Jaek El Diablo

Jaek El Diablo

Citing his early influences as punk, hip-hop, graffiti, and skateboarding, Jaek El Diablo is a freelance designer/illustrator working out of France. Seamlessly moving from designing advertising campaigns for strange European candies to painting his signature characters on walls, sneakers, and t-shirts, Jaek designs on a fine line between corporate and street. Still, it’s important for his work to stay anti-institutional whenever possible: “The graffiti movement, on the other hand, is very direct, uncensored and is available for everyone to interpret.” Jaek is working hard to break barriers in 2007 doing freelance and developing his clothing like VICIUS Clothing & Attitude.

“In Europe, and even more specifically in France, contemporary art is over-intellectualized, which means that it addresses a certain elite only”

Format: Your biography states that you were born in Strasbourg, France in 1977, “the year when the punk wave flooded Great Britain.” What is significant about the Punk movement to you?
Jaek: Punk is a movement that revolutionized established values. It favored unhindered expression and spontaneity through “revendicative” provocation. With its aggressive and eccentric styles, punk was a true alternative to all earlier counter cultural movements. It led to the emergence of a wide variety of independent labels and magazines, which are a common thing in our modern world.

When you look at the different styles created by the punk and hip-hop movements of the early 80s, you can see to what extent they revolutionized modern fashion. Today, there isn’t that much renewal in dress codes; back then each different look had its function and also signaled a clear idea of belonging to one group or another. You could tell if a guy was anarchist, communist or fascist at a glance! People back then usually listened to a certain type of music for the ideas it was trying to get across. Beyond an inner urge to clearly state one’s opinions, there was a clear desire of self-affirmation. Youth’s used music to position themselves in – or out of – society. Today, I don’t think one can say there still exists a dress style that clearly reflects a certain ideology.

In France, the punk movement had a tremendous impact; I remember listening to the « Béruriers Noirs », at the end of the 80s. It was a radical – both politically and musically – French punk band. Around the same time, the skateboard movement led me to listen to bands like the Dead Kennedys or Suicidal Tendencies. The first tags and “pochoirs” quickly spread onto French walls; these would later pave the way for the whole graffiti movement. I don’t think we can say the Punk movement was responsible for the emergence of these new forms of expression, but a movement whose only rules were not to have any rules definitely helped the emergence of street art; even more so when one thinks that the streets constituted the kingdom of Punk. It’s also around that time that I started listening to hip-hop. And even though the two genres are musically far apart, they definitely share a lot of common ground. For me, one was the natural continuation of the other. That’s probably why I quickly got involved in the hip-hop scene.

If you were born in 1977, you know what I’m talking about.

Jaek El Diablo

Format: You hold a degree in fine arts, and a masters in 3D motion, but your biography states that you graduated “after bumpy school years.” What made these years difficult?
Jaek: Those were definitely the best years of my life, because I was more concerned with creating mischief and chilling with my friends than going to classes. I definitely didn’t go to class very much. I spent more time smoking joints and drawing. And when I did go to school, I spent my time drawing. I remember my classroom table: a true piece of art in constant progress. Classes bored me to death. My only preoccupations were filling my sketchbook, working on my tags, and finding new ideas for both letters and characters. Obviously, my grades weren’t good, and I quickly got kicked out from a few high schools.

However, in as far as my personal and artistic fulfillments are concerned, I think I learned tremendously during that period. I managed to more clearly define my style and my artistic reasoning. I think I already knew what I wanted to do. My goal was to live my passion; the most important thing for me was to work on my technique and my style.

With some efforts on my part, I managed to integrate the university, where I studied plastic arts and ended up earning my masters in 3D design. Although it was a tough year, the last year of my curriculum was very hands-on and really helped me achieve what I was aiming for. However, the four preceding years at university were a continuation of my high school years: not very interesting, but allowing me to work on my personal and artistic development, and helping me to efficiently defend my creative process and my works.

Jaek El Diablo

Format: Were you initially a graffiti artist or an illustrator? How did you transition from one to the other?
Jaek: That’s a tough question; I think I always was a bit of both. At an early stage, it was already my love for drawing – illustrating – that brought me to graffiti. As a matter of fact, my “graffiti” speciality is undoubtedly characters/b-boys. From the get-go, I think I was interested in differentiating myself from the rest of the writers whose focus was more on letters than characters. Mode 2, who was one of the first European writers to bring illustration into the graffiti world, was definitely a big influence for me.

Graffiti led me to use computers to pursue my interest in illustration; and also led me to turn my passion into a profession. There are many similarities between computer programs that use “vector illustration” techniques and graffiti. When I work on illustrator, I always pay tremendous detail to detail in order to have a perfect, clean output; kind of like when I am doing a fresco with spray cans and every single line needs to perfect. Computer technology allowed me to perfect my style and really push the defining characteristics of my style: American lines and uniform colour fillings. Added to that, creating logos and searching for new typographies are very similar to the art of lettering inherent to graffiti. It’s trying to do what I was doing with graffiti that got me to tame computerized graphic tools. That got me to experiment with new techniques like 3D animation. But my objective remains trying to always renew my technique, my media and my messages.

