Garance Doré interviews Fafi
French writer and illustrator Garance Doré met street artist Fafi in Paris earlier this year.
Inspired by her ‘crazy courage’ to go out and paint in the streets at night, Doré was curious to uncover more about the woman behind Fafi; her troupe of Fafinettes and what led her down the path she finds herself on today.
Here we share an excerpt from her refreshingly honest and straight talking interview with the infamous contemporary street artist…
You were born in Toulouse…what did you want to be when you grew up, when you were little?
When I was little, I couldn’t decide between being a whore or a nun, actually.
Seriously? How did you discover those two professions?
Honestly, I was always very two-sided. So I always had that little “should I be good or not be good?” problem. I wouldn’t say angel or demon complex because I hate that awful expression but, actually, I think when I was little, I didn’t necessarily have the soul of an artist but I was very, very adventurous.
I dreamed of being a Cat’s Eye anime… For example, I used to throw balloons out my roof window and I hoped one day someone would discover my messages. I used to spy on people and I’d find ways to get into my neighbors’ houses. I had, and I still have, a very strong taste for breaking the rules.
Wow, you broke into your neighbors’ houses!
Definitely—in every possible way, I was very attracted to whatever I wasn’t supposed to do. That’s how it all started. So, when I started painting in the streets at 17 years old, it was perfect. It was a way to mix art with transgression.
How did your interest in art begin?
I first became interested in art through fashion magazines and photographers like Helmut Newton. Things that portrayed women as being powerful. After that, it was actually when I rode my Solex or my bike and looked at the walls on my way to school—I saw tons of graffiti, tons of tags, and it made me wonder—it made me fantasize a little bit. I wondered: Who was doing it? What time were they doing it? I totally tripped about the whole world of graffiti and how it’s both visible and invisible at the same time. Visible to passersby, but invisible because it’s done in secret and at night.
I first became interested in art through fashion magazines and photographers like Helmut Newton.
Did you study art at university? What was your major?
No, not at all. I finished high school with a concentration in drawing. After that I was supposed to become a nurse, I was going to start nursing school. I didn’t really like any of it. I had already started painting and I told myself I’d keep painting for myself, as a hobby. Have a normal job and save painting for Sundays.
And then, actually, it ended up being other people who decided for me. While I was in nursing school, I started getting shows. I met some agents in Japan and they put me to work right away.
Were your parents supportive from the beginning?
[Laughs] No, no, I had violent arguments with my dad when I would come home from painting at 6 in the morning. There were visits to the police station, etc. You get into a lot of trouble when you paint in the street. It’s not a comfortable situation for a young girl.
I can imagine. Were you part of a group or did you go by yourself?
Most of the time I went to paint alone. I would decide to go paint, and sneaked out. I’d leave the garage door to my parent’s house open, so anyone could get into the house. It wasn’t super smart. But I did have an accomplice at the very beginning—Kat, who painted with me. We would do roofs together a lot of the time. I finally became that Cat’s Eye character!
We would get dressed up with leggings, super tight clothing. We’d climb up on roofs. Actually, we’d pick out the roofs during the day. It’s great painting on roofs, being up high makes you feel like you rule the world, and no one sees you because people don’t usually look up when they’re walking down the street. So that feeling of doing something in plain sight during the day, and being super discreet like a cat on the roof, was great.
It’s great painting on roofs, being up high makes you feel like you rule the world…
You mentioned the people who pushed you to focus on art. Did you have a mentor, someone who always guided you throughout your career or who gave you any particular advice? Anything that’s stuck with you?
Kat is really the person I started painting with from the beginning. She’s a little older than me, she’s very philosophical in the way she thinks about art and she’s taught me a lot. It was her at the very beginning and, since then, I’ve always chosen boyfriends who encouraged me in what I was doing, but I wouldn’t say there was one mentor in particular.
I’m also pretty solitary in my art. I like that. When I feel too comfortable with one subject, or I feel like I’ve reached the end of a certain category, I like to move on to something else. That’s why I try to do a lot of different things — videos, comics… As soon as I get bored, I change platforms, because life goes by very, very quickly. Rather than wanting to be successful, I prefer to put myself at risk as often as possible.
Yes, that was one of my questions, actually—for all the different projects you’ve done, were you the one who sought them out or did people come to you with proposals, or was it a bit of both?
For a very long time, I just waited for people to come to me. And that worked. All the biggest collaborations I did with MAC, Adidas, etc. People came to me. Which led to behavior on my part that was… kind of shitty [Laughs].
No, not untouchable. When projects like that start multiplying and these were projects that, in terms of payment, I could easily live on for three to four years. So, at one point, I didn’t even respond to people’s emails offering me work anymore. And I think I just became really shitty. It’s kind of funny to admit it. To finally realize it and say, “Hang on, this probably isn’t good for my karma.” For example, I used to get a kick out of not saying a single word at a meeting. Stupid things like that.
That all changed because I grew up and everything. I was 27 or 28. I used to get a kick out of saying the most bizarre things in meetings when Americans were around. It made me laugh because I’m French.
