Europe has had the graffiti scene on lock for decades, but every now and then, there comes a writer who pushed both the envelope and his/her level. French graffiti writer, NEIST, takes a few moments out of his grind to tell us a little about himself, how he views the graff game and about growing up outside a little French town. Check it out!
Your moniker is NEIST, how did you come up that name and, more importantly, how do you pronounce it? Do you ever find that people will sort of make-up ways to say NEIST? (I know I used to say it incorrectly)
You have to pronounce it with a French accent, or you can even accentuate on the “I” which becomes a “Y”…. It can be very fun actually hearing people trying to say it. I should have a tape recorder with me. It’s like my real name which is impossible for most people to pronounce except French, so people ask me to spell it and that makes things even worse!
My moniker comes from when I was teenager. I was already doing a little bit of tagging near my school mostly. I was writing “Marley” at the time, because I was listening a lot to Bob Marley with my friends. One day I read his biography and found out that his real name was actually “Robert Nesta Marley”… and I got stuck on writing “Nesta”; but it was already taken so I took out the “A” and started to write “Nest” for a long while. I liked it because I thought it had a galactic vibe to it- don’t ask me why. After a few years I just wanted to have a central letter so I decided to integrate an “I” which now is confusing everyone. I found out after moving to the UK that it was actually the name of a place in Scotland on an island called Skye. I visited recently with my girlfriend, who’s Scottish, and as it happens it’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever been yet.
It may be confusing, but it’s a good name and carries a lot of character. How important do you think a name is for a writer? Scrolling through the social media sites, it seems that there’s a lot of new generation graffiti writers (and I use the term loosely) that have just thrown together a bunch of letters to make up some sort of name, do you have an opinion about this? What’s more important: the NAME or the ARTWORK or both?
I think that you can have the best name ever, with a big meaning and a lot of weight to it, but if the style which comes out in the work is crap… it’s like talking sh…t. I’m a very quiet person and I believe that the people who talk the least are most of the time more interesting. If your moniker is actually as badass as your style, it’s the cherry on top of the cake. And if your name is the funniest ever, it works also like a joke with your crew and if your style is rad and atypical, I think that it’s double cherries on top of the cake with a top up of crème Chantilly.
How did you discover graffiti—what was that one thing that convinced you that using a spray can to make art was a “good” idea? Do you consider yourself a graffiti “writer” or more of a graffiti “artist?” Over my years of meeting people and discussing the matter, this topic is always a hot one. What’s your opinion?
From where I’m from there wasn’t much graffiti around. I grew up in the countryside near Paris far away from the city, in the middle of fields. But on my way to the nearest city I was always intrigued by one tag which also looked like a face. I can’t tell you who it was, I couldn’t read it. That’s the oldest memory that I have about graffiti. I was a little kid and I used to draw all the time when I wasn’t playing football or racing my bicycle. So when I got older I started to draw letters sometimes, and I met a guy in my class who told me that when he used to go to Paris, the guys were adding arrows at the end of the letters and that was it. Somehow my family saw the result of it and they had the great idea to give me a book which changed everything to me: “KAPITAL”, which is my “subway art”. It was like a slap in my face and I discovered the most amazing murals ever…collaborations of different artists with a lot of style. From that moment it was my passion and focus; to be able to have the skills and the style to do paint murals like that. I’m still working on it.
I think the main appeal for me was the artistic side of graffiti so I always thought of myself as a graffiti artist…then when I grew up and got more knowledge about graffiti the night life part of it was also fascinating…for me that’s graffiti writing… It was much easier when I was younger and didn’t need as much sleep to recover, I could wake up the day after and go to work. Now it’s not the case anymore. But it’s something that I did enjoy, on my own or with friends, but I think that you need to do be 100% 24/ 7 dedicated to it if you want to make a real impact. At the end I stick to my first feeling about graffiti, it’s all about style to me. It’s something that you need time to get, also a dedication and always trying to take a step back and looking at what you’re doing with a different eye.
It’s my understanding that you currently live in the United Kingdom, but you’re originally from France. Can you tell us a little bit about your childhood? Did growing up outside of Paris inspire you to be more experimental?
