« I don’t care if they say I’m a good painter, I want people to say I’m a beautiful person »: IMPACKT, the “Dude” of graffiti

By Michel Fily, May 12, 2019

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Being a Street Artist for more than 25 years, Impackt is one of the « Dads » of Street Art in France. Child of pure graffiti, this extraordinary self-taught artist has developed a technique that allows him to address all topics, from lettering to characters, through historical frescoes and optical illusions. This pure street artist, who has always defended urban art in its original essence, was at the Peinture Fraiche festival in Lyon, represented by the Pandor’art gallery. Urban Street Urban Art met him there.

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Hello Impackt, can you introduce yourself to the readers?

My name is Franck, I’m 49 years old, it’s been 25, 26 years that I do graffiti. I am from Saint-Priest, in the suburbs of Lyon, a « nice neighborhood » (laughs). I started Peinture shortly after my return from the Gulf War, in 1994. I was a commando marine rifleman, sent to Kuwait during the first session of combats against Saddam Hussein… Before the army, as a teenager, I was already a good graffiti spectator in the city and I liked what I saw. While I was at war, Hip Hop began to develop in France, giving birth to electro music. When I came back, some of my friends before the army had chosen electro and all that it implied… I did not see myself having to consume products to love one particular kind of music, so I stayed in my little neighborhood to listen to NTM, IAM and Assassin on my Walkman. And as soon as there was a concert, I went there. It was the beginnings of the “fanzines” magazines and there was always a leaflet at the end of those who talked about Hip Hop culture, with 3 or 4 pages of graffiti. I was very impressed to see what artists were able to do with sprays.

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Did you draw a little when you were younger?

I didn’t really drew as a child. I rather scribbled. In college I started drawing more, but out of obligation, because I was always punished… I lived on the 7th floor of a building. I could not escape by the window. My father punished me, locked the door, removed the antenna cable from the TV and gave me double pages of divisions and multiplications to do. When I finished, I had nothing to do but scratch paper… I was doing abstract stuff. I will not even pretend it was drawing. But I liked that. Without having any skills or training for it.

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How did you start graffiti?

As soon as I saw a field where there were graffiti, I used to come back on weekends, to see others works and, gradually, they offered me to try. I told them that I did not know how to draw and they answered « if you can write your name, you know how to do graffiti. It’s not more complicated than that ». It was my meeting with BRUSK that was the trigger. He told me « In 6 months we will know if it’s a passion or a passade ». We painted together for 16 years. There was never him without me, never me without him. Yet he had done Fine Arts, obtained diplomas and post-degrees… Other artists had given up Peinture with him because he was too talented. Me, I said to myself « there is no reason for him to get there and not me ». And I persevered, despite my inexperience and facing young people who were all between 15 and 17, when I was already 24 when I started. I worked all week long and on weekends I bought bombs and I went to paint walls. And 25 years later, it’s still a passion. It’s even a virus, I must say. I don’t do any more « vandals » because I have children, but I always think about it. Every time I’m on the highway or seeing a « spot », I look at the walls instead of looking at the road (laughs).

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The choice of your alias has a special story…

Indeed. The word « impact » really appealed to me. It’s a term that defines me well, because I’m  an impulsive man. I am actually a « nice guy » but when I have something to say I say it. This word also characterizes my Peinture quite well. But at the time, there was already a guy who was part of the CP5 crew (a very famous one), who was named Impact. He had died. I made the move to call the members of the crew in Paris and I asked if I could choose this alias. They accepted because I had been respectful. The graffiti community is a highly codified one, with its own rules. From the start, I was very interested in the history of this movement and about its codes of behavior. I educated myself with these codes and I have never departed from them since then. Today, my artist’s name characterizes me perfectly. Everybody always tells me « every time you paint, it looks like you’re portraiting yourself. » Last year, for the Zoo Art Show, I painted a bear throwing its big paw in the air, and I was told, « Ah, that’s all you: the soft side of the fur, but the good slap that goes off anyway « (laughs).

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Did you have a hard time believing in your own talent?

As soon as I started Peinture, I knew I had found my way. It’s not so much that I had something to prove to others. It was mostly to me that I wanted to prove things. I wanted to get there. I’m a construction worker, that’s what I learned at school. And I think that my learning of rigor and professional seriousness has been a weighty tool in my learning process of graffiti. When we met during the weekends to paint large frescoes, it was I who called the other graffiti artists to remind them of the appointments, to tell them what colors to bring… This rigor was useful to all and we surpassed ourselves with each new project. After two years, I became the first graffiti artist invited to Jams in Lyon and elsewhere in France. I think it’s also because I talk very easily with people. I have no appriori vis-à-vis the public, I can discuss easily with a 14 year old or a senior. I gained a lot of contacts like that. At the first Jam, I met the whole « Old school » scene : RESO, DER, the 3HC crew, SHOCK, WELS of Nantes, MISS VAN of Toulouse, TILT, the TRUSKOOL, ABEL (313), SEEK (313) of Marseilles, just all the artists who were known when I started. We became friends because I I take care of the people I like. When someone does not remember my name, they call me « the nice guy ». I’m like that with everyone, whether in the graffiti field or not… So I participated in many graffiti events. I discovered an extraordinary world where I could flourish artistically and meet dozens of artists that I had never met, to create works with them for several days, sometimes several weeks, and they became my friends. A real human experience.

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This is not always the case in festivals today…

One must know who he invites. Bringing stars is good, but if the result is that they don’t talk to anyone and they require assistants to push their rolls… I don’t have that kind of requirement. We do not save lives, we’re not cardiac surgeons. We are just painters. We don’t need helpers. I spread paint on the walls because I like it, I do it first for myself. If it pleases people, I’m happy. If they give me money, it’s the icing on the cake. But I do not claim any privilege. I continue to work on construction sites until today.

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When did you move from graffiti to characters?

From the moment BRUSK got tired of drawing « characters » for everyone (laughs). At first, he liked it because I had great ideas for compositions. And then, one day, he told me « my man, I love you, but if you want a character on your wall you’re going to do it by yourself ». At the time I wasn’t happy, but today I know that he did a good thing for me that day. Because that forced me to go beyond. I painted my first character at the RVI wasteland in Lyon in 2000. At the time I was only doing 3D lettering, because I found the « wildstyle » too difficult. I was learning to master the tools. We used « Montana Hardcore » bombs at the time, poor quality material compared to what they have today, and with just basic « caps » on them. I do not understand how we managed with it… Since I did not master the drawing, I started using pictures to paint my characters. We painted in disused areas. We had no stencils, no spotlights… I still work with photos today, but it’s more to reassure me, as a kind of safety net… I involve a lot of technique in my Peintures because I don’t feel creative enough sometimes. So I try to be creative in the composition, in the idea behind my works.

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What are your techniques and media?

I only paint with bombs, on walls or on canvas. No stencils. If I draw something on paper, I leave it on paper. I even make my own stencils. What Molotow sells today at 28 euros price, it’s been 15 years that I paint with it, homemade. I made stencils of different sizes from corks that I got from other sprays and it allowed me to make extremely fine features, so well done that people couldn’t believe it was paint.

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That’s your rigorous side.

Yes, my military side … It took me a long time to stop 3D because I was trying, all the time, to make it more complicated than the day before, so that during the time that took me a single lettering my buddies were doing 5 of them. So, I finally stopped 3D and started « Wild ». Since then I have never redone 3D.

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Who are your inspirations?

We all have more or less our influences. I admire SHORT 79, which makes beautiful lettering entirely by hand, whereas one would swear them made on computers. It’s been 25 years that I do graffiti, but I still admire other artists. Nothing is acquired, nothing is achieved, I will never stop progressing. When I started, I saw a red and yellow self-portrait of Alex MAC and I thought « the day I get to do that, I would have reached my goal ». A few years ago, ZEYO told me « you know Dude, it’s been a long time since you achieved this goal. » Well, I am an obstinate. If someone comes to me and says « No, you will not be able to paint this » I will go on till I prove to him that I can. I never give up…

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Are you a superhero?

You know, today, if you don’t cheat on your wife, if you don’t get drunk every weekend and if you don’t hit your kids, you’ve become someone exceptional… People have forgotten a little too quickly the values ​​that make a real man. I think I’m just normal. Yesterday, I posted a picture of my children on Facebook and, behind them, RESO is Peinture a wall. Well, I can paint for 100 years and I will never make nothing greater than my children. Graffiti is just paint. We are in this world to take care of our children and our families, nothing matters more. And before being a graffiti artist, I’m a man …

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What events did you participate in before Peinture Fraiche?

In 1999, with BRUSK, DUSK and NIKODEM, we met a graffiti association from Grenoble called « Urban Force », who organized the « Month of graffiti » in Grenoble. 5 weeks of graffiti, 5 artists of different crews, one opening per week, in completely different places, each one related with the identity of the artist that came to exhibit. We integrated Urban Force and we organized the Month of graffiti with them. Later, a friend who was an architect contacted me to paint a mural for a party in a disused industrial area in Lyon. It was the wasteland of the RVI factory. After this first evening, I returned to the place alone and I did some work there, during a whole year, with my personal money. I changed the locks, I repaired the windows, the toilets, the showers… But I forbade the entrance to all graffiti artists, before I finished the work. I wanted to make it an artistic place. When I finished, I went to the City Hall to explain what I had done. The municipality came and everybody was so impressed that they gave us an occupancy right for 10 years. Then, I made the call. Graffiti artists, musicians, dressmakers, photographers, theater companies, everyone came! We welcomed 250 artists, for free, we helped them set up their workshops. I was offered 4.5 tons of paint, free, by a supplier who paid to have it destroyed… The « Meeting of Styles » managers heard about the project and they contacted us to organize the French edition of the event, In Lyon. For this event I invited the whole Old Scool scene. I reiterated the meeting for 4 years and, unintentionally, we became one of the largest graffiti gatherings in Europe. It was a beautiful sharing experience.

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Is sharing important for you?

I gave courses in youth centers, in some difficult neighborhoods around my home, and I animated graffiti initiations in all kinds of prisons: men, women, minors, adults, in Lyon and Saint Etienne. Transmission is essential to me. I don’t care if people say I’m a good painter, I want them to say that I’m a beautiful person.

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What do you think about the evolution of Street Art today?

Last year, at the « Zoo Art Show », a client who wanted to buy a canvas came to compliment me. She said to me « It’s beautiful what you do, it’s not like all those little idiots who paint shit on the streets… » But those little idiots were us. So, I told her, « you know why it’s shit? Because they paint at night, in 3 minutes, in the dark and at full speed in order not to get caught. We are the same people you talk about, who have been given time to do beautiful stuff. We renamed our discipline to be able to enter the galleries. The word « graffiti » scared people, so we called it « Street Art ». If I eat a ham in the street, between noon and 2 pm, does it become Street Food? (Laughs). I’m sorry, but I do not want to rename my alias in order to be accepted. People did not understand that we were doing this in the streets because we didn’t have no other place to create! We offered free art to people. And the “vandal” mode is above all a way of communication between us graffiti artists. I have been doing “vandal” for over 15 years, but I’ve never tagged the house of a guy who paid a heavy credit for a nice beige stucco! I did it on the highways, but I never tagged the brand new truck of a carpenter. If you want people to accept your art, annoying them will not help. If you want respect, you have to give it first. And regarding the fact that graffiti has entered the galleries, I beleive it’s a good thing. The artists who criticize this are often those who cannot enter the galleries. A great specialist in contemporary art said « do not spit too fast on graffiti artists, because you are lucky to be able to live at the same time as a future Dali or a future Picasso ». Our discipline comes from Hip Hop and from the street, but what people have to understand is that we are just painters with new brushes. The aerosol technique is the very first wall painting technique in history! In the caves, before drawing animals, men took pieces of bamboo, put their hands on the walls, put clay in their mouths, spit the clay through the bamboo. It was aeropulsed! It was graffiti!

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If I was the genie of Aladdin’s lamp and you could make a wish, which one would it be?

It’s stupid, what I’m going to tell you, but we have lots of friends who died while doing “vandal” graffiti. Every time we are painting, we can’t help thinking about them. I would just like to be able to bring them back and paint a wall with them… No prestigious names. Just simple guys I met, and some I only heard about. I was told that they had gone under a train. Painting is made to embellish life, not to punish it. It’s not normal to die because you wanted to express your passion. Who would risk to die for dancing? Who would risk his life to write a song? No one. The guys I’m talking about endangered themselves, 30 meters above the ground, hanging on bridges, just to write their names and tell everyone « Look at me, I exist ». Frankly, I do not know what tomorrow will bring. I do not have a career plan, I do not have any calculations. But I would be glad to paint a wall with all those we lost. And I think it would please a lot of artists who are here at Peinture Fraiche

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www.instagram.com/impacktoner/

https://www.facebook.com/franck.asensi

www.pandorart.com

“Peinture Fraiche” (Fresh Paint) Festival, 10 days, 70 artists, 12 countries. 3rd to 12th of May 2019, Halle Debourg, 45-47 Avenue Debourg, Lyon (Metro, Tramway, station Debourg).

 https://www.peinturefraichefestival.fr

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