Italian magazine Sette recently published a wonderful article about Zevs in celebration of his exhibition at the gallery. Please see below for an English translation.
The provocations of Zevs, the artist who manipulates designer labels
A former street artist and graffiti artist, Aghirre Schwarz twists icons, myths, and symbols: he serves as a ferocious critic of consumerism and television in order to make people more aware of the manipulations they are subject to.
By Cristina Sarto
He was the bad boy of French street art, spray can in hand and leopard print scarf to hide his face. And now, Zevs (Aghirre Schwarz) comes with his face unveiled to De Buck Gallery in Manhattan, a few blocks from the Hudson River. The occasion is the artist’s solo show in New York (after exhibiting a bit everywhere in the world, from the Palais Toyko in Paris, the Moscow Biennale, and the historic Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich), beginning September 12th and entitled Traffics in Icons: fourteen works, including oil paintings, installations, and sculpture, starring the modern icons. “I love the icons because they were used in ancient art, symbols when they were not yet tied to any commercial logic, but they are also widespread in society today,” explains Zevs, who has taken to plundering the iconography of recent years: from the bitten apple of Apple to the two crossed Cs of Chanel, through Louis Vuitton, Google, and many others. No more consolidated images, but dripping ink, in order to illustrate the technique of liquefaction (his personal trademark) and to create tensions: “I put symbols with which people identify in crisis, in order to fight the tyranny of marketing campaigns.”
From the underground to the galleries.
Born in France in 1977, Zevs began to make graffiti on the walls of his neighborhood twelve years ago, becoming after a short time (and many arrests) one of the most influential creatives on the Transalpine scene. During the 1990’s, “One night I was working in a subway tunnel in Paris when I was almost run over by a train. I called upon Zeus and from that moment I decided that this (with a V instead of a U) would be my artist name,” he recalls while observing his retelling of Danae and The Shower of Gold, originally painted at the end of the 1800’s by Leon Francois Comerre. In the version by Zevs, the goddess Diana is dressed in a rain of modern gold, namely symbols of various currency (dollar, euro, and yen) together with that of the television network CBS. “It represents the mediating filter with which one can perceive, in our time, the female body,” says the artist. “I want the viewer to reflect on how the culture of Hollywood and television have changed our way of thinking.”
Not to say that this guy snubs the media and technology, just look at the home page of his website, which is reminiscent of the Google search engine. Simply, he takes pains to denounce their omniscience, which emerges clearly in the tablecloth painting The New Supper, hanging on a wall of the New York gallery. “Last year, surfing the web, I found this photo of a dinner at the White House in 2011 with President Obama, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and many Silicon Valley CEOs. Shortly after, the Wikileaks case broke, followed by that of Edward Snowden. So I imagined Snowden in the role of Judas the traitor and I superimposed the modern image onto the painting of the Last Supper by Leonardo.” Political activist, street artist, born provocateur: you can find all of these in the articles discussing Zevs. And how does he define himself? “In my art there all these aspects, but at the end of the day I have always considered myself a painter.” He had no intention to dedicate himself to still life, although his talent was clear from the beginning. They understood everything (they all understood) in 2002, when he gave life to one of his most discussed performances: armed with a knife, he climbed onto the facade of a hotel in Alexanderplatz in Berlin, where was proudly displayed a poster advertising Lavazza. Up there, he cut the outline of the model and then signed the work in his own way: “VISUAL KIDNAPPING- PAY NOW!” “It was a reaction to the aggression of advertising, an interactive game I made which featured the consumer,” explains Zevs. “With their promotional messages, brands take hostage the attention of citizens. I twisted the rules so that if the companies wanted my hostage returned, they had to pay a ransom, as a means of compensation from the company.
That’s not the only undertaking by the artist that has landed him on the pages on newspapers. In 2009, to launch the exhibition Liquidated Logos in Hong Kong, he saw fit to paint a giant Chanel logo (always dripping, of course) over the window of an Armani boutique in the center of the city. In the days to follow, as he sat in prison, outside the controversy raged over the most classic polemic: art or vandalism? The question remains unanswered. “I’m used to this debate, the urban fabric has always been my personal laboratory. But by the end of the 1990s, I was using the Proper Graffiti technique I invented, using a jet of high pressure water to clean the dirt from the walls of the building before I began to use color. There is nothing uncivilized, nothing destructive in all this.” Can this- along with the scarves left in the hotel and the current exhibition in New York- be enough to transform a former bad boy on the run from the police into a new darling of the art world establishment? “It’s a problem that I don’t ask myself. What matters is the work and its message, not where you display it, and I will continue to be a street artist. Certainly, here we are surrounded by beautiful people. But what’s the harm in that?”