Like I said earlier I grew up in the countryside in the east of Paris near a farm until my twenties. Apart from tagging cows and flopping tractors, there was nothing much going on for me graffitically speaking. When I was 20 I moved for about a year to the middle of France– boring. I did my first graffiti in Orleans, nothing fantastic. Then some drama happened and I needed to find a purpose in life and ended up moving to the south of France near the coast, not far from Marseille. The sun and lifestyle had a good effect and at that time graffiti was my only preoccupation. I was still doing it on my own for a few months until I met my friends from the EC crew (which became the Eighties Conspiracy)… and a few months after that I became part of the crew. It’s been 10 years now! I had a girlfriend at the time living near Cannes and I ended up moving there for a few years while my crew mates moved to discover the Canadian lifestyle. In Cannes, I met many graffiti artists that I became very good friends and future crew mates. The scene and the vibes were amazing at that time. We were constantly painting and drawing, day and night, constantly trying to push the boundaries and find my style, alongside doing boring 9 to 5 jobs.
After a couple of years I moved to Paris. My focus was the same but in a much wilderenvironment. Doing graffiti in Paris has so much power and it’s constantly active. The scene is incredible over there–so much style in every corner. I painted a lot with people that I knew from south, and also with legends that I had been admiring in the fanzines. I’ve got so many good memories living there. Night life in Paris is something incomparable. I was still doing murals at the weekend, when I was free from working in shitty jobs. At one point I became part of the GF crew, linked to the people that I already knew from Cannes and a graffiti artist from Paris who taught me a lot of special tricks (the magnificent Fan77, king of the style).
I moved back to south, to a city called Montpellier, definitely my favorite one. Even though I was working as a chef; which basically means that you don’t have much free time for yourself. I still had an amazing time over there, having fun with some guys from GF and people from work. It wasn’t a period where I was very productive graffiti wise but the few pieces that I did, started to look like something that I could be proud of… My drawings at the time also took on another dimension. Then again, I needed some fresh air and to see somewhere else. 2011, I decided to move to London where my friends Aseb and Cemo from the EC already moved to 5 years before. I discovered a new language, many cultures, a graffiti scene which is very friendly and everyone more or less knows each other. The vandal scene looked a bit dead when I arrived because of the Olympic Games, but since then it came back and has got a great vibe. I still have my 9 to 5 work but I’m definitely more settled down now. I moved here 6 years ago, I’m now 30 and time flies so much. But learning this new language even though I was pretty bad when I arrived made me realize that anything is possible. I can now travel everywhere and have confidence to speak and share experiences with so many people around the globe which is amazing.
So going back to the question, growing up outside a city like Paris didn’t gave me any special inspiration. I’m very inspired by nature, which is probably due to where I’m coming from, but I’m also inspired by urban environments and by the people that I can meet during this adventure that I would have never met if I was still living a countryside kind of life. I’m very down to earth and like simple things even though I’m far from living in a simple city.
I’ve always been an admirer of French graffiti artists. There seems to be a looser vibe to the structuring of letters. Is there a different approach to using sprays than most other countries? What do you think contributes to this style or approach for most French artists?
That’s a difficult question to answer, and I might be totally wrong. I think French style is definitely one of the best in the game. I personally grew up in graffiti dreaming about murals from the MAC crew, the TDM, the GT and many more. We should ask them maybe where did they get their talents and ideas from? We might have in our genes this hunger for revolution. We like to make new things, to change what we’re used to seeing everywhere. Even though the base of our letters can seems to have a looser vibe, we still know where the most essential and important parts in the letters are. The basis of the letters are still inspired by New York style in the 70’s. We’re mixing it with different approaches, techniques and inspirations. They can come from what we could watch on TV when we were young, a mix of manga and American comics. We love also reading comics, French ones and also ones from our friends in Belgium. It can be a very small country compared to many others, but for a long time we like perfection and originality that you can also find in food, cinema and our art. It’s very hard to understand why. We definitely get inspiration from all over the globe also. That’s something which has been much easier to do since the internet.
We can be a little bit too proud sometimes, that’s for sure.
Your style, as an artist, is very unique in many ways, how do you personally approach a wall or other platform for painting?
For me painting a wall is going to have fun but with a twist of pressure. Like most of my work I like to improvise and not really plan anything until I start. I work best when I let my intuition flow and take risks.