I’m about to turn 40 in a few months. I think I’ve gotten a lot out of this industry and the scene I was in. I traveled a lot, I made paintings all over. I had great opportunities with brands who made it possible for me to make my comic, for example.
…the things that demand the most of you creatively are the things that will bring in the least amount of money.
Now I’m more in a mode where I reach out to people. Every time people came to me with ideas for projects, it was always a way for me to stretch myself further and try out other types of media, but I never once thought, “Ok, that’s it, I’m at the top of my career, I’ve made it”—on the contrary, I’ve always thought, and this is something I notice every day, actually, and I think that for a lot of artists, this is the case—the things that demand the most of you creatively are the things that will bring in the least amount of money. But those are the projects that help you to grow and mature.
For me, working with a brand is what allows me to do other things I enjoy. It gives me financial security and after that, I can have fun with other projects. No one will probably notice those smaller projects, but it doesn’t matter. They do me good. They make me happy and help me develop as an artist and as a woman, as well.
You have so many projects going on at once that I wondered whether you were doing all the work, or if you had a team helping you coordinate everything?
It depends on the project. For the comic, I’m working with Lolita Pille. When I collaborate with brands, I always work with the brand’s creative team, and that’s great. And when I make my videos, I have a production team with me. My production team and film editors. And if, for example, I need to make a drawing in Illustrator, I don’t know how to do that, so I ask someone.But working in Paris is totally different from working in New York. I don’t have ten assistants, I don’t even have an intern. I do everything on my own. For certain projects, I surround myself with a very competent team, that way I can fully focus on creativity.If I ever had to learn to work on special effects, that would take a crazy amount of time. I can get a much faster result from working with professionals. And plus, it’s great working with a team. It’s something I only started doing recently.
When you travel, what kinds of tools do you bring with you? For example, when you painted the wall in Mexico for Dia de los Muertos?
Usually, I don’t bring anything with me other than a few paint brushes I like and that I’m used to working with. Otherwise, I just buy materials when I get there. I was invited to paint there, so there was a whole scaffolding system in place. I was up very high and it was very big. There were two assistants helping me. But typically, it’s nothing.
The trips that inspired me the most were the ones to Japan. When I arrived in Tokyo in the 90s and saw all the girls—the completely nutty Gungaru girls driving around with their big shoes. They were burning up in the sun with their Vuitton bags. It was crazy, I’d never realized that rebellion could be expressed in such a Hello Kitty way. Those girls took it pretty far since they were prostituting themselves to buy Chanel bags. It was really the archetype of consumer society to the max. Japan is what inspired me the most when I was drawing and painting on walls.
These days, I’m less inspired by reality. At a certain point, I found inspiration wherever I was. I painted a Fafinette that fit in somehow with the place I was in, or the country I was in. It was based on observing the girls around me. And fashion really inspired me, as well, but then things change, and you have less of a desire to base your work on real things. That’s why comics have been great—it comes from a desire to invent something new, and not base it on anything real. The more you create, the more you want to get rid of all your references. You want to become a reference for other people instead. You want to inspire others—that’s the ultimate thing—creating your own universe and basing things less on real things around you.
Comics are perfect for that, but at the same time, I’d like to see what kinds of voices my characters would have. It would be nice if they could move around…
Are there times when you have lots of projects going on, and other times when you don’t have any at all?
Absolutely. It’s very strange. One year, I might have two or three big projects that I can live on for a few years, then three years later, there will be no projects at all. My email address works, I’m receiving text messages, I’ve got my 4G, my sim card… it’s a choice I make! You have to be philosophical about it!
You have to be comfortable with yourself. It’s really hard because, if you get a little depressed, the winter, the cold temperatures can get to you. It’s part of the job. I’m surrounded by people with similar professions. We know it very well. You have to be productive. You have to do things for yourself because, at my age, I really want to share and give to others.
Right now, I’m putting together an art and music festival in my native city of Toulouse. And I’m enjoying it so much. Getting a team together, meeting the managers, seeing which park would be the best for concerts in the evenings. Which artists to invite. How to get funding for the project. I love doing that kind of thing. It’s something I’m totally new at, so I have to figure it out piece by piece. I’m not very good at it yet, but I’m learning. I’m putting myself out there, and I love that. It’s so much fun.
Do you go back to Toulouse very often?
Yes, all the time. My son loves it, my parents are there. And all my childhood friends. We’ve all lived very different lives, but it’s still my home…
Did the arrival of your son influence your work?
The birth of Neil made me totally question the superficiality of my characters. I had to face my work and explain it to him, and I felt a bit dumb. I told myself that I needed to go further. That’s also a normal part of getting older, but having a child is definitely part of it.
Go further, reach higher. Never settle for something that’s already run its course.
What advice would you give your 20 year old self?
I would tell her not to stay in her comfort zone, and to always try new things. Making mistakes is part of the process!
This feature is an abbreviated version of an interview with Fafi by Garance Doré, originally published on garancedore.fr in March 2015.