Jaek El Diablo

Format: The influences you list are primarily American, but your work definitely has a European feel to it. Please speak about your influences, and finding a balance between different styles.
Jaek: Another tough question to answer, because in today’s world it’s really hard to make a difference between American and French influences – the former and the matter having influenced each other so much. Like many kids, I was literally fed American iconography: Marvel comics, Hannah Barbera and Walt Disney cartoons; but also Japanese mangas and video games. I was certainly a victim of this cultural propaganda, which I ended up using in my own artwork. After that, I think I mixed those earlier influences with some European influences: French writers like Mode 2, Jay One, Nasty and Bando; Berlin writers like Bates, Dream and Odem. 123 Klan is also an important reference for me. They were one of the first graffiti crews to go from wall to canvas to computer screen.

Format: Please speak about the influence of design in the skateboarding industry on your work.
Jaek: Skateboarding really gave me a lot; the skateboard ethic and culture definitely fostered my love for image and music. Brands like Vision Street Wear, Powell Peralta or Santa Cruz had such a colourful, trippy graphic universe; a strange mixture of tattoo, cartoon and Californian surrealist pop art. Jim Phillips’ artwork, which I find both very symbolic and subversive, was definitely a big influence. His very sharp lines and psychedelic colors fascinated me! I loved that mix between dreary and flashy. Designers in the skate world always had a lot of freedom in what they were doing and were continually trying to renew their art. It’s a huge influence on my work, no doubt; I’m just trying to pay homage to those who made me dream when I was a kid.

Jaek El Diablo

Format: Why is it important to you to produce artwork that is anti-institutional?
Jaek: In Europe, and even more specifically in France, contemporary art is over-intellectualized, which means that it addresses a certain elite only. And that’s a shame. The graffiti movement, on the other hand, is very direct, uncensored and is available for everyone to interpret. For the French artist that I am, an anti-institutional piece of work is one that gains its recognition on its own, without the help of what often seems to be an orchestrated casting undertaken by small elites. Only the people can judge art and make it live for future generations. When I went to art school, I noticed that in contemporary art, a speech “justifying” or “explaining” a certain piece of art often becomes more important than the actual piece. I get the impression that the art world is a little more democratized in the US. I think making anti-institutional pieces of art is a way of getting closer to one’s audience. For me, the social aspect of art is of the utmost importance; art should be closer to the societies that give it birth. By using different mediums to expose my art (websites, walls, t-shirts, prints) I try to be as close to my audience as I possibly can.

Format: Where do you teach drawing and design? What do you personally get out of teaching?
Jaek: The most important thing for me is to share my passion in order to transmit the virus! I would like to make youths more sensitive to different creative processes and to culture in general. Teaching also allows me to create a link with the students, to share great moments based around a common project. And of course it allows me to transmit some of the things I’ve learned, like the mechanics behind creation.

Jaek El Diablo

Format: Please speak about your clothing line VICIUS Clothing & Attitude.
Jaek: I’ve always been in love with clothing and its various codes and symbolism. I started thinking about a clothing concept back in 1998, which finally came to fruition in 2001. There were very few Graffiti/hip-hop brands back in the day. It only seemed logical for me to take part in that game. And working on an extremely visible medium seemed very adapted to what I was trying to achieve with my work.

Vicius Clothing & Attitude is the reflection of my graphic world. I create designs which parody different ambiances: Player (casino & luxury), Street (graffiti influence) Ridaz (tattoo & rock) and Pussy, my line for women. As we’ve discussed before, most of my influences for Vicius stem from the Hip-Hop, skate and punk rock cultures. Vicius is for all T-shirt collectors who live fashion codes but don’t forget the importance of a message.

Vicius was never conceived like a classic “prêt-à-porter” brand; it’s more of a medium to get some cool ideas out there. I’m trying to make collector series; I hope some people will be hooked on them.

Format: The female line of VICIUS is called VICIUS Pussy. What has the response been to the name and the line in general?
Jaek: ‘Cause they’re all biitches!!! Na, I’m just kidding. I quickly realized that vice was one of those awful things that make humans so full of charm. The brand really fits into my universe, which is filed with contradictions and derisions. After all, I think we are all half devil half angel. First, I spelled Vicious the correct way; then, to make the word mine, I chose VICIUS, which also allows me to play on words, like VICE IS US, or VENI VIDI VICIUS. The “Pussy” came much later. The word in itself is so magical; so charming and sweet, and at the same time so vulgar. This duality immediately captivated me. Also, the logo for Vicius is a cat’s head with a halo; so it totally made sense. My name is Jaek El Diablo and I use the cat so often associated to the devil as an emblem for my brand. The small cat, or pussy, was obviously made for Vicius’ feminine line!

More Info: http://www.jaekeldiablo.com

Jaek El Diablo

Shane Ward

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