Never cutting back is part of my rules also. My friend Rems used to say that every line that you’re doing has to be like the best one that you have ever done. Which is true. It’s very important to try crossing your limits. He also said that when you think that it’s too much, it’s because there is not enough… which is not wrong. It’s another way to find a better composition with a good harmony. I just have to know how to mix this theory with the famous “less is more” too.My approach can also depend on the tool I’m using. If I’ve got only a bucket of emulsion and a black can like I’ve recently been doing, I would do something more focused on the outlines. If I’ve got a lot of cans with a large pallet (which is rare) I would easily go further into the craziness. Being more experimental, trying to take a direction that I’ve never taken before, probably getting lost and finding a solution along the way, which will bring that originality to the piece. It’s very important to me to never do the same thing twice. I’m always trying to make different letters all the time, I’m not into repetition.
Just from viewing your Instagram feed, you are constantly grinding and making new works, how do you find the time to do this? Do you feel that being an artist is more talent or more perseverance?
To be honest I wish I had more time to do it. I’m stuck in my 9 to 5 job, which is not creative at all but I can still find the time almost every day. I can sometimes draw in the tube on my ways to and back from work. Just to doodle ideas and to kill the time. Otherwise during my evenings, if I’ve got nothingelse to do, I like to be at home working at projects. I do have a studio that I share now with my miss who’s making jewelry, which we’re very lucky to have. I just need some good music and my desk, or sometimes I even work from the sofa! Usually after a few lines I have enough to get going. Just an hour every night is enough for me. I like to start big projects that I can keep working on for several days. That way I keep myself motivated and continue it each day. I just need to finish what I started otherwise I feel like I’ve wasted my time which is horrible. Time is a master.
If I’m not into a big project I like to make very quick drawings which are good for releasing some frustration. I paint graffiti mostly on weekends (if it’s not raining) or when I’m invited to festivals.
So being an artist is definitely the result of perseverance and talent. But the passion and dedication is the fuel to it.
We just discussed your style and approaches, how does this fit into your crew Ghetto Farceur? Would you consider GF a crew or a mindset—similar to a movement? Can you talk to Bombingscience a little bit about GF? Does being a part of such a dynamic group of artists push you in a certain direction?
The GF crew is something very atypical. I wasn’t part of the crew first. I’m actually the last one to join it. But I was painting and spending a lot of time with those fellas even before they created the crew. They already had a special approach to graffiti which was totally different: Trying to create the future with a touch of humor which brought another dimension to their work. A letter could make us laugh by its extravagance. We also used to sketch and paint together, to fuse our style into one, which is a very good exercise. The crew has been created by Rems and Aries (aka Dicek2). They started to recruit great artists that they knew as friends. Fan77 and Skio from Paris, Debza, Sarin, Kloze, Bims and Swol (rip) from South of France, Romi from Brittany and Rekulator from Romania. Each single entity of the crew has their own special super power to add into the fusion. So I learn a lot by painting and sharing time alongside those guys. They’ve been a great inspiration at the time and still are today. I’m very grateful to know them. They definitely show me that there is no limit to creativity.I remember watching graffiti videos of BIMS and Debza painting and thinking to myself, “this is amazing!’ Hypothetically, do you think your work would be different if you hadn’t become friends with the guys from GF? Do you think your art would be at the level that it is right now if you had taken a different path?
Who knows… before meeting them I wasn’t particularly happy with what I could produce. I definately think that my style evolved since I met those crazy fellas. Bims, Debza, Fan77 and also Rems, Kloze and RKR have been very inspiring to me. But at the same time many other artists where coming out in the scene. It wasn’t about looking at fanzines anymore and having to grab a microscope to see details of what people could paint. The internet changed the deal. It was possible to discover new styles from everywhere in an easy way and you could actually zoom and see pieces in a bigger size. So many artists have been pushing the limits which is very motivating. Graffiti changed so much in the past ten years it’s incredible. The level is Hiiiiigh. No joke. But I feel anyway very lucky to have crossed the path of the GF and the EC. I wouldn’t be the man that I am and my style would probably have been inspired by them anyway. I wouldn’t be having so much fun when I’m painting if it wasn’t for the GF, and I wouldn’t be in London having to answer this interview with my French accent if it wasn’t for the EC.
Since we’re talking about crews, how do you feel about crews? Some writers/artists try to be in as many crews as possible and others don’t seem to want to have any part of crews. What’s NEIST’s opinion about crews and how they may/may not operate? How do you feel about internet crews? Do you think they’re not a good idea or are they the way of the future for graffiti?
Everyone is different and doesn’t do graffiti for the same reasons. I personally think that a crew before everything is a friendship, and even a family. As I said I’m part of the EC (Eighties Conspiracy) and the Ghetto Farceur. Both of them are very important to me. I’ve got so much good stories with every single member of them, So many laughs and situations that I wouldn’t have if it was all online. It’s not only about graffiti to me. I’m also proud to be part of two other crew that I’ve been integrating with after painting at jams which are the MCT from Paris and the OPK from South of France; two very old crews that I’m not in connection with so much, but still they’re the result of good times and sharing our passion of graffiti. I can understand that some crews ended up being created via the internet. But if it means that the guys actually can cross each other in the street and not recognize eachother it’s a little bit weird isn’t it? Even though I’m trying to live with my time, I can be quite old school with that kind of thing.
Just from personal experience, it’s hard when you’re geographically separated from your crew, how do you handle such distance?
It’s hard indeed. But we are still in contact, trying to see each other at festivals and jams. During the past 6 years each member maybe arrived at an age where they needed to see something new. People have been travelling and getting better at what they were doing. This year most of the fellas from are back in France and we’ve seen eachother a few times already which is great. Watch out for new projects coming….
That’s awesome news! I know I can’t hardly wait to see some GF crew work surfing the web. Here’s a question, how do you guys come up with your video concepts? Do you like making the videos and clips? Do you think they allow your art to reach different types of people and venues?
I don’t think personally that I’m top of the pops on the video level. I wish we could have a drone robot following us everywhere when we’re painting which could make things much easier. I’ve been personally living for years without my own computer so it hasn’t been a big preoccupation to me. I need to jump on the vibe. Many things are possible. My friends have done some crazy ones indeed with some funny concepts. Most of the time the video is extra and the concept came out of eating too many sandwiches and drinking too much non-alcoholic beverages probably. I invite you to ask them what their secret is. You would be surprised with their answer.
How do you balance your time with work, art and social media?
“Early birds catch the worms”… the older I get the earlier I like to wake up. I like to have some free time in the morning when I can do some creative work. If I can get 1 hour I’m happy and can go to work on a positive vibe from 9 to 5. I’ve got a good 40 minutes on public transport in the morning and evening, so usually I do my social media then or I draw. Then I get home, I can work on commission work or projects before I eat and restart after until late. I’m trying to use as much free time as possible during the day and try to avoid wasting it watching T.V. or checking out how great other people’s lives are on social media…
Recently, there seems to be an increase in lawsuits against companies using artists work without permission, what’s your opinion on the “copyright” of art in public spaces–especially if the art is illegal? Do you think the artist has monetary rights to illegal works
I think the companies are just greedy bastards. They’ve got no imagination or creativity so they have to take it where it is. On the other hand, if you are doing something illegal you should be ready for this kind of crap. You shouldn’t be driven by money, it could be a great advert for your name or your style. I would be more worried if the artwork is copied, or has been a big source of inspiration by a graphic designer our even a random artist. I found recently that someone did a realistic painting of a part of a street with a shutter that I’ve done with my friend Aseb… what can we do…
Do you have any advice for newer artists? Is there anything that you would do different if you knew then what you know now?
It’s very important to know the basics and to master the simple style before to attack something more complicated. I’m glad that I understood that when I was younger. I was doing some wildstyle but something wasn’t right so I decided to restart from zero and tried to make simple letters which became something very easy for me. Once you’ve done that you can go wild and forget all the rules, you can add any elements which can surround your daily routine and it will still look right.
I wouldn’t change the process that I’ve been through.
Where do you see yourself in the future? What direction can we expect to see your work go in?
I don’t know; maybe coming back to simplest letters and focus more on combination of colours and patterns. I will still keep my letter as the main part of my pieces but what’s going on around is 8n constant evolution. It’s been a while that I want to get back to characters also but I’m not ready yet… it’s still roasting in my mind.
Anything else you’d like to add? Shout outs?
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to do this interview. And thanks to everyone that really knows me, my crew mates (EC GF MCT OPK), my family and my everyday partner Jess
You can find more of NEIST’s work on Instagram
Purchase prints and originals at neist.bigcartel.com
Interview by J.Kasm