« The sky is not the limit. It’s just the beginning « : ZESO, an exemplary artist

By Michel Fily, October 18, 2018



Born in 1978 in the suburbs of Lyon, ZESO was introduced to lettering and tags as a teenager. He continued to do graffiti during his cooking studies and while working for famous French restaurants, such as that of Guy Savoy. In 2005, he left France for New York, a city he had always dreamed of and where he lived for more than ten years. ZESO painted everywhere the « Big Apple », but also in many cities throughout the United States. His art has marked the New York Street Art scene, while he mbued its images and codes, creating a very successful art, impressive of complexity.

 Urban Street Art Urbain met ZESO on the occasion of his live-painting of a truck container, at Street Art City


Who are you, ZESO?

My “blaze” has no special meaning, it’s just a collection of letters that I found aesthetic when I started with graffiti. I graft for 30 years or so. Since 2010, I have been part of the New York collective  » WF « , but also other crews, all around the world … I started by tagging, then I went to characters, a little before going to New York in 2005. From 2008, I devoted myself exclusively to painting, very intensively. I painted a lot in New York, Philadelphia, Houston, Baltimore, Austin Texas, San Antonio, London, Barcelona, ​​Osaka…


Tell us about your collaboration with Street Art City?

No, I painted many walls in Street Art City, containers, trucks … I stayed there for seven months in artistic residence, the first year. I painted the room 069 in the Hotel 128. Since then, I follow the walls and the canvases. And I’m preparing a new show for 2019…


What are your techniques and creative media?

I work mainly with paintbrushes and cans, all freehand, without searchlights and without grids, for the moment. I sometimes use collage … I do « Free Style » and it’s almost easier on canvas than on walls, because in my studio I have all my colors available and it is I who make my own mixes. I like colors. For now I’m painting in acrylic, but I want to attack the oil painting. I like flat surfaces, because I do a lot of little things. I painted walls, trains, glass containers, truck containers and all kinds of urban equipment. Not long ago, I went to Bristol with my friend SOIR2 and painted on the vandal highway. I do not do it as often as when I was young, only 10% of my work is in vandal mode today, but I like it. It’s nice to find, at forty brooms, this adrenaline (laughs)…


And what are your inspirations?

My work is very much inspired by the United States and New York City. But also graffiti: artists like  MODE 2, a Londoner who worked a lot in Paris and is one of the pioneers of European graffiti; KEN2, a German guy who makes crazy BBOYS; EVOK … There are plenty of them. And also all the young guys who are currently landing on the Street Art scene. They are numerous and they really have a lot of talent. Traditional painting also inspires me: Klimt, Caillebotte … I love Manga Akira and Japanese artist Manabu Ikeda. I love architecture too…


Tell us about your relationship with your audience?

I try to be affordable, whether in exhibition venues or on the street. Because I think that it is not necessary to make faces, nor to tell ourselves that we are « big bad guys »… And I see that people are very open. Even more today than in the past. The contact is pretty good. In my art, there are objects that are repeated, like paper planes, boats … People are curious, they often ask me about these repetitive patterns, they try to understand …


Why these repetitive patterns, then?

Since a few years, I work to create my own universe. Initially, I painted my first “paper plane” just because I thought it was pretty. Then, I started to put some everywhere. One day when I had not drawn, all my friends asked me: « Where is the paper airplane? (Laughs) And I understood that it’s my identity as an artist, that even if people do not remember my blaze, they will say, « Ah, it’s the guy who paints paper planes, the guy who paints boats, lighthouses, tentacles …! I do not always keep all these elements, sometimes I create new ones, but it builds my world.


What do you think of Street Art today?

It is very simple. Twenty-five years ago, when we started, we were all happy when a community center spun us three paint cans and a little sandwich (laughs). Today, the municipalities, who were throwing stones at us, pay us to paint beautiful facades in their cities. And besides, people appreciate. I really will not complain, if you know what I mean … But I do not forget to remember or say thank you to all those who fought for years to open the doors for us. For me, the problems are not so much outside, but rather within the movement, in the way we, artists, react to each other. Graffiti, Street Art, it’s full of human nature. There will always be jealous guys, guys who criticize. We must think that these people are not the ones who pay our bills…


What are your future projects?

Honestly, I’m not a big fan of communication or social networks and I do not really care if people know where I am. The photos I publish on Instagram are six months old usually. I protect my person and my privacy. So, yes, I have a second solo show in preparation. For the rest, people can see my works at Street Art City and they will see the new ones after they are painted.


If you could fulfill a dream and paint anywhere, what would you choose?

I would paint on a satellite that rotates around the Earth, one that people could photography with the background image of the Earth… If NASA invites me, I will not say no, why not? « The sky is not the limit, it’s just the beginning ». (Laughter)


A conclusion ?

If I can express myself freely: today, at forty, when I paint, it is mainly pleasure. Unfortunately, many artists take the lead in messing with some, with others, forgetting that it was just a « bowl » at first … And I think we lost this notion of pleasure, which should be essential to our art. I try to find this dynamic, I try not to make war against others, not to take my head on people. If I have nothing good to say about an artist, I stay quiet, I paint for myself. Because the essential motivation of my art is first and foremost pleasure.3

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