Zepha-Vincent Abadie Hafez [France]


Vincent Abadie Hafez developed a graphic universe and a visual language through which intersect the influence of craftsmanship of ancient civilizations, calligraphy, immediacy of movement Figuration, spontaneity of lyrical abstraction and finally risk taking random graffiti.

When and how did you first become interested in street art /graffiti?

As far back as I can remember, I see myself with a pen or pencil in my hand, expressing myself on any surface available. As a child, I was distracted and in my own world. The punishments I received at primary school from my teachers for this that is writing over and over sentences such as ‘I must not look out the window during the class, or I cannot draw during the class’ in fact actually improved my handwriting. But my ‘writing” career’ began in the streets with wild or primal ‘graffiti’ made in USA, most often collective works done in the middle of the night on all types of urban surfaces. First an act of utopian revolt rejecting an overly materialistic world, graffiti is for me like the battle led by Don Quixote against windmills in the Cervantes novel. It is a graphic struggle using the known codes of advertising, especially its visual violence, to seek validation and self-affirmation. An egocentric rite of passage and a search for identity through the colored medium of expression, graffiti remains today a creative passion of young people from megalopolises the world over and, in my opinion, also a catalyst, a way of letting off steam that transforms negative energy into positive energy.

Which artist influenced you?

I spread request to some writers of my generation as Yank, Colorz, Riden on the French size and Seen, Phase 2, Ramelzee on the US side and many more for sure Picasso and kandinsky bring me far from where i was. Hassan Massoudy and Rashid Koraїchi for me, are the pioneers who opened the way towards a certain idea of what contemporary calligraphic rooted in Islamic culture could be. I also deeply admire the calligraphy and visual art of the late Sudanese artist Ahmed Abdel Aal. My encounter in 1998 with calligrapher and artist Abdellatif Moustad profoundly influenced my work leading me to an approach centered on the calligraphic gesture and the composition of the Arabic letters as well as on the relationship between matter and support. This also led me to put figuration aside and privilege the letter. My post-graffiti work is close to that of artists of the French art scene, such as L’Atlas, El Seed, Karim Jabbari, Sowat, Parole, El Tono and Rizote. All of them, and many others whom I haven’t mentioned, are, like me, exploring the notion and dynamics of writing —the letter and the sign— and its relationship to public space.

What style is your work?

Contemporan calligraphy? Calligraffiti? Post graffiti? Who know’s? My calligraphic work, although possessing a Latin base, is strongly inspired by traditional and contemporary Arabic calligraphy. My alphabet is Latin in its meaning and Arabic in its style. The graffiti is not far and I apply myself to make it show. Sometimes, my characters lose their meaning in favor of the power of movement, the gesture of the calligraphy pen stroke on paper, the brush stroke on canvas, the spray paint on the wall, all a balancing game between planned composition and instinctive gesture.

The gesture intrinsic to the aerosol technique and the energy of calligraphic gestures led me to live creativity as a process, not only as a goal. This notion later influenced my post-graffiti graphic research and inclination towards abstraction. It became an alphabetical choreography, tending towards what I call the ‘trance of signs’. When I create I am close to a state of transcendence, a deep dive into the All, the One, which goes beyond the duality of the signifier – signified.

What influences your artwork?

La Vie et son mouvement

What do your pieces usually focus on?

A part of my work is represented by the technique that I call ‘Palimpsest’ which consists of writing calligraphy in reserve on covered texts in liquid latex only to make them re-appear by ‘rubbing’ or ‘scraping’. This pictorial technique gives meaning to the process of art making through the act of ‘discovering’ the hidden words or phrases. It also allows me, in in situ installations, to enable public participation in the making of a collective art work thereby allowing the public to influence the final esthetic result. Works that can’t be defined in advance, carriers of hidden messages discovered only if curious passers-by come and rub the work with their hands: the memory of acts, the trace of a thought once only oral, and, why not, the return of the lost truth…

Where your work is usually located?

I’m based in Toulouse / France but my art move a lot. Today, my art work has begun to be recognized internationally as a part of post graffiti scene, apart from festival, biennale or gallery exhibitions, you can see some  murals on the corner of your street…No joke: the next wall painting will be in Paris, so long i didn’t paint there!

Do you find it difficult to do your work in the streets?

Yes there is really a big problem actually, when you are painting, the people of the street react, no matter how or what: they react! Then they talk with you, some of them encourage you, some of them run after you and call the man in blue, but after all they react and take part of the final general piece. They are a part of the process. art is people and art is life!

But I am trying to preserve the core values essential to graffiti that conditioned my approach to art: the spirit of calligraphy allied to movement that comes from the aerosol paint medium.

Have you ever had problems with authority because of your artwork?

It wasn’t me!

*the desacralization of art, taking it outside of the museum and making it public and the maintaining of the rebellion against the established order intrinsic to this form of street art and justiciable by the law.

How long have you been a street artist?

By the late 80s, I was engaged body and soul in the Graffiti movement that had appeared a few years earlier in Paris and Europe more generally, under the pseudonym Zepha. My experience with the graffiti movement brought me its share of adventures with its nights out spraying and making collective paintings and, more significantly, allowed me to work in depth on the subversion and stylization of the Latin alphabet. And i still alive!

Have you ever collaborated with other artists?

This is for me the essence of graffiti. The preservation of the collective and cooperative spirit that encourages artists to paint together on the same surface.