the “Black Block” shop, all in the French capital. The exclusive Hotel Ermitage, in Saint-Tropez, and the Le Bain club, located on the top floor of the Standard hotel in New York are also his. ¶ The son of two Portuguese emigrants, he was born in Uppsala, in Sweden, before moving to Paris at the age of ten. He began painting when he was 15. Shortly before chancing his arm as an entrepreneur with his friend Lionel Bensemoun (whose father owns various casinos) and having a daughter with the singer Uffie, he sold paintings in the Metro as part of the “Love Graffiti” project, where, in exchange for €2,500, he wrote the names of the romantically entwined in giant letters in the streets of Paris. He has a gift for dealing with people and is on friendly terms with some of the most influential figures in the French art and business world. He is close to Marc Jacobs, and Léa Seydoux and can be found posing with Scarlett Johansson at parties. He is a friend of the multi-millionaire heiress Daphne Guinness, photographer Ryan McGinley and Thierry Costes, owner of one of the most luxurious hotels in Paris. Some call him the social alchemist. He says that what most inspires him is nightlife, love, women and sex, and that everything that he does is connected to his art. At 42, he is currently working on his first feature film, a love story between two teenagers.
Interview: Bernardo Mendonça —— Photo: Vasco Colombo
M — Is it true that sometimes you would wear a suit and tie on late-night secret missions to paint Paris walls?
AS— I used to go out and paint at night a lot. And it’s true that sometimes when I put on a suit and looked more like a banker it meant not getting caught by the police. And it happened a few times. People wouldn’t imagine a guy dressed in a tie carrying a briefcase doing graffiti.
M — Do you still use that method in Paris?
AS — Yes, in Paris, but the dress code works all over the world. People couldn’t imagine bankers doing such things. But I think they are actually the worst culprits.
M — You are currently forbidden to draw Mr. A not just in Paris but also in New York. Where do you do graffiti nowadays?
AS — Graffiti is generally forbidden in cities. So I still do it a lot in my dreams, but sometimes I still go out at night and paint. In Paris, in New York or in LA, where I live. When I travel around the world, the best way for me to discover a city is to go out at night and paint Mr. A.
M — Is Mr. A your eternal alter ego?
AS — Mr. A is my alter ego, my friend, my shadow. And I paint him a lot. But sometimes I just write my name. It’s more the essence of graffiti. Just my tag. And sometimes I can write the name of my loved ones. It depends on my mood.
M — Is graffiti still one of your greatest pleasures in life?
AS — Yes. It is one of the things that gives me lots of joy.
M — Joy and what else?
AS — I don’t know. If I go out, after one session of graffiti, I come home with a level of satisfaction. Graffiti is an action, a performance without audience in which I’m alone. The fact that I paint at night, illegally, the adrenaline is essential for me.
How do you think graffiti works and results in the city?
M — You are 42 and there’s something of the rebellious artist about you. Do you identify with any particular causes?
AS — Of course, we always have a cause. I don’t see myself as a rebel artist, even if people associate graffiti with rebellion. I think I’m an artist and I think that an artist is a little anti-society or questions society. That’s part of doing art.
M — To provoke…
AS — For some artists, provocation can be a way to express themselves but it doesn’t have to be like that.
M — And in your case?
AS — I don’t know if I provoke. I just try just to give joy to people.
M — But you don’t like rules…
AS — I hate rules. And I hate signs of power.
M — When was the last time that you drew Mr. A?
AS — Yesterday. On some street panels in Lisbon.
M — When did you start doing graffiti?
AS — I started in the mid-eighties in Paris. One night I woke up, went out and started painting on the walls. It was part of me. Graffiti became my form of expression. At the time, graffiti was really new in Europe, in Paris, and it was so exciting to be part of something in which you had to invent the language. We didn’t know what it would become today. People used to stay to us “it’s just a trend, it will fade. It’s going to disappear”. And here we are.
M — You were one of the first European graffiters…
AS — I was not the first, but I was part of the initial graffiti movement in Paris, and Europe. There weren’t any books about graffiti; there were no radio stations or magazines about our culture. We had a few photos of friends who went to New York. But we didn’t have anything. We had to invent a language, an aesthetic, a style. It’s something that happens with music, clothing, dancing. An attitude. It was very tough. It was a way of life. It was really intense to be part of that.
M — When you were 14, who inspired you?
AS — A few guys. There was one guy. He used to write/tag the name “Bando”. He was maybe the first to bring graffiti to Europe. He was inspiring. There’s not many people who know about him today.
M — What was it like in the ’80s, doing illegal art, discovering a form of expression in the streets?
AS — It was very exciting. It was also like being a teenager discovering the world, having a voice, being independent, we didn’t have to follow the rules of the society. It was amazing.
In the next days we’ll be publishing André Saraiva’s interview here. Meanwhile, you can watch hear and read the full feature now in Mente 01, available for free download at Apple App Store. Do